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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEWS

New Coaches Venture on Same Road

Pacific League: Smolin of Glendale and Chi of Hoover take over teams trying to escape the cellar.

September 10, 1997|DAVE DESMOND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Philadelphia native Pete Smolin headed west to visit a friend in Southern California in 1994. He never left.

Now he has nowhere to go but up as he attempts to light a flame under a once-proud Glendale High football program that he finds in ashes.

He isn't alone.

Across town at Hoover, first-year Coach Jeff Chi is attempting to do the same thing.

Both inherit teams that in recent years have languished at the bottom of the Pacific League.

Chi's Tornadoes were 1-9 last season under Coach Dennis Hughes and are 12-56-1 in the '90s.

Glendale, which captured Pacific League titles in 1990 and '91, is 18-30-1 since. Glendale was 2-8 last season under Coach Steve Pinkston.

Smolin, 30, and Chi, 28, agree that attitude and pride will be major building blocks.

"The biggest challenge is confidence," Hoover's Chi said. "At this point, when things go wrong, kids have a tendency to put their chins down based on the past. We have to convince them that they can become a good football team."

Smolin has tried to recapture the Dynamiters' proud past, hiring four former Glendale coaches and players from the school's brighter days.

"We're not promising anything, as far as number of wins are concerned," said Smolin, who served the past two seasons as a Glendale assistant. "Our approach will be nothing fancy or flashy, just hard work in the classroom, on the field and in the weight room. Old fashioned fundamentals, organization and consistency are going to have to get it done."

Chi has instituted the hard-to-defend Delaware wing-T offense to boost the morale of a program that last season was shut out in five of its last seven games.

The road ahead for both coaches may be similar, but the path each has taken to this point differ greatly.

After playing safety and running back at South Pasadena High, Chi hung up his chin strap in 1988 and enrolled in college with the idea of becoming an engineer.

As a freshman at UCLA, however, he agreed to help coach South Pasadena's freshman team. By 1991, Chi, 22 at the time, had taken over the Tigers' varsity program. He and co-Coach Dave Martinez, then the youngest head coaches in the Southern Section, took South Pasadena to the playoffs for the first time in more than 10 years.

In 1994, Chi stepped down as the Tigers' co-coach and served as an assistant through last season.

From the moment Smolin set foot on the Cheltenham (Pa.) High campus as a freshman fullback, he knew what he wanted to do.

"I knew from the ninth grade on that I wanted to be a P.E. teacher and a coach," said Smolin, who served as an assistant coach for both Valley Forge Academy's high school and junior college-level teams in Pennsylvania. "Coaches were always my role models and I wanted to serve in that capacity for others."

One Pacific League coach warns that a young coach's ability to share responsibility and work load with his staff is one of the toughest and most important moves to make.

"But if they learn to delegate duty and get good people, they'll be all right," said Crescenta Valley Coach Alan Eberhart.

Crescenta Valley, itself floundering at one point, has developed into one of the area's more promising programs. Eberhart's Falcons figure to challenge five-time Pacific League champion Muir for the 1997 crown.

Crescenta Valley lost, 22-21, to Muir last season and finished second in the league.

Eberhart, beginning his fifth season as head coach, attributes at least part of the success to stability within the coaching staff.

Smolin, Glendale's fourth coach in five seasons, insists the school will not have to look for a new coach any time soon.

"This situation is right," he said. "I'm planning to be here a while. This is my dream."

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AT A GLANCE

* THE PROVEN: In Sultan McCullough, Muir has the state's best running back not named Justin Fargas. Crescenta Valley senior quarterback/ running back Kenny Pritchett gained 1,711 yards and scored 18 touchdowns as a junior. Teammate Chris Oliver (6 feet, 190 pounds) is arguably the league's best linebacker. Glendale senior tight end Garo Boghossian (6-3, 220) is a legitimate Division I prospect. Crescenta Valley senior linebacker Jesse Busta (6-2, 235) is among the area's best. Hoover running back Jason Young ran for a team-high 583 yards and six touchdowns last season. Glendale fullback Rami Burpee was an All-Pacific League selection as a junior. Muir defensive back/running back Ricky Crockett was an All-Southern Section pick as a junior.

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