LOMPOC — On a hot summer day when temperatures are in the 90s in Los Angeles, a 120-mile drive north along the 101 Freeway past some of the most picturesque coastal scenery anywhere sends you to the Highway 1 exit and a path to this city of 43,000, where it's suddenly windy, overcast and cool.
On the football field at Lompoc High wearing earbuds and listening to music is Lavon Coleman, 5 feet 11, 210 pounds, known as "The Beast" and "The Juggernaut."
He's the most recognizable Braves running back since the days of Napoleon "The Missile" Kaufman, who used to streak for touchdowns on the same field more than 20 years ago.
"Strong as an ox," is how Coleman describes himself.
"As hard as we work at practice, there's no way one guy should bring me down at any time," he said.
Last season, Lompoc finished 14-0 and won its second consecutive Northwest Division championship. Coleman rushed for 2,038 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. He committed during the summer to Washington, the same school Kaufman played for in 1991 on his way to setting a career rushing record.
"My offensive line blocks extremely well," Coleman said. "It's not all me. It's 50% me, 50% team."
Football and occasional rockets lighting up the sky after being launched from nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base are the main entertainment interests in Lompoc.
"We used to have a bowling alley," 27-year-old head Coach Andrew Jones said. "We don't have that anymore. We've got missiles going off, a movie theater and Lompoc football. If you're caught at the movie theater on Friday night and we have a home game, somebody is going to be calling you out."
Coleman moved to Lompoc from Los Angeles when he was 4. It's where his mother was born.
"You watch the rocket fly for five, 10 seconds, and you go back inside," Coleman said. "That's basically our main night in Lompoc."
Except each fall, the Lompoc Braves become the featured attraction, and Coleman has become one of the best running backs in California.
"He's extremely hard to bring down," Jones said. "He's legitimately 210 pounds and extremely strong and physical. Once he makes a couple guys miss, he does have that speed to break the long ones."
Coleman was looking forward last season to making a trip to the Home Depot Center to play in a CIF state championship bowl game. He and his teammates were watching the announcement and ended up being stunned when Lompoc was left out despite an unbeaten record.
"On the day of the announcement, all of us were sitting in a room together, listening to the computer," he said. "As soon as they said, 'Washington Union,' and didn't hear our name, it was emotional. Things that guys don't really do together happened. There were a lot of tears, a lot of cussing."
Lompoc's task of making a bowl game this fall will be a lot tougher. The Braves' league, the Los Padres, has been moved to the Western Division, which includes the Mission League and powerful Gardena Serra, among other schools.
Jones, who felt as much disappointment as his players, is trying to get his team to focus on "one game at a time" and not think about a section championship or bowl game.
"The kids learned a lesson that politics usually takes over," he said.
So he and his players are focusing on what they can achieve on the field, and with Coleman in the backfield and 16 returning starters, the Braves have high aspirations for 2012.
Asked how he wants to be remembered after playing in his final high school game, Coleman said, "That boy can play. That's what I want them to say when I leave."