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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Football coach Elijah Asante to tackle private school challenge

Former Carson High coach Elijah Asante moves to Santa Fe Springs St. Paul, becoming the only black football head coach in the Mission, Trinity and Serra leagues.

August 04, 2012|Eric Sondheimer

Every time Elijah Asante is underestimated, doubted or looked upon with skepticism, he rises up and changes attitudes like a fiery preacher delivering a sermon to his flock.

He's at it again in his latest challenge, taking over as football coach at Santa Fe Springs St. Paul.

He knows it's not just any job he has. As head football coach at a private school, he's been admitted into an exclusive club.

He's the only African American football head coach in the Trinity, Serra or Mission leagues, the three most powerful football leagues made up of private schools in the CIF's Southern Section.

"I feel I have a major responsibility," he said. "I feel it's my obligation to succeed and do well and to open doors for others who may get an opportunity to follow and coach at private schools."

African American head coaches are plentiful in basketball, but in football it has been a lot harder to break through.

"Usually those jobs are given to people they know or someone on the staff or someone who has a high profile," Asante said. "Some of our more high-profile African American coaches are content where they are."

Asante was not content staying at Carson in the City Section. He left after two years and twice getting the Colts into the City Section Division I championship game. Before that, he was head coach at L.A. Jordan for five years.

He has been seeking a private-school job for years even though the pressure and expectations are immense and the job security is usually year to year. Coaches have been fired or quietly pushed out after two years of failing to make the playoffs even if they've had success in the past.

At St. Paul, all Asante has to do is replace the legendary Marijon Ancich, the second-winningest coach in California history.

As Asante would say, "Bring it on."

"Coach Ancich is a legend in every sense of the word," he said. "I admire him and look up to him, but I'm not trying to be him. I have to be myself. I have to stick with the values I have. I have to implement my philosophy, my virtues, my guidelines."

At Carson, Asante had the players memorize words that represented the letters of Carson. C was for "courage"; A for "accountability"; R for "respect"; S for "selfless"; O for "obedience"; N for "never quit."

It seems a bit silly, but it works if the players follow through. He's put together a similar version for the Swordsmen.

S is for "selfless"; W is for "wisdom"; O is for "obedience"; R is for "respect"; D is for "discipline"; S is for "sacrifice"; M is for "merit"; E is for "enthusiasm"; N is for "never quit."

"It has to be who they are, not just a saying," Asante said.

The Swordsmen had better start memorizing and believing, considering their schedule this season includes Santa Ana Mater Dei, Anaheim Servite, Gardena Serra and West Hills Chaminade. It starts on Aug. 24 against La Mirada.

"The schedule is not new to me," Asante said. "It's something I've always done. It's normal."

Asante is already drawing scrutiny because St. Paul has at least 10 transfer students. Asante offers no apologies. "I absolutely don't recruit," he said. "I attract."

St. Paul will probably be the underdog against Mater Dei. Again, nothing new. Carson was the underdog to Mater Dei twice — and won twice.

Asante should never be underestimated.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer

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