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De'Anthony Thomas, Crenshaw football team get chance to dazzle a statewide audience

The school will play Concord De La Salle in a televised CIF Open Division bowl game, and the rest of California will finally get to see in action an athlete nicknamed 'Black Mamba.'

December 14, 2009|Eric Sondheimer
  • Crenshaw and running back De'Anthony Thomas will take on Northern California powerhouse Concord De La Salle in the CIF State Bowl Open Division championship game on Saturday.
Crenshaw and running back De'Anthony Thomas will take on Northern… (Christine Cotter, / Los…)

Ask any youth or high school football player from South Los Angeles, "Who's Black Mamba?" and he'll know the answer.

It's the nickname of De'Anthony Thomas from Los Angeles Crenshaw, the fastest, most recognizable teenage athlete to come out of the area in years.

And now the rest of California is about to see what all the fuss is about because Crenshaw, the City Section Division I champion, was chosen Sunday to be in the prime-time televised CIF state championship Open Division bowl game Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

Its opponent will be Concord De La Salle (12-2) and legendary Coach Bob Ladouceur, who guided his team to a 151-game winning streak from 1992 to 2004.

Crenshaw's 14-0 record, combined with wins over five consecutive Southern Section opponents to start the season, got the Cougars the Open Division berth over Pac-5 Division champion Anaheim Servite (13-1), which will play in the Division II bowl game against Rocklin (14-0). In Division III, Gardena Serra (14-0) will take on Kentfield Marin Catholic (13-1). All the games will air live on Prime Ticket.

It's the fourth year of the state bowl games matching Southern California versus Northern California. Eight of the 10 schools selected will make their first bowl appearances. The schedule starts Friday with the Small Schools final between San Diego Parker (11-2) and Modesto Christian (14-0), followed by the Division I final between Oceanside (13-0) and San Jose Bellarmine Prep (11-1-1).

Yes, Servite had a tougher schedule than Crenshaw, with wins over Inland Division champion Temecula Chaparral and Pac-5 runner-up Huntington Beach Edison and two wins over powerhouse Long Beach Poly, but the Friars' loss to Edison earlier in the season might have been the difference maker.

Servite Coach Troy Thomas said he has no problem with the decision to put his team in Division II.

"We're excited," he said. "We'll do our best to represent the south. Westlake is 14-0 and doesn't get invited. Should they feel bad? There's so many deserving teams. We're treating it as a great experience and one more week to be together."

Serra, coming off an emotional 42-41 overtime victory over Westlake Village Oaks Christian in the Northwest Division final, is another school making its first bowl appearance.

"It's an unbelievable honor," Coach Scott Altenberg said.

The 10 section commissioners who made the bowl selections certainly couldn't have come up with a more attractive Open Division matchup. It's public versus private and Crenshaw's athleticism versus De La Salle's discipline.

"I am overwhelmed," Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett said. "I'm very excited about the opportunity. We don't get this honor all the time. That's a powerhouse team. We accept the challenge."

What everyone should be excited about is to see De'Anthony Thomas in action.

Black Mamba is one of the most feared and dangerous snakes in Africa, and it's what people in the stands start screaming when Thomas gets the ball. I was sitting in the press box at the Coliseum on Saturday afternoon, and when Thomas broke off a dazzling 39-yard run against Harbor City Narbonne, a young boy sitting next to me started shouting, "Go Mamba."

Thomas was a youth football phenom. Last spring, he won the City Section 100-meter dash as a sophomore. He has been hardly used at tailback this season because he's needed to play most of the game at free safety, but when he's called upon, he can thrill a crowd at the blink of an eye. He had 193 yards and three touchdowns in 12 carries against Narbonne in Saturday's City Section Division I final, a 34-14 Crenshaw victory.

If you thought a couple of weeks ago that the testosterone level was elevated on the sideline during the USC-UCLA game, just wait for the coming recruiting battle between Pete Carroll and Rick Neuheisel over Thomas.

What's great for Crenshaw is that it will finally get the television exposure it deserves. Lots of people have heard about the Cougars, but not everyone has seen their speed and talent. They get to represent the City Section against one of the most fabled programs in America.

It's Crenshaw's opportunity to show it has the discipline and dedication to compete against the best.

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