Carson High football fans jubilantly counted down the final seconds before rushing the field in celebration of the Colts' 37-16 victory over Banning in the L.A. City Section 4-A Division final last season.
But for two Carson juniors who watched from the stands, it was a bittersweet experience.
"I saw that game and all I could think was, 'That could be me making that tackle,' " said 6-foot, 260-pound Eric Taulua, who, along with his twin brother Eran, was ineligible to play varsity football last year.
The Tauluas, regarded as two of the best players in the South Bay, are ready to return to action after a tumultuous year off the field.
The Tauluas, Carson residents, attended El Segundo their first two years of high school, residing in an apartment near the school. In the spring of their sophomore year, the twins transferred to Carson after they experienced problems at El Segundo.
When they arrived at Carson, however, the twins were not eligible to compete in varsity athletics because their family had not purchased property in the Carson district, a violation of new City Section rules pertaining to transfer students.
Thus began a summer of conflict for the Taulua family. The twins' father, Simeta, fought the City Section to allow his sons to play, taking his case all the way to the state office of the CIF. But when football began, the Taulua brothers were only allowed to play for the Carson junior varsity team.
"We found out at the end of hell week," said Eran, a 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker and fullback. "I couldn't believe it, we wasted a whole year."
The trouble could have been avoided if the Tauluas has stayed at El Segundo. Before the twins enrolled in high school, Simeta wanted his sons to leave Carson.
"We liked Carson, but there was always a little problem with gang members," Simeta said. "(The gang members) were bothering my sons, so I thought I would send them to El Segundo. Besides, they could help cousins they had there."
Life in El Segundo didn't turn out as they had hoped. School authorities questioned whether the apartment the Tauluas were living in was a legitimate address, and Simeta believed his sons were not given a fair chance in their other sports--basketball and baseball.
"Administration people would come by and not see any furniture, just our falas (Samoan mats), and they would say, 'How can eight people live here without any furniture?'," Eric said. "But we did it."
Eric admitted that he and his brothers got into fights at El Segundo, which may have contributed to problems the family had with school administrators.
One person who had no problems with the Tauluas was El Segundo football Coach Steve Newell. The twins helped the Eagles win the 1989 Santa Fe League championship as sophomores.
"Their transfer was the hardest thing I've had to deal with in all my years at El Segundo," said Newell, who has been at the school since 1969. "They were fabulous football players and they were good people at every point I came in contact with them."
Newell thinks the twins' transfer hurt both parties.
"Had they stayed at El Segundo, they'd be in a better position to showcase themselves," Newell said. "If we had them in our school and our program for three years, you could project where they would end up. They were dominating as sophomores, and when they transferred it just took a big chunk out of our program. It was really demoralizing.
"If they were here last year, it would have turned around our season. I'm talking about a CIF championship. They were the most physical defensive ballplayers I've ever had at El Segundo. They would just run over people, at running back and linebacker."
Newell harbors no bitterness, though: "They are good kids and great football players. I only wish them the best."
Simeta said he other coaches at El Segundo did not share Newell's attitude. "Some of the coaches--not in football--were favoring other players," he said. "I thought it was time to make a change."
So, weary of battling the administration and the athletic department, the Tauluas decided to leave El Segundo, only to be embroiled in new troubles.
The City Section--which in years past has appeared lenient in granting varsity eligibility to transfers such as quarterbacks Perry Klein of Palisades and John Walsh of West Torrance, both of whom ended up at Carson--stipulated that a student who moves would be ineligible unless a family purchased property.
The family was not in a financial situation to do that, so the Tauluas played with the Carson junior varsity team on Thursday afternoons and watched the varsity on Friday nights last season.
"I really couldn't get excited about (junior varsity)," said Eric, who may start both ways at tackle for the varsity this season. "It was fun, but you're playing against third- and fourth-stringers, so sometimes the guys can't even play."
Eric and Eran made their penance with the City and eagerly awaited this season, helped by Simeta who kept them on a strict training program.