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Football Coach Troy Thomas begins building anew at Encino Crespi High

Troy Thomas, an alumnus and former coach at Crespi High, returns to the Catholic school after eight years and two titles at Servite.

August 03, 2013|Eric Sondheimer

It's 6:30 a.m. Saturday and the 69 football players who slept in the gym overnight at Encino Crespi High haven't stopped yawning. They are getting a wake-up call unlike any other.

They're lying on their backs in the weight room. Each player has a partner who's supposed to look into his eyes as they encourage each other to make it through a grueling 30 minutes of push-ups and sit-ups while counting out "One, two, three . . ." in unison at the top of their lungs.

It's called, "Countdown," and to see it unfold under the direction of new Coach Troy Thomas would probably make any parent cringe, then applaud.

"As it gets harder, we get tougher," Thomas shouts to his players as sweat hits the rubber floor, mirrors fog and the air becomes stale with the smell of perspiration.

"When something bad happens, you have to handle it," Thomas says when a player is sent outside and slams shut the weight room door after failing to follow instructions.

Only 12 of the 69 players made it through Friday's "Countdown" without being sent outside.

"You guys have to start thinking about somebody besides yourself," Thomas tells them after doing push-ups himself.

Thomas is a 1987 Crespi graduate who is returning to his alma mater after winning two Pac-5 Division titles at Anaheim Servite. Trying to change culture doesn't happen overnight, but having his players together for four days and three nights at the beginning of football camp starts the clock toward accomplishing what he wants — building a team that will be focused, disciplined and trusting of each other.

"If you're a real Crespi Celt, I don't need to prod you," Thomas tells the players.

Wes Massett, a junior quarterback who transferred to Crespi from Westlake Village Westlake during the summer, had no idea what he was going to experience.

"It's brutal but it's so rewarding at the end when you finish," he said.

Asked what his former teammates might think of "Countdown," Massett said, "They would probably think it's crazy, but I've changed since I've been here. I've become a better person inside."

That's been Thomas' calling card for years, teaching his players about more than football. His teams have never been the most talented, but they've always relied on each other and turned to players who weren't highly regarded to step forward at critical moments to contribute.

He left Crespi for Servite eight years ago, and now he's back starting over. Based on this weekend, the mirrors in the weight room are going to need lots of cleaning.

After Saturday's "Countdown," the survivors had more than doubled from 12. That's a sign of progress.

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

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