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Football Night Is a Family Affair : When It Comes to a Decision on the Field, Father Knows Best

October 16, 1986|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

It was shortly before a recent football practice at Los Altos High in Hacienda Heights and quarterback Darren DeSpain was having a heated discussion with his coach over a play they were planning to use in an upcoming game.

"He thought it would work better this way and I thought it would work better another way--like we did it against Monrovia," DeSpain said. "Of course, he always gets his way, but I like to give my opinion."

DeSpain says most players on the team are afraid to get into an argument with the coach--but not him.

The coach of the Conquerors, you see, is Dwayne DeSpain--Darren's father.

Pasadena quarterback David Griffiths can empathize with DeSpain because his father, Gary, coaches the Bulldogs.

Griffiths, a 16-year-old junior, and DeSpain, a 17-year-old senior, agree that playing quarterback for your father has its drawbacks but that, mostly, it's been great.

"I love it," DeSpain said. "I've been waiting for this for a long time. I've always wanted to play quarterback for my dad at Los Altos."

Griffiths, in his second year on the varsity, added: "It's been a pretty good experience overall. I think all of the negatives got out of the way last year."

Both quarterbacks agree that there is added pressure in being the coach's son.

"He's always tougher on me," Griffiths said. "I'm sure a lot of other people (who are coaches' sons) feel that way. I think he expects more out of me because he knows what I can do."

DeSpain certainly knows how Griffiths feels.

"He's always harder on me than anyone else," DeSpain said. "If I'm not wearing the right stuff he'll yell at me. He expects a lot from me, but I guess it's because he wants me to be the best."

That's not to mention how fans can react to having the coach's son at quarterback, the most visible position on the field.

"I want to succeed because I don't want to hear someone in the crowd say, 'Oh, he's just playing because he's the coach's son,' " said DeSpain, who has led Los Altos to a 5-0 record. "I haven't heard that yet but I thought I would. If we were playing lousy they would probably be saying that."

Griffiths, who led his team to two straight wins before breaking his ankle on the final play of a loss to Diamond Bar, said he has been taunted on occasion by fans and opposing players.

"They'd say things like, 'You're only up here because your daddy's the coach.' I'd hear it but I just tried to ignore it."

There were times last season, Griffiths said, when he felt as if he was being singled out because he was the coach's son.

"Last year I scored a two-point conversion and the next day in the paper it said, 'David Griffiths--yes, the coach's son.' I like to see my name in the paper but not like that."

Griffiths said the pressure was greater last season when he was a linebacker and reserve quarterback.

"I felt a lot (of pressure) because I felt that I had to prove to myself that I belonged. But I think I got over that and this year it hasn't been as noticeable. Plus, I know I don't have to prove anything to anybody. It took a whole season to get over that."

It is not surprising that either player became a quarterback, not when you consider how long they have been a part of the school football program.

DeSpain started as a Los Altos ball boy when he was 7 and has been a water boy and carried his father's headphones along the sidelines.

When DeSpain wasn't helping his father at games, he could usually be found playing pick-up games in the end zones.

"He used to drive the principal crazy because when he was a ball boy he used to have tackle games going on in the corner of the end zone," Dwayne DeSpain recalled. "We had to break them up because it was a distraction to the band."

Griffiths started as a ball boy for Pasadena when he was 8, although he wasn't interested in playing football.

"I really wasn't into football at that time," Griffiths said. "I was just there to watch it. I didn't really know a lot about the (offensive) system."

But DeSpain admits it was an advantage for him to watch his father direct the intricate Los Altos passing attack for almost 10 years before joining the varsity.

"I've learned the plays backward and forward because I've followed him on the sidelines since I was a little kid," DeSpain said.

"I never have any trouble with the plays. I usually know before the game what he's going to call. Usually before the play I can guess what's coming up."

Griffiths said he can predict what play his father will run in a particular situation.

"When you know what each other is thinking, there's no need to waste a timeout," he said. "It definitely helps."

Griffiths said his father has the same quiet and easygoing personality on and off the field, although it can be difficult at home after a defeat.

"When we lose you can tell that he just doesn't want to talk about it," he said. "We just sit at home and watch the video and he says we should've done this or that."

DeSpain said his father is all business when coaching but is much different at home.

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