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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

High school football returns, with more great memories to follow

A region that has produced such stars as John Elway, Russell White, Justin Fargas and Mark Sanchez gets to see the latest group of players ready to give its best — and deserving of support.

August 29, 2013|Eric Sondheimer
  • Justin Fargas, one of the greatest high school players in Southern California history, runs the ball before a scrimmage.
Justin Fargas, one of the greatest high school players in Southern California… (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

This will be my 37th season covering high school football in Southern California.

I've lugged around computers that weighed 10 pounds and used pay phones that required a dime to call collect.

I've been kicked off fields by athletic directors who thought they were more powerful than a police officer. I've been cursed at by parents who believed in the power of screaming.

I've seen some of the greatest high school players in Southern California history: John Elway, Russell White, Justin Fargas, Mark Sanchez....

I've seen the game change, from an era of running on first, second and third down to passing on first, second and third down.

I've seen highly rated players flop. I've seen underrated players become stars.

I've seen coaches quit under pressure and coaches endure under pressure.

I've seen the focus of high school football evolve from preparing teenagers to become men to being about exposure, landing college scholarships and winning at extreme costs.

Every fall, I come back for another season, because I have the best job in the world. I get to tell stories about teenagers trying to make a difference, whether it's in the classroom, on the field or, preferably, both.

As fun as it is tracking players who might make it to the NFL, even more fulfilling is seeing players grow up and become community leaders.

I saw Dean Herrington and Jim Bonds throw spirals at Newhall Hart. Now they're head coaches at Mission Hills Alemany and La Cañada St. Francis. I saw Troy Thomas try to cover receivers at Encino Crespi. Now he's the head coach at his alma mater.

I saw a Venice quarterback who became a police detective, a Crespi quarterback who became an F-16 pilot. I saw a Sherman Oaks Notre Dame receiver who became an emergency-room physician, and a Harvard-Westlake linebacker who became an orthopedic surgeon. I saw a Chatsworth running back who became a Navy commander.

Every season is unpredictable. In 2012, Santa Margarita was the overwhelming favorite to win the Pac-5 Division title. Then quarterback Johnny Stanton went down with a knee injury. Long Beach Poly, considered a failure after a 56-0 loss to Harbor City Narbonne in the second game of the season, rose from the dead and won it all.

As the season begins this weekend, there should be lots of twists and turns. Bellflower St. John Bosco starts out as everyone's unbeatable No. 1 team, but a 17-week season won't be decided in one week, one month or one showdown game.

On the field, it's about focus, resiliency and leadership. Off the field, it's about staying healthy, staying eligible and staying unyielding in times of adversity.

Story lines to watch: What will Harry Welch do in his final season coaching at Santa Margarita? Who will emerge as the best quarterback in the Southland? Will West Hills Chaminade and Gardena Serra get to play twice, as everyone expects? Can Corona Centennial outlast Vista Murrieta and Upland for Inland Empire supremacy? Who will win the looming City Section battle among Crenshaw, Venice, Narbonne and Carson? Which player will earn a college scholarship the old-fashioned way — based on performance instead of just potential?

I'm ready to once again drive the traffic-jammed freeways of Southern California to observe the excitement of high school football.

Let's not forget that we're watching teenagers trying to do their best. Save the booing for the pros.

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @latsondheimer

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