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Guess Who's Coaching Roosevelt?

Former Garfield Assistant Casagran Has Joined the Enemy Just in Time for a Breakthrough

October 29, 1998|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jose Casagran does not know what it feels like to lose in the East Los Angeles Classic.

But Roosevelt High football players and alumni do.

For the last seven years, Garfield has owned bragging rights in the annual matchup between the neighborhood rivals, which annually draws more than 20,000 fans to Weingart Stadium at East Los Angeles College.

Casagran, a former Garfield assistant who is in his first season as Roosevelt's coach, will try to end that streak Friday night when his Roughriders (5-2) take on the Bulldogs (2-5). Kickoff is at 8 p.m.

"We haven't really focused on this game until this week," Casagran said. "But everybody else in the Roosevelt community has been talking about it since last March.

"It's like USC-UCLA on a smaller level. A lot of the alumni really don't care how we do during the season, but they care a great deal about whether we beat Garfield. It's the same thing on the other side of the field."

Casagran, 32, graduated from La Canada St. Francis and played football at Pomona-Pitzer College, but he and his young staff are well aware of the history of an Eastside series that began in 1926. Roosevelt leads the series, 32-23-7. No games between the schools were played from 1939-1948 because of World War II.

All of the coaches at Roosevelt this season either played or coached at Garfield.

"We all started on the Garfield side so we know what the tradition is like over there," said Manuel Douglas, Roosevelt's offensive coordinator. "To be on the Roosevelt side now is going to be fun. There is nothing like looking up and seeing those thousands of people in the stands. Only this year, the people behind our sideline will be rooting for the Roughriders."

Casagran was defensive coordinator for Garfield from 1993-1996. When former coach John Aguirre left the program, Casagran applied for the position. But the school hired Ray Galarze, a 1969 Garfield graduate who started his coaching career as a Bulldog assistant and went on to become a head coach at several schools, including Bell.

Casagran taught English and English as a Second Language courses at Garfield last year, but did not coach. He did, however, continue to attend coaching clinics.

"I was going to apply for whatever jobs opened up at the end of the year," he said. "Fremont contacted me, but when the Roosevelt job opened up, I said 'This is the perfect spot.'

"I love the Eastside. I love the kids there. And I get to be a part of this game again."

For the first time in years, the outcome of Friday's Southeastern Conference game could have a significant bearing on Roosevelt's chances for a playoff berth in the City Section's major division. Six conference champions and 10 at-large teams deemed strongest by a playoff committee at the end of the regular season will play for the City championship, formerly known as the 4-A title. Teams ranked 17-32 will compete for the Division title, formerly known as the 3-A championship.

Roosevelt has not appeared in a major division playoff game since 1969.

"Our goal from the start of the season was to be among the top 16 going into the playoffs," Casagran said. "We keep telling the kids to keep their eyes on the prize."

Roosevelt is led by an offensive line that features senior guard Edward LaVoie and senior tackle Mario Ramos. Sophomore running back Manuel Esparza and senior fullback Ellis Machuca are the main offensive threats for a team that has lost only to Locke and South Gate.

Garfield has struggled this season, Galarze said, because of discipline problems that forced him to bench several starters.

"There's certain standards the players have to abide by," Galarze said. "If they don't go to class or get to practice on time, they don't play. You have to be consistent.

"But this week, I think we'll have everyone ready to go. No one wants to miss the Classic."

Garfield is led by junior quarterback Erik Nava, wide receiver Jovanny Salas and tailback Max Torres.

Torres gained 71 yards in 18 carries and Nava, playing wide receiver, scored on a 56-yard touchdown pass play in Garfield's 27-6 victory over Roosevelt last year.

Roosevelt's LaVoie remembers them well.

"Last year, we came out scoring [Roosevelt led, 6-0], and then they came back and shut us down," LaVoie said. "We can't let that happen again.

"People talk like this is the only game of the year that counts, but this game is not only about pride for us. This is a step toward the playoffs."

On Saturday morning, Casagran said he and his staff will talk about the game of the night before and begin to deal with the aftermath of the Classic. Motivating players in the week following the game is a coaching challenge at both schools.

"At Garfield, we always had a letdown the next game no matter how hard we tried," Casagran said.

"This year, we're fortunate at Roosevelt because we have a bye next week. So if we're lucky enough to win this game, we'll be rested and pretty much healed with the playoffs coming up.

"That's what we've been getting ready for since Day 1 and that's what we've tried to instill in these kids. A win over Garfield would be a tremendous step toward achieving that goal."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Garfield's Reign

East L.A. Classic in the '90s:

1990--Roosevelt 7, Garfield 0

1991--Garfield 7, Roosevelt 0

1992--Garfield 14, Roosevelt 0

1993--Garfield 26, Roosevelt 21

1994--Garfield 20, Roosevelt 6

1995---Garfield 54, Roosevelt 10

1996--Garfield 27, Roosevelt 23

1997--Garfield 27, Roosevelt 6

Roosevelt leads series, 32-23-7

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