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The Growl Grows Louder : Crenshaw Cougars Are the Area's Top-Seeded Team Heading Into Playoffs

November 13, 1994|SEAN WATERS

Crenshaw High's football program has played in the shadows of the school's more successful basketball team and their success, they feel, often goes unnoticed.

More players try out for the varsity basketball team than compete for school's two football teams. Opponents often beat up on the football team because they know they don't stand a chance against the Cougars during basketball season.

"We know when we line up, we're in for a dogfight each week," Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett said. "We know that athletes who play dual sports are tired of getting beaten down in basketball. They want to win and they know their only chance may be during the football season."

But Crenshaw is not giving opposing schools much chance to win during the football season either.

The Cougars are having their best season since they won the City Section 3-A Division title in 1991. They had a 7-0 mark in the Southern Pacific Conference, 9-1 overall.

Friday, the City Section named Crenshaw the third-seeded team in the 4-A playoffs behind top-seeded Sylmar and second-seeded Taft.

South Gate, the Southeastern Conference champion, is the No. 4 seed and Franklin is seeded fifth.

"This is a big step for our program," Garrett said. "This is an opportunity to prove that we are deserving of a top seed.

"Are we for real or are we a fluke?"

It's rare for a basketball team to attract more fans than its football teams. It's even rarer to see more players try out for a basketball team than play for the football team. But at Crenshaw, basketball takes precedence over football.

"Here we have a winning season, play the best teams around and we can't draw 300 people to a home game," Garrett said.

Four weeks ago, while preparing his team for a football game against San Pedro, Garrett yelled instructions to his 60-member varsity football team. Inside the Crenshaw basketball gym, more than 100 players tried out for the varsity basketball team, which is coached by Willie West.

At Crenshaw, unlike other schools, there is an unwritten rule that athletes cannot compete for both teams. Very few have ever tried.

"I envy Coach West," said Garrett. "He has 80, 90, maybe 100 players trying out for a 15-man squad. I tell the same kids, 'You don't have to try out for that. I'm taking 16.' "By the time they get cut from basketball tryouts, it's too late to play football. The season is practically over."

The Cougars were one of six conference champions granted an automatic berth to the 4-A playoffs. Ten at-large teams rounded out the 4-A field and the next best 16 teams were placed in the 3-A playoffs.

The playoffs begin Friday and continue with the quarterfinals Nov. 23, the semifinals Dec. 2, the 3-A championship Dec. 9 and the 4-A championship Dec. 10. The higher seed is home team for the first round.

The Cougars play host to Kennedy in the first round, a team they traditionally play during nonleague.

Crenshaw has two outstanding running backs in Farrel Payton (971 yards, 14 touchdowns) and Brandon Seals (878 yards, five touchdowns). Rashard McGee is the team's leading receiver (23 receptions, 518 yards, four touchdowns).

In other 4-A first-round matchups, Franklin plays host to Carson, which qualified for the playoffs despite forfeiting three games and finishing 2-8, and Fremont will play host to Banning.

"I think this will be a much more competitive playoffs," said Dorsey Coach Paul Knox, who was a member of the eight-man playoff selection committee. "I think there are 16 teams that are capable of winning the championship. It makes for more interesting first-round matchups. That's the advantage of this system over the ones in the past."

Manual Arts is the highest seed of five Central City teams in the 3-A playoffs.

"I think we deserve the No. 2 seed," Manual Arts co-Coach Chuck Hollis said. "We beat Dorsey and we hung in with Crenshaw."

That's a sign that teams are showing respect for Crenshaw--its football team, that is.

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