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High Schools

Room to Grow

Jordan trying to emerge from shadow cast by Long Beach Poly

September 14, 2002|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Regardless of the score in its opener, it looks like that high school in Long Beach is going to be pretty good in football this season. Some big-time prospects are coming up through the ranks, the team was rated high in the preseason polls, and fans are expecting a winner.

Surprisingly, the school is not Poly.

Long Beach Jordan, a longtime also-ran in the Moore League, was ranked No. 4 in the Southern Section Division I preseason poll, based primarily on its 15-6 record the last two seasons.

Jordan lost its opener Friday night, 32-22, to Carson, another highly regarded team, but Coach Willie Guillory and Co. have no reason to fret. The Panthers lost their opener last season, too--by 10, to Carson--and by the end of the season were battling toe to toe with Santa Ana Mater Dei in the playoffs.

That noted, it's difficult to overcome an inferiority complex when the folks 3 1/2 miles away churn out college players like few other schools in the nation. Twenty-five Poly players are on NCAA football teams, six are in the NFL.

Jordan, on the other hand, has sent a handful of players to four-year colleges ... in the last two decades. The best known is probably quarterback Ortege Jenkins, who led Jordan's last victory over Poly, in 1994, then played for Arizona.

It's tough, however, to overlook Jordan's progress the last few years, an upturn in fortune that has coincided with the arrival of Guillory, a former police officer.

It wasn't too long ago that Guillory and assistant John Kane used to canvas the Jordan campus, begging anybody over 5 foot 7 to play football.

Now, kids walk up to them, asking if they can be part of the program. A surprising turnaround for a school that has a rough time competing against Poly, particularly with the setup of the Long Beach Unified School District. The district allows students to attend any of the five Moore League schools within district boundaries, assuming space is available at the school of choice.

The quarterback at Poly last season, Brandon Brooks, lived down the street from Jordan but took the bus to Poly every day.

Jordan will play Poly in the 10th and final regular season game this year.

One person on the Jordan campus is particularly familiar with Poly's success: Principal Greg Mendoza. He was an assistant coach on the Poly basketball team that won the Southern Section Division 5-AA championship in 1990 with Willie McGinest and Tyus Edney.

When Mendoza arrived at Jordan six years ago, there were no blocking sleds, no tackling dummies, no equipment bags for the football team.

Mendoza increased funding for the athletic department and hired Guillory a year later.

"We feel like there's room in Long Beach for two powerhouses," Mendoza said. "This area is so rich with talent it's amazing. If we keep all the kids in our attendance area, we'll be all right. We haven't lost any [incoming freshmen to Poly] that I know of in the last three years, and it's starting to show."

Jordan's freshman team defeated Poly last season, 26-20.

Jordan threw a scare into Poly last season and trailed, 27-20, heading into the fourth quarter. But Poly dominated the last 12 minutes en route to a 41-20 victory.

"It seems like every year they're maybe getting closer to beating us, and that's a concern," Poly Coach Raul Lara said. "They have good athletes that can compete with us."

Until then, Jordan has a few things to work on. In the first half against Carson, the Panthers had 11 penalties and gained only 85 yards. Carson, which has won 10 City championships, got a 117-yard rushing performance from Brandon Myles in only five carries. He scored on runs of 47 and 48 yards.

"I'm not going to panic," Guillory said. "Why should I? We'll get it going again, just like we did last season. All we have to do is mature."

Indeed, Jordan's football team emulates the rest of the school in struggling through growing pains.

Jordan lags behind Poly--and the rest of the Moore League--academically.

Of the five LBUSD schools in the Moore League--Jordan, Poly, Wilson, Lakewood and Millikan--Jordan had the lowest SAT scores of college-bound seniors in 2000. The average SAT score at Jordan was 847, according to LBUSD documents. College-bound seniors at Poly, on the other hand, posted a 994 SAT average, the highest in the Moore League.

"When I came here, people said to me, 'Are you sure you want to go to that school? That school where they don't learn? That school where all the kids end up leaving for Poly?' " said Guillory, in his fifth season.

"It's a struggle. Every day I have to defend my program. Defend my kids. Defend my school. But I've been dealing with crisis all my life. I'm a sharecropper's son. I'm not afraid to say I grew up in the thicket, in the swamp. If I can make it, so can they."

Guillory, 49, was raised in Leton, La., a small rural town 35 miles east of Shreveport. He moved with his older brother to Los Angeles and played on the 1971 City Section championship team at Carson. He was an All-City linebacker for the Colts.

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