Students who filled the gymnasium at Los Angeles Washington Prep on Thursday learned that future Hall of Famers don't always start out as high school sports standouts. That was the story told by Pro Football Hall of Fame member James Lofton, Washington class of 1974.
Lofton, who caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards in a 16-year NFL career and was an NCAA long jump champion at Stanford, explained that he was a backup quarterback on the B team as a 10th grader and a reserve basketball player on the C team who quit the team. Then, in his first race for the C track team, he quit in the middle of the race when he concluded he wasn't going to score any points for the team.
That's when his track coach, Gene Thomas, told him, "Cousin, I can't believe you quit on me. I thought you had more guts than that."
Something clicked after the admonishment and challenge from his coach.
"To this day, whenever I run a step, I hear Gene Thomas' voice in my head," Lofton said.
Lofton told the students that his high school coaches, teachers and counselors "were angels looking over me."
Sitting in the audience was sophomore running back Xzavion Potts, who has a 3.5 grade-point average. He had never heard of Lofton until seeing the presentation put on by the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance as part of a program to honor Hometown Hall of Famers.
Potts said his father is a high school dropout who has tried to persuade him to get good grades for a better future.
And then he heard Lofton's story.
"It inspires me," he said. "My next step is to make big dreams like he did."
There's no denying the excitement fans experienced watching Friday's four Pac-5 Division playoff thrillers in person, on television or via the Web.
"Sometimes I wish I could sit home and watch these games or actually be in the stands," Santa Ana Mater Dei receiver Thomas Duarte said.
What separates the Pac-5 from the other 12 divisions in the Southern Section is how competitive the quarterfinal games are.
The biggest upset was Long Beach Poly defeating unbeaten Mission Viejo, 21-16.
"Everyone doubted us," Poly running back Gerard Wicks told Gazettes.com. "We just believed."
What has helped the 18-time champion Jackrabbits recover from some bad nonleague losses is a return to the way Poly used to win championships — by running the ball and relying on an aggressive defense.
Manusamoa Lu'uga rushed for 139 yards. Wicks scored two touchdowns. John Smith had a key interception.
The semifinals present a showdown between the old coaching warriors, Bruce Rollinson of Mater Dei and Raul Lara of Long Beach Poly, against the young guns, Todd Therrien of Ventura St. Bonaventure and Jason Negro of Bellflower St. John Bosco.
Mater Dei-St. Bonaventure and St. John Bosco-Poly are pick-'em games, which is perfect for a season that has been anything but predictable.
Speed in Banning
Senior quarterback Sty Hairston of Banning has to be fast. He rushed for 484 yards in 15 carries and accounted for seven touchdowns in a 71-14 win over Temecula Linfield Christian.
Say what you want about unbeaten Harbor City Narbonne (12-0) from the not-always-respected City Section, but the Gauchos own wins over Pac-5 Division semifinalists Long Beach Poly and Mater Dei, and also have wins over Western Division semifinalist Gardena Serra, Northern Division semifinalist Palos Verdes and City Division I semifinalist Carson.
That's called building a resume to play in a CIF state championship regional bowl game.