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Carson football team has talent and class

ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

From the players' attire on game days to the bus ride to face an opponent to their pregame and postgame demeanor, the Colts represent everything that's good about prep athletics.

September 05, 2010|Eric Sondheimer

When parents drop off their kids at school, they place their trust in the teacher. They don't get to see what happens behind the closed door.

So let me tell the parents of Carson High football players how lucky they are after spending a day with the team.

On Saturday, I traveled on the bus, joined the team for dinner, hung out in the locker room for the pregame and halftime talks, listened and observed on the sideline as the Colts upset Southern Section power Santa Ana Mater Dei, 14-10.

They are a great group of teenagers guided by coaches determined to teach life lessons that won't be forgotten in one hour or one day.

There were surprises and obliterations of stereotypes.

Coach Elijah Asante, who went to Carson this season after five years at Los Angeles Jordan, requested that players show up wearing dress shirts, ties and black pants. At first, some players did not want to copy Will Smith with the "Men in Black" look. By the end of a long night, quarterback Justin Alo admitted, "I liked it."

Before the charter air-conditioned bus left Carson, players asked to say a prayer. This was a City Section team behaving like a private school squad.

And there was Asante doing his Jaime Escalante-like impersonation, asking the players what the Carson virtues are and then having them answer in unison.

"C — courage. A — accountability. R — respect. S — selfless. O — obedience. N — never quit."

Of course, the players love their music. Everyone seemed to have a listening device except linebacker Garren Jackson, who carried a 1980s boombox. And it was booming hip-hop, rap and lyrics not printable.

The bus stopped in Orange County so the players could have a late-afternoon meal at a restaurant. Their integrity and manners were on public display. They had to pay for their meals individually. Some went to Asante and quietly confessed who paid, who didn't and who couldn't afford to pay.

It was a short ride to Santa Ana Stadium, and Asante told the players to start getting into game mode. Suddenly, there was silence.

Their opponent, Mater Dei, led by two USC-bound players, quarterback Max Wittek and receiver Victor Blackwell, was ranked No. 10 by Cal-Hi Sports in its preseason rankings. But people seemed to forget that Carson was an 11-time City champion and had beaten the Monarchs last season.

From beginning to end, Carson dominated. The Colts were quicker and more disciplined. Alo, the senior quarterback, was a threat running and passing. Junior receiver Darreus Rogers made two terrific catches. The defense sacked Wittek four times, led by stocky and super quick nose tackle Justin Smith. The architect of the defense was coordinator Frank Lewis, an L.A. City firefighter who coaches football during his free time and displays the kind of professionalism and coolness under pressure every teenager could learn from.

The game, though, was close throughout, and Carson offensive assistants kept pleading to Asante to pound Mater Dei by running the ball. He finally relented in the last two minutes, when the Colts ran out the clock.

Afterward, there were friendly handshakes between the Carson's and Mater Dei's players and coaches. Everything was classy. Then came the Carson celebration and shouts. And the Colts had every reason to shout.

"It's a big shock for everybody because of the way people view the City Section," Asante said. "We have a kindred experience with other City teams. I know we got problems, but we've had great players. John Elway came from the City Section. Wesley Walker came from the City Section. We have a chip on our shoulder."

On the bus ride home, there was darkness and singing. It wasn't rowdy, probably because the coaches reminded the players they had a visitor.

But what a memorable day and night for the visitor who learned that the City Section has every reason to be proud of its players and coaches.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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