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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Hard work finally pays off for Palisades' Malcolm Creer

The 5-foot-11 running back, who had drawn little interest from big-time schools, will get a scholarship in part because of his character and commitment.

January 23, 2011|Eric Sondheimer

With a little more than a week to go before letter of intent day on Feb. 2, it's crunch time for college football recruiters and those high school seniors who still haven't made a final decision.

Players most excited are those suddenly gaining last-minute attention as coaches frantically maneuver and juggle their recruiting lists.

Standout running back Steven Manfro of Valencia celebrated his 18th birthday on Sunday with a scholarship offer from UCLA that he proudly accepted. Westlake Village Westlake quarterback Nick Isham accepted a scholarship to Louisiana Tech.

Malcolm Creer, a running back from Palisades, is going to receive a college scholarship after months of virtually no interest from big-time schools. He took a recruiting visit to Colorado this past weekend. Washington sent an assistant coach to watch him play basketball on Wednesday, and he scheduled a visit to Seattle next weekend.

"It's good to know my name is out there coming from a school that had a 1-9 season before this year," he said.

Creer's story offers hope to those feeling unwanted. He rushed for 1,270 yards and 19 touchdowns this season in helping Palisades reach the City Section Division II semifinals in only his third year playing football. He's 5 feet 11, 200 pounds and so tough that he took four charging fouls this month in a basketball game.

"If you notice, not a lot of kids taking charges in high school these days," he said. "I guess it's very old fashion. A bruise is nothing. I'm a big fan of ice bags."

He takes a bus in the morning from his home in the Crenshaw district to Palisades, which he chose to attend for academic reasons. He goes to Santa Monica College in the evening by bus to take a class in American Sign Language. He wants to be a teacher and coach.

"My mom is a nurse," he said. "I saw her in action helping others and hearing their problems. Telling them what to do can change their life, and I just thought I could really do that. I just want to help others."

His character and commitment to succeed has impressed recruiters who come to campus.

"I couldn't be more proud of him," basketball Coach James Paleno said. "He's going to college whether he plays sports or not. That's been the mantra of his family."

Football Coach Perry Jones said Creer will be able to help a top program.

"He's going to take a hit, he's going to deliver a blow," Jones said.

Creer said he was worried about ending up without any offers, but he decided all he could do was his best.

"I had a big chip on my shoulder and just said, 'You know what, I have to put in the hard work and something will come out good,' " he said.

Fighting back

High school coaches have seen increasing numbers of their athletes seek guidance from private coaches while spending thousands of dollars, and football Coach Jim Benkert of Westlake has decided to offer an alternative.

He has started holding voluntary Saturday morning workouts for any player at his school. Their only cost is for insurance and field rental.

"Every team sport is run by clubs and gurus," Benkert said. "The only sport holding on is football."

Benkert said he has a player who spent more than $3,000 for 10 weeks of receiver lessons last year.

"It's our kids, on our field with our coaches," he said of the Saturday gathering. "It's not mandatory."

Benkert plans to start holding seven-on-seven passing competitions two months earlier than he has ever done, offering to play other schools beginning March 12 at Westlake. The question is will there be any takers?

Don't be surprised if Benkert's early start to football practice catches on. Top schools are already engaged in early morning weight-training sessions, so skill-position training is a natural progression.

The private coaches could be hurt in the pocket book.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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