Eighteen months ago, Sean Brown was just another teammate to Jeremy Leach on the Granada Hills High football team. Lately the two have become inseparable.
They have much in common, both play football and baseball, and they enjoy each other's company. But it probably didn't hurt their friendship that each makes the other look good.
"When a guy starts catching everything you throw, it makes you start liking him. Your friendship starts to grow," Leach said Tuesday.
Leach, the 6-2, 205-pound quarterback, and Brown, the 6-2, 205-pound tight end, were the sharpest-looking combination in the 64-team football tournament in the 20th L.A. Games. Leach and Brown led Granada Hills to six straight victories, including a 26-6 win over Antelope Valley in Sunday's final at West Torrance High to give the Highlanders their first L.A. Games football championship.
Leach and Brown shared the tournament's Most Valuable Player award.
"What I'll remember is finding out that it was Granada's first championship," Leach said. "Then hearing my name called with Sean was nice. That was fitting."
The Granada Hills seniors first met as sophomores when Leach transferred from L.A. Baptist halfway through the school year. They were teammates on last season's football team and played together on the Granada Hills baseball team this spring, Leach at first base, Brown in right field.
During spring football drills, their friendship grew when they found themselves staying late. When practice ended and everyone else headed for the showers, they worked on pass patterns, perfecting their timing. Last week, they attended the UCLA football camp at UC Irvine. They were roommates and played on the same team in afternoon 7-on-7 passing drills.
"We spent a lot of time together at the UCLA camp and that helped us," Brown said. "We'd work on what we learned in the morning sessions and it helped us in the games. Nobody else really knew each other. We became good friends."
Leach said he has learned to anticipate Brown's moves.
"In most situations, I know what he's going to do," he said. "We read a play together. Sean will split out by himself and if the defender is playing inside, I know Sean will run a streak or fade. If he's playing him straight up, he'll juke him and go inside. We have it worked out and it gives us an advantage."
Leach and Brown may become the Valley's most dangerous pass-catching combination next fall. A year ago, Leach completed 114 of 198 passes (65%) for 1,325 yards and 14 touchdowns, and Brown caught 40 passes for 486 yards and 6 touchdowns. With the graduation of running back Khalid Ali, Granada Hills figures to rely more on its passing game. Perhaps then the team can achieve its goal of reaching the City 4-A final. Last year, Carson walloped Granada Hills in the semifinals, 56-14.
"Oh yeah, I remember that game," Leach said. "We want to get to the finals just to show that a Valley team can do it."
Granada Hills may have taken a small step in that direction, defeating Carson in the semifinals of the games, 27-14. The win over Carson, the defending City champion, in a game without pads or contact lacks the significance of a victory in the autumn, but the Highlanders relished it anyway.
Said Leach: "That was one of our most challenging games. That was the game. After beating Carson, it was hard to get up for the next game."
Get the message: Cleveland Coach Bob Braswell said before the final weekend of competition in the basketball tournament that the games are a good time to send a message to other City Section teams. Cleveland's message came through loud and clear: The Cavaliers won the tournament and showed how the 3-point rule can be an explosive weapon.
Senior guard Michael Gray, the team's leading scorer throughout the tournament, scored 25 points in the team's 63-46 win over Santa Monica in the semifinals and then erupted for 44 points in Cleveland's 93-85 victory over Dorsey in the final. Gray, the tournament's MVP, converted seven shots from 3-point range.
Where are you, Coach?: Simi Valley expected to play Saturday's game against St. Bernard without 6-10 center Don MacLean, but the Pioneers were jolted when the coach and their starting point guard failed to show for the game in the round of 16.
MacLean was in New Jersey, participating in a Nike-sponsored basketball camp at Princeton University. Coach Bob Hawking and his son Butch were stuck on Ventura Boulevard with an overheated car.
"I've missed some summer league games because of camps before, but I've never been on my way to a game and missed it before," the coach said.
By the time Hawking had some hoses and belts replaced it was too late to complete the trip to El Camino College. Steve Johnson, the Simi Valley sophomore coach, happened to show up at Saturday's game and filled in for Hawking. Simi Valley lost, 62-45.
"Yeah, he lost his varsity debut," Hawking joked. "He's finding out it's a lot tougher at this level. He's 0-1 and I want him to put that on his resume."