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Eric Sondheimer / ON THE HIGH SCHOOLS

Denham takes giant steps forward

September 19, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

Anthony Denham is, at 17, 6 feet 4 1/2 , 190 pounds, and can palm a basketball and glide through the air as if he were a stunt double for Michael Jordan.

"Coaches tell me I'm gifted," he said.

Those who have seen him catch passes for Los Angeles Wilson don't waste any time in offering comparisons to NFL receivers.

"He reminds me of Randy Moss," said Steve Clarkson, the renown private football tutor. "He's got long strides, soft hands and phenomenal leaping ability."

Wilson Coach Eddie Martinez wonders if Denham realizes how special he is.

"I don't think he understands what kind of body he has," Martinez said. "To be a monster out there is the next step."

Last season as a junior, Denham caught 41 passes for 632 yards and nine touchdowns. Last Friday, in a season opener against Roosevelt, he caught an 81-yard touchdown pass. He figures to routinely face double coverage this season, though Wilson quarterback Jonathan Rojas doesn't seem concerned about passing to someone who's a marked man.

"I know it's going to be caught," Rojas said. "It's 100% certain."

Denham's impressive physical skills provide only a glimpse into the story of a teenager who endured a tumultuous childhood that saw him taken away from his mother by social workers when he was 11 and put into the foster care system.

Hilda Montano, who has taken in 37 children through the years, became his legal guardian, establishing firm guidelines and a structured environment, with teachers sending her Denham's weekly schedule so she can keep watch.

Denham said he has been "blessed" by Montano's guidance. "I stayed in school and my cousins went on the wrong track and into gang banging," he said.

He said he never met his father and hasn't seen his mother since the day he was taken away. His mother recently started writing him letters, a hopeful sign that she could be on the way to recovery from previous problems. He remains in contact with his grandmother and uncle.

All the while, he keeps smiling, something that's hard to believe considering what he has gone through.

"Over the years, I never took a lot of things seriously," he said. "I guess that's what made me smile a lot. I didn't let it get to me. I didn't stay emotional about it. I moved on."

It's a message Montano passed on to Denham and her other foster children.

"You have a future on your own," Montano tells Denham. "You have to forgive, but don't forget."

Denham has improved his academics immensely, achieving a 3.5 grade-point average in the last semester. But passing the necessary 16 core classes to qualify for a college scholarship will be a challenge.

Anyone who comes in contact with Denham seems convinced of his potential.

It's up to him to make sure it doesn't slip away.

"I have to take advantage of what I have," he said.

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It's a homecoming tonight for Anaheim Servite Coach Troy Thomas. He brings his team to Encino Crespi, where he played and coached.

"It's going to be fun," Thomas said. "It's always fun going back."

It seems as if Thomas and his successor at Crespi, Jeremiah Ross, are having a little competition in the father department.

Thomas' wife, Stacey, gave birth on Sunday to the couple's fourth child, daughter Preslee Rose. Ross' wife, Leilani, gave birth to their second child, daughter, Kalea, in June.

"He's got me by two," Ross said. "I'm going to catch up."

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Never doubt the versatility and toughness of Michael Frisina, a 5-5 kicker from Brea Olinda who's also being asked to play quarterback this season.

Last week, he completed nine of 13 passes for 122 yards in a 43-35 victory over Fullerton Troy. He also made field goals of 30, 35 and 36 yards, kicked four extra points and drove the ball four times into the end zone on kickoffs for touchbacks.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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