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A Big Talent in a Small School : Running Back Rhodes Leaves Competition in Dust

November 13, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Earl Rhodes used to hang around the street corners of Pasadena with the guys, causing trouble for motorists.

"We'd throw rocks at cars, then hide behind the bushes," Rhodes said. "One time we broke a car's window and the guy chased us all the way to Altadena."

The days of frequenting street corners and creating trouble are in the past. But darned if Rhodes isn't still being chased--more than ever.

Only now the pursuers are defensive players trying to stop him from running wild on a football field, and with not much success.

Rhodes stars in eight-man football for Coast Christian, a Small Schools division team with a 9-0 record in the Heritage League, and a No. 1 CIF rating going into the playoffs.

To put it mildy, he is a giant talent in the Small Schools sphere.

"It's only his second year playing organized football," said Coach Dan Pride, "but he has a tremendous amount of athletic ability."

Rhodes is only 16, but he's 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and has quick feet. He's carried the ball 134 times for 1,489 yards and 24 touchdowns in nine games this season. That's more than 11 yards a carry.

His top games was against Pilgrim when he carried the ball only seven times for 263 yards and five touchdowns.

"Earl is our star running back," said teammate Dwight Engman. "You notice him because he's got fast feet."

"Nah," said team captain Grant Anderson, "you notice Earl because he's big and ugly. He scares everybody out of the way."

Neither explanation is quite the case. Chances are you notice him because he is big--bigger than many of the linemen in eight-man football.

As a freshman last year when Coast Christian reached the semifinals of the CIF playoffs, Rhodes rushed for 900 yards and 16 touchdowns in eight games. He missed two regular-season games and the playoffs due to a thigh injury.

His performance earned him all-CIF and league MVP honors, rare for a freshman.

"I didn't expect it," Rhodes said. "When I first came out to practice last year I didn't know the football from the pads. I didn't know a thing.

"But I guess I adapted quickly, huh?"

Pride, a linebacker for the Chicago Bears from 1967 to 1970 with prior prep coaching positions at Los Feliz Hills and Montclair High, noticed Rhodes' talent the minute he saw him.

That moment came when Pride was preparing to take over as coach at Coast Christian.

"I was dropping off a kid in Pasadena whom I coached at Los Feliz and Earl was standing there with friends," Pride recalled. "We started talking and Earl said he wanted to go to a private school. I told him I had been a player for 20 years and athletic skills could help him get through school.

"I said that because I could tell he had some."

Then Pride asked Rhodes to run up the street. That's all he needed to convince him the youngster was special.

"I could tell he had natural talent," Pride said. "He's successful because he runs off natural talent. He still has a lot to learn."

Pride says Rhodes has the ability to have a successful college career. His goal is to have Rhodes be one of the few players from a small school to play at a big college.

Pride says since scouts from big colleges usually aren't interested in Small Schools football, he'll market Rhodes like a good product.

"You start promoting him now and getting the word out and by his senior year the scouts will know about him," Pride said.

When Rhodes is a senior, Pride estimates that his star will be about 6-4 and 220 pounds.He runs 40-yards in 4.7 seconds.

"With his stature, what he's going to look like and be like is definitely going to have scouts after him," Pride said.

It isn't just the ability that impresses Pride.

"Aside from that, he's got tremendous desire to play," Pride said. "Having played myself, I know that desire is the most important thing.

"There will be guys from bigger schools like Banning who won't play college ball because they don't have the desire. Earl's got true desire."

Rhodes has received most of his recognition for offense, but he also plays outside linebacker.

"I want to prepare him to be the complete football player, and by the time he gets to college he will be," Pride said.

Not too bad for a guy who started playing football last year simply because he wanted to do something with his life.

"I just wanted to stay off the streets," Rhodes said. "You know, do something productive instead of just fool around."

His uncle, Leroy Turner, who raised him, says there's been a tremendous change in Rhodes since he started playing football.

"He's more productive," Turner said. "His attitude, self-esteem and outlook on life have improved.

"Earl has always been a good kid. He's just been nonchalant and uninterested. Now he has something constructive to put his energy into."

Rhodes commutes 45 miles from Pasadena where he lives with his uncle and cousins to play football for the small school in Redondo Beach because the man who introduced him to the game coaches there.

"I'll play at Coast through my senior year," Rhodes said, "or wherever Coach Pride goes, that's where I'll play.

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