Josh Portis was sitting at home watching television in September when he saw his football coach at Woodland Hills Taft, Troy Starr, criticize him for a fumble that cost his team a victory in the season opener.
"I was shocked," Portis said. "I was like, 'Wow, how could he say that?' I was mad."
Portis' mother, Patricia, was so furious she might have been tempted to reach for Starr's neck.
Starr never apologized for his comment.
"He knew the challenge and expectations," Starr said of Portis, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback who came to Taft in his junior year after playing at Redondo and briefly attending Long Beach Poly and Harbor City Narbonne.
So what was Portis' response to Starr's criticism for a fumble on the Taft 14-yard line with 53 seconds left that enabled Crenshaw to pull out a 21-20 victory?
The next week, Portis led Taft to an upset victory over defending City champion Carson. Taft has won 10 consecutive games since the Crenshaw defeat, and Portis proudly says he hasn't fumbled once.
Meanwhile, Starr has become Portis' biggest booster.
"It's scary at times how good he is," Starr said. "If there was an NFL draft and I could choose any high school football player in the nation, I'd choose him. If there's a better quarterback anywhere, I want to see him."
Taft (10-1) faces West Valley League rival Birmingham (7-4) Wednesday in a City quarterfinal playoff game that is a rematch of a league encounter won by Taft, 28-21.
It was Portis who delivered the victory over Birmingham by making a leaping catch in the end zone for a fourth-quarter touchdown in his only play as a receiver this season. He has a 41-inch vertical leap, so the Toreadors used a trick play and sent Portis into Randy Moss mode.
There aren't many athletic challenges Portis can't handle. He runs, throws, catches and competes with the best. This season, he has passed for 2,171 yards and 35 touchdowns and has rushed for 832 yards and 11 touchdowns.
"I'm ecstatic with his improvement and his concept of our passing game," Starr said.
As for Portis' mental prowess, what other 17-year-old has learned five different offenses in the last four years? He still remembers plays from the playbooks at Redondo, Long Beach Poly and Narbonne.
He has accepted a scholarship to Utah, but that's only going to happen if Urban Meyer stays as coach. If Meyer leaves, Portis said he'd consider other options.
Portis has worked hard to become a top player. Even on Sundays, he practices on his own. He has completed enough credits so that he intends to graduate in January, enroll in college and compete in spring practice.
Watching over him has been Patricia, a tough, dedicated single mother who attended most of his practices since he was 6 until his junior year of high school.
"I'm a tough lady, but I'm a Christian, and my toughness is based on right from wrong," she said.
Said Portis: "I'm ready to go off on my own. She's prepared me for everything."
Starr was Taft's coach for 11 years until he took last season off. He's a perfectionist, similar to Portis, and the two have tried to bring out the best in each other.
Portis has memorized a line Starr frequently uses: "Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games."
Whether Portis can produce a City championship this season remains in question, but his future isn't in doubt.
The season began with many asking, "How good is Portis?"
The season is ending with a clear answer: He's the real deal.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.