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Jack of two trades

FOOTBALL : HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Raul Lara splits time between coaching Long Beach Poly and working as an L.A. County juvenile probation officer.

December 18, 2008|Ben Bolch

Raul Lara, your Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits just won the Southern Section Pac-5 Division title. What are you going to do now?

He's going to Central Juvenile Hall, actually.

That's where the coach of the most storied high school football program in Southern California headed late Saturday night, arriving about two hours after the Jackrabbits polished off a come-from-behind 20-17 victory over Rancho Santa Margarita Tesoro.

He was just doing his job -- both of them.

Lara also works as an intake officer for the Los Angeles County Probation Department, filing detention reports on juveniles accused of crimes that run the gamut from misdemeanors to murder.

The absurdity of rushing home to Long Beach from a championship game in Anaheim just so he could turn around and drive to Los Angeles for work struck Lara and his son Emmanuel, a freshman reserve quarterback at Poly, somewhere along Pacific Coast Highway.

"I said, 'Son, isn't it amazing we were just at a game that was crazy, exciting and now we're in the car, everything's all calm and we're going home and I've got to get ready for work?' " Lara said. "My son just started laughing and he goes, 'Yeah, it is kind of weird.' "

Lara had planned to repeat this strange scenario Saturday, after Poly plays Sacramento Grant in the CIF open division state championship bowl game at the Home Depot Center, until he arranged to have the night off from his probation job. So he'll be spared the need to hurry home after the game.

Still, supervising deputy probation officer Sung Oh marvels that Lara ever has the strength to pull such double duty.

"Sometimes people worry how he can be a full-time probation officer and a football coach unless he's a Superman," Oh said. "But so far he's doing OK."

Lara works five nights a week, Friday through Tuesday, after attending practice for about 4 1/2 hours every weekday evening except on game days.

"I go home, sleep, get up, go to practice, go home, eat, sleep and go to work," he said.

And that's actually a less frantic pace than his previous schedule, which entailed working 56-hour shifts at a juvenile detention center in Lancaster. Lara said he grew tired of working in an environment where he would have to wrestle with kids who got into fights.

"Obviously, I'm getting too old for that," he said. "I'm 42 and I probably look like 52."

So Lara made the schedule switch in June, allowing him to attend practice five days a week for the first time this season. He had previously been absent from Monday practices, leading to some unruly behavior among players.

"It's kind of like a dad not being home," senior quarterback Morgan Fennell said. "He'd always come back and we'd be in trouble."

The Jackrabbits' opponents probably wish Lara would disappear permanently.

Poly has won four section titles in Lara's eight years as coach and has a 94-13 overall record and a 24-4 postseason mark.

Each of the 13 teams the Jackrabbits have lost to finished that season with at least nine victories.

And despite Lara's two jobs, the list of Poly players who played for him and went on to the NFL is lengthy: Defensive back Darnell Bing, Detroit Lions; offensive lineman Winston Justice and wide receiver DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia Eagles; tight end Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars; linebacker Pago Togafau and offensive lineman Hercules Satele, Arizona Cardinals; and defensive lineman Manuel Wright, New York Giants.

"Coach Lara is one of those guys that's going to treat you like a man," Lewis said. "He really prepared me for that next level as far as having respect and knowing that integrity is important.

"He's a father figure. At one time he can be on you and another time he can be smiling. But he gets his point across. He has a way of teaching as well as coaching so the guys take to it easy."

Yet, there had been some grumbling about Lara during a 2008 playoff stretch in which the top-seeded Jackrabbits needed fourth-quarter scores to pull out victories in all four rounds before reaching their first bowl game.

Victor Jarels, Poly's co-principal, said the criticism has forced him to vacate the stands during games.

"I'm on the sideline, because it's constant," Jarels said. "But if you look at [Lara's] record and you question his ability to coach, you've really got to wonder about that thought process. His numbers speak for themselves and so do his championships."

Lara's players count themselves among his biggest supporters, describing him as a players' coach who can empathize with their daily struggles because he graduated from Poly and grew up in the same neighborhood.

Even though his work day isn't half over by the time practice ends, Lara appears mostly energetic to his players.

"Sometimes you can tell he's real tired, but for the most part he doesn't let it affect his coaching," Fennell said.

Asked how he was able to concentrate in the early-morning hours Sunday after winning a title, Lara said he was busy filing four reports during his juvenile hall shift.

"When you're doing some kind of task," he said, "you don't have time to really think about anything else."

But isn't it strange when he considers that only a few hours earlier he had been coaching a game in front of more than 11,000?

"It is kind of a weird feeling, but it just brings me back to reality," he said. "I'm a father and I need to provide for my family. That's my job."

--

ben.bolch@latimes.com

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