Crenshaw quarterback Ajene Harris (11) and Narbonne quarterback Eban… (Patrick T. Fallon and Genaro…)
It has been the year of the quarterback in the City Section. From Cristian Solano of San Fernando closing in on 4,000 yards passing to Alexander Diamont of Venice accounting for 47 touchdowns passing and running, there are plenty of quarterbacks coming through with big seasons.
It should come as no surprise that the surviving teams in the City Division I playoffs, Crenshaw and Harbor City Narbonne, will be relying on their standout senior quarterbacks in Friday's championship game at East Los Angeles College.
Ajene Harris of Crenshaw and Eban Jackson of Narbonne are the players to watch in the 8 p.m. duel that matches the City's dominant programs. Narbonne is bidding for its third consecutive title. Before the Gauchos' run, Crenshaw had won consecutive titles.
The 6-foot Harris has pulled off one of the great makeovers in City history. He started high school at tiny Animo South, a charter school with little football tradition. He moved to Crenshaw after his sophomore year. The leap in competition didn't deter him.
"It's preparing yourself, practicing hard and getting better so you'd be able to compete against the best," he said. "I was very confident. I just know I'm a hardworking player."
Last week in a semifinal, Harris passed for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown and made two interceptions at cornerback in a 30-25 victory over Venice.
He has one of the strongest arms of any quarterback in the Southland and can scramble for yards if needed.
His athleticism prompted USC to offer him a scholarship last month, a day he will never forget.
"I've been dreaming that all my life," he said. "I was walking from class to lunch and [Trojans assistant coach] Tee Martin called me and told me. I just had a big smile on my face the rest of the day."
A year ago, Narbonne and its outstanding defense defeated Crenshaw, 25-0, in the Division I final. The Gauchos graduated most of last season's defensive standouts, but Harris will have to be a playmaker if the Cougars expect to end Narbonne's run.
Jackson has faced a difficult challenge this season. He had to take over for Troy Williams, the two-time player of the year who went to Washington.
Jackson arrived in January from Long Beach Poly, where he shared quarterbacking duties for the Jackrabbits' Pac-5 championship team. Comparisons to Williams were inevitable.
"I really don't think about it," he said. "I go out and play to the best of my ability."
His ability to run has made Jackson invaluable. But the key for him is to manage the offense while limiting mistakes. He has had just one pass intercepted while throwing for more than 1,600 yards and 17 touchdowns.
"He's come into his own and has his own strengths," Coach Manuel Douglas said. "He's done an admirable job. Him running the ball is big for us."
Everything is set for the No. 1-seeded Gauchos to take on the No. 2-seeded Cougars. Enjoy and watch how the quarterbacks take charge.