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Eric Sondheimer / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Poly's defense is deep and fast

October 10, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

When it comes to causing havoc during a football game, Long Beach Poly defensive end Iuta Tepa never lets his coaches down.

He's a 6-foot-2, 238-pound disrupter who pressures quarterbacks with a relentless rush, throws down running backs with startling strength and deflects passes as if he were a 7-footer.

"This kid is the total package," defensive coordinator Jeff Turley said. "He's got the desire to make a play every single snap. His motor just doesn't stop."

A big reason why Poly has won 17 Southern Section football championships is that the program is never lacking in talent, especially on defense.

Skeptics thought the second-ranked Jackrabbits (4-0) might falter a little after the graduation of defensive players who ended up at USC, Miami, North Carolina and Utah State. But they just don't understand how this program works.

Turley and head Coach Raul Lara make sure the backups get plenty of experience, and when they get their chance to start there's not much of a drop-off.

"The Poly tradition of defense is one that goes back to the ages," Turley said. "You've [got] guys like [linebacker] Willie McGinest in the [NFL]. It goes on and on. We take a lot of pride in being able to stop our opponent."

Speed is the most important ingredient in Poly's yearly quest to dominate on defense.

"Our defensive line plays very aggressively and very fast," Turley said. "A lot of them would probably be playing linebacker at other schools. I've got linebackers who would probably be playing defensive back. We base this whole thing on speed and heart."

Tepa is the latest standout for the Jackrabbits' defense. Last season as a junior, he was hardly noticed playing on the same line with Jurrell Casey, now a freshman at USC. As a senior, he's in constant attack mode. He made an early commitment to Hawaii, but lots of schools are now trying to enter the recruiting competition, and for good reason.

"He's been dominating," Turley said.

Tepa's training in volleyball allows him to leap so high that when a quarterback tries to throw a pass he becomes an imposing obstacle, his arms reaching to the sky.

"During the summer, when they ran our offense against us, Coach [Lara] goes, 'I can't get anything done when he's here,' " Turley said. "His speed is amazing. He understands now the little things we've been teaching him."

Said Tepa: "Our defense is strong because we have chemistry. We all back each other up."

It's not only Tepa that has Poly's defense in top form entering tonight's showdown game against No. 3-ranked Ventura St. Bonaventure (4-0) at Long Beach Veterans Stadium.

St. Bonaventure Coach Todd Therrien has been telling reporters, "Long Beach Poly has probably the best defense that I have seen at the high school level."

Poly's three linebackers are returning starters from last year's Pacific 5 Division championship team. Their experience and speed make it difficult for opponents to put together long drives.

Then there's Poly's secondary. All four starters last season received college scholarships. The backups, led by safety Stan McKay, have stepped in with high-quality performances. It's as if Poly has an endless supply of defensive backs considering it's the school that has produced the likes of Mark Carrier, Darnell Bing and Marques Anderson, among others.

"We've got enough DBs to field a whole team with," Turley said. "We've got a world-class track team, and that helps us a lot. We get a lot of kids who run track."

Linebacker Kenny Tuiloma said there's a simple reason for the Jackrabbits' success.

"We all play assignment football," he said. "As long as everyone does his job, the work is done."

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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