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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Football season has started, but fewer students are starting with the sport

Concern over injuries and the specialization of single-sport athletes seems to be affecting the number of players coming out to play football.

August 23, 2012|Eric Sondheimer
  • Loyola running back Wyatt Bradford breaks loose for a touchdown against Harvard-Westlake in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
Loyola running back Wyatt Bradford breaks loose for a touchdown against… (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

On a cloudless, near-perfect night in Van Nuys, the high school football season began Thursday when two teams that hadn't met in 80 years, Loyola and Studio City Harvard-Westlake, faced off at L.A. Valley College. What a contrast in styles.

Harvard-Westlake quarterback Chad Kanoff completed 34 of 58 passes for 442 yards and four touchdowns. Loyola running back Wyatt Bradford rushed for 224 yards in 21 carries and scored four touchdowns. Loyola won, 42-27.

Are you ready for 17 consecutive weeks of high school football?

It's going to be a long, exhausting march toward the CIF state championship bowl games scheduled for Dec. 14-15 in Carson.

Football remains the most popular sport in the nation among boys, with 1,095,993 participants during the 2011-12 school year, according to the latest survey of the National Federation of State High School Associations.

But there also were 12,448 fewer students playing football than the year before and 38 schools stopped playing the sport.

Could it be a sign of trouble brewing?

In Southern California, Calabasas and Harvard-Westlake have dropped their freshman teams. North Hollywood Campbell Hall and Playa del Rey St. Bernard have dropped their varsity teams. Crenshaw, a school that made it to the CIF state championship Open Division Bowl in 2009, is down to 30 players.

Some speculate that all the focus on concussion dangers could be scaring parents and players. Others believe that the era of specialization, where athletes focus on a single sport year round, is taking away players that would have gone out for football. And the growth of lacrosse is giving football players a safer alternative.

But then how do you explain what's happening at Anaheim Servite, where more than 80 freshman students have gone out for football. At Loyola, there were 115 freshmen out for football.

What's clear is that lots of coaches can no longer assume students are going to simply show up at their office door wanting to play football.

Walking around the Harvard-Westlake campus is 14-year-old freshman Ben Hallock, who's

6 feet 4, 200 pounds. His father, Tom, was an offensive guard at USC in the 1980s. Hallock played quarterback in middle school. He might be the next Matt Barkley, but we'll never know. He's one of the nation's top age-group water polo players. He has decided he wants to be the next Tony Azevedo. "I love watching football and playing it with friends, but watching my dad and seeing all the injuries produced, I wasn't interested," Hallock said.

Coaches will need to get better in explaining to parents and students what football has to offer and confront concerns about safety issues.

Bob Johnson at Mission Viejo has become one of the best in attracting multiple-sport athletes to his football team. The latest is kicker Reece Maxon, a senior who plays soccer and baseball.

"Coach Johnson called me into his office during school a couple months ago and asked if I wanted to kick," Maxon said. "I told him I'd have to think about it. I never thought about playing football before because it seemed so brutal compared to soccer. He said as long as I kicked the ball into the end zone, that would be pretty much my whole job."

Of course, if one of Maxon's kickoffs doesn't reach the end zone, he'll be the last man standing to stop a kickoff return.

"They're teaching me how to tackle," he said.

Welcome to football, 2012.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondhemer

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