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High Schools | CITY SECTION FOOTBALL REPORT

Switch Gives Boost to Jefferson

November 12, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

With his football team off to an 0-3 start, Los Angeles Jefferson's Doi Johnson had to make a decision that often puts coaches in the hot seat.

Johnson replaced his starting quarterback.

He didn't just change signal-callers. He put an untested sophomore, Contrell Walker, behind center in place of junior Santiago Medina, who was relegated to backup duty.

"I had butterflies," Walker said when notified he would start against L.A. Cathedral in Week 4. "But Coach told me, 'Don't worry about it. You've got your teammates to back you up.' "

The Democrats' second-year coach was quite prophetic. In Walker's first start, Travis Lee scored four touchdowns to help his new quarterback along in a 34-20 victory.

Since the change, Jefferson (5-4, 3-1) has won five of six games entering Friday's Coliseum League matchup against L.A. Crenshaw (7-2, 3-1) that will determine the league's No. 2 seeding in the City Section playoffs. Dorsey (9-0, 4-0) will be the league's No. 1-seeded team.

Lee, a senior running back, and Austin Usher, a junior wide receiver, have been the big-play performers for Jefferson. But they acknowledge Walker's contributions, particularly his scrambling ability, which has helped to keep defenses honest.

"We knew he could get the job done," Lee said. "When we needed first downs, Contrell has got them for us. When he got out of the pocket, he got us yards. He didn't sit back there and take the hit."

Jefferson has rekindled visions of last season, when it surged late in the year and then shocked Carson, 48-28, in the opening round of the playoffs. Walker threw three touchdown passes last week in a 25-16 victory over Fremont.

The Democrats' only loss in their run has been to Dorsey, ranked No. 12 by The Times, in a game in which they had a 21-20 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. Call it a lesson learned.

Said Lee: "You've got to play all four quarters and not just three."

Johnson said the Cathedral game marked more than just the debut of a new quarterback.

"When we were 0-3, I challenged our kids and our coaches to prepare better," he said. "I thought this was going to be a rebuilding year because we're so young, but when we played Gardena [a 19-6 loss], I thought we might be better than that."

Said Usher: "We just had to play together, play more as a team. We thought that later in the season we'd get better and better. Every day, we practice harder and harder and you see the results. We play sound football, we win games."

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There will be one significant change in the City playoff seeding meeting on Saturday. League champions must receive the top eight seeded positions in the 16-team Championship division.

This means each of the eight league champions will get a home game in the first round and put strong teams such as Crenshaw, Granada Hills and San Pedro in lower seedings and on the road.

Jefferson's Johnson, president of the Los Angeles Football Coaches Assn., said a majority of coaches voted for the change last year.

"It was close," Johnson said of the vote. "There was concern among the coaches that there was no reward for being a league champion. I think the league champ should get a home game."

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Venice and Dorsey, vying for the No. 1 seeding overall, survived major challenges last week to remain the section's only undefeated teams.

Venice edged Fairfax, 27-25, when a late field goal try by the Lions went wide. Dorsey defeated Crenshaw, 13-12, when the Cougars failed on a two-point conversion.

"If we're both 10-0, I think we both have some good arguments," Venice Coach Angelo Gasca said. "Obviously, they have a stronger league [the Coliseum].

"We have three quality wins in [nonleague]: Carson, L.A. Loyola and Granada Hills. Dorsey has a quality win over Chino.

"There's probably not much difference between us."

Gasca said he was happy Venice could get a severe test from a young, improving Fairfax team. The Lions led, 18-7, at halftime before the Gondoliers rallied.

"There's no question we needed a game like that," he said. "We had never been behind in a game and it showed that we can come back."

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Chet Sanders was already a top recruit entering his senior season at Carson, but the free safety continues to show why he is among the best in Southern California at his position.

In a tight contest against rival Wilmington Banning, Sanders rose to the occasion, stopping running back Mark Tafoya for a loss on fourth and two at the Colt four-yard line as the Pilots attempted to take the lead late in the fourth quarter.

The play was critical in allowing Carson to escape with a 21-10 victory.

"We had been messing up all game," Sanders said, "and we had to get it right."

In five games since returning from a severe knee injury, Sanders has four interceptions and one touchdown return.

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City top 10: 1. Venice (9-0); 2. Dorsey (9-0); 3. Crenshaw (7-2); 4. Birmingham (6-3); 5. Carson (6-3); 6. Granada Hills (7-2); 7. San Pedro (7-2); 8. Grant (6-3); 9. Gardena (7-2); 10. Jefferson (5-4).

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