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Dorsey grads help the Bruins

September 20, 2009|KURT STREETER

As we march through its still young and electric season, it's hard to watch UCLA begin a single play without focusing on the team's burgeoning, bulging, increasingly effective middle.

Straight up the gut resides a holy terror who goes by the name Brian Price. Straight up the gut you're finding wide holes carved by the offensive line and even, on occasion, quarterbacks who look like quarterbacks.

And straight up the gut, at one end of the offense and one end of the defense, you find two 19-year-olds who've journeyed together since their first year of high school. A pair of unusual, world-wise kids all of Los Angeles should be proud of.

When the Bruins have the ball, off scoots tailback Johnathan Franklin, the redshirt freshman who rushed for 119 yards on 23 carries and scored his second touchdown of the season Saturday night. When the Bruins defend, up swoops Rahim Moore, the sophomore safety whose helmet seems continuously drawn to the scrum.

Saturday -- a day of infamy for rival USC -- brought fresh evidence of how bright the Bruins' future can be, in part because of these two guiding lights. For me, this game also provided a flashback -- repeated reminders of a scene that unfolded 24 hours earlier, smack in the middle of South L.A.

Franklin and Moore are 2008 graduates of Dorsey High, the fabled City Section school that sits amid notoriously difficult streets. Friday night, Dorsey's football team celebrated a new era: its home field, long known for craggy grass and gopher holes, now shimmered with a glistening, $1.9-million slab of freshly laid synthetic turf.

Friday night, Dorsey also celebrated its past, which is where Franklin and Moore come in.

On a fog-doused field, amid crackling introductions and long ovations, stood the Bruins' duo: teammates since ninth grade. It was more than a homecoming. Their current success clearly embodies the dreams of a community.

"I'm fighting the tears," said Moore, standing proudly on the mint-green field in his white UCLA sweats. "Just remembering all the blood and guts I spilled on this field."

"It's hard to describe this feeling," said Franklin, eyes gleaming as he focused on the new field. "This is home. And coming back home, being a Bruin now and coming out of here, two young black men, we want to show the kids they can be great in all aspects of life. . . . We want to mean something to the place where we come from."

It's very clear what the two Bruins mean to their current team. The Kansas State game showed it. Franklin became the first Bruins back to rush for more than 100 yards in 12 games.

Moore, who started as a freshman, seemed smack in the dust of every downfield tackle. The more we see of him -- five interceptions in three games, nearly two more in the 23-9 win over the Wildcats -- the more it becomes clear he should go ahead and have "All-American" tattooed on his back.

What this pair means to Westwood is a real chance at old glory.

What they mean in the halls of Dorsey High? Ask the folks who live for the place.

"Leadership," said Paul Knox, the Dorsey head coach who has produced handfuls of pros and bushels of college stars. "That we have two young men here who do things right."

"Legacy," said A.R. Mateo, a tutor who prepped the two Bruins for the demands of college. "Not just for their generation, but the next generation and the generation after that . . . they're proving you can come out of here and make it at a place like UCLA."

"Inspiration," added Carolynn Middleton, a Dorsey English teacher who has known the pair since the 10th grade. As she spoke, all I could think was how these are the kids we need to celebrate in South L.A. The kinds we need to wrap our arms around and push: straight arrows, even amid the occasional madness. A pair always focused tightly on their goals, always willing to do whatever extra it took to get there -- extra sprints or extra pushups or extra chapters of math.

She remembered how Franklin -- "Jet Ski" as he's known at Dorsey -- started a movement to stop swearing and cursing at his school. She noted that she calls Moore "The Deacon" because when he wasn't toting around a football, he either had his nose in a Bible or his head down in a prayer. "They were special here," she said. "And right now, just by doing well at UCLA, they're still special."

Said Moore as he left the Dorsey field, heading off to make curfew on the evening of a big game: "I feel so much love here that it's just rejuvenating. Believe me, it's seriously going to motivate us to take this kind of feeling back to the team we play for now."

These were not empty words. Saturday night, Dorsey High smack in the middle of a third straight UCLA win, proved it.

--

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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