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Touching the Void

Crenshaw's Lanis uses football to ease pain of his father's death

September 08, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

As one of the top offensive linemen in the Southland, Aleksey Lanis, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior at Los Angeles Crenshaw, has scholarship offers and championship game hopes, but playing football has also helped him fit in at a school where he isn't like most of his fellow students.

It has also helped him fill a void in his life.

Two years ago, Lanis' father, Leonid, died of a heart attack at age 58. The two were very close.

"I was just walking home, having a regular day," Aleksey said. "As I walked up to my home, I saw the ambulance outside. There's an older lady who lives in our complex, and they had come to our place before so I thought nothing of it. And then I saw it was for my dad.

"That day burns in my mind. I see every single moment of it."

As a sophomore, Lanis was still learning a game unfamiliar to him while growing up in Siberia. He came to his adopted country at the age of 8, but is spending the last half of his teenage years without his father. He lives with his mother and older sister.

"It very tough on him," Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett said of the loss. "In some ways, it's still tough on him and he's still trying to get over it. I think we helped him with it.

"Last Thanksgiving, he came to the house for some dinner and spent a great deal of time with our family. I had a good talk with him. He's opened up more."

The football field has served as refuge. Lanis, 18, is maturing into a fearsome player capable of dominating opposing linemen.

Last season, he anchored a huge offensive line that paved the way for Rickie Collins and Aaron Huntley to carry the Cougars to the City Section's Championship quarterfinals. With the tailbacks returning and Lanis at right tackle, Crenshaw has high expectations.

Motivation shouldn't be a problem for Lanis or his teammates. Crenshaw suffered a 53-0 playoff loss to Venice.

"That's a reminder every time," Lanis said of the one-sided defeat. "I want every single play to go to my side."

At Crenshaw, where the student body is predominantly African American, Lanis has found a home.

He is an A student in the school's magnet program and has become one of the more popular players on the team. Garrett said Lanis' maturity level "is not like the normal student-athlete."

Lanis may stand out in the team picture, but he doesn't feel alone.

"I'm just one of the guys," he said. "I've lived here long enough to become Americanized."

Oregon, Stanford and Arizona State have offered football scholarships, but Lanis remains committed to UCLA, though he acknowledges he is interested in how the Bruins fare this season.

"I think football has opened the door on some opportunities that may not have happened otherwise," Garrett said.

With his grades in order and his college choice seemingly set, Lanis' immediate goal is to bring Crenshaw its first major-division City football championship.

"Football pretty much is my life right now," he said.

"I'm pretty much done with high school now as far as finishing up my credits. I just want a City title."

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