Alex Pourdanesh remembers an elevator ride he took with his father, Shar, around this time a year ago. There was nothing unusual about it, as they were going up to their condominium in Irvine, but it was what Shar said to Alex that floored him.
Shar looked at his son and asked, “Why don’t we go to Corona del Mar?”
Alex stared back, jokingly saying, “Yeah, we’re going to go to CdM.”
The way the high school football season ended at University last November, with it missing the playoffs, Alex needed to laugh. The idea of transferring to CdM, the same program that gave his brother, Julian, a concussion in a game late that season, amused Alex a little bit.
A month later, it wasn’t Shar who brought up CdM again. Alex needed to know whether his dad was serious about CdM because he knew University was a special place to Shar.
Shar played football at University for the same man — Mark Cunningham — coaching his two sons at the time. Shar went on to play at the University of Nevada, in the Canadian Football League, and in the NFL. After his playing career ended, Shar returned to Irvine to raise and coach his boys.
A month after coaching Alex and Julian for a third season with the Trojans, Alex had a question for his dad.
“Dad, I know you were kidding, but why don’t we go to CdM?” Alex asked this past December.
“Yeah, why don’t we?” Shar responded, before pointing out the reasons for transferring to CdM. “Look, your mom is moving [to Newport Beach]. You have an opportunity of going somewhere else where you’re going to be challenged. Are you guys being challenged to the best of your ability [at University]? Are you guys being pushed? Are you guys facing adversity? In life, you have to constantly challenge yourself. You can’t just stay stagnant. Nothing that is ever stagnant is ever improving.”
Just like that, Alex and Julian made the move to CdM.
Never in his wildest dreams did Alex think he and his brother would end up playing for the Sea Kings in their senior year. They left University for CdM during last school year’s spring semester, hoping for the chance to play on a bigger stage.
The time has come for Alex and Julian. The brothers helped the Sea Kings earn the No. 4 seed in the CIF Southern Section Division 4 playoffs. They will be on the field Friday when CdM (9-1) plays host to Eastvale Roosevelt (6-4) at Newport Harbor High at 7 p.m.
As a running back and H-back, Alex runs with the ball and catches it, while Julian, a right guard, blocks for him.
Other than their different positions, the brothers are about the same size, both are 6 feet 2, and Alex weighs 235 pounds and Julian is 15 pounds heavier. They were also born 10 months apart. Julian is older than Alex is.
Shar, who played on the offensive line for the Washington Redskins for three years and the Pittsburgh Steelers for two years, said his sons are more talented than he ever was at football. Shar was 6-6 and 312 pounds during his play days.
Shar got the chance to coach Alex and Julian in the sport three years ago at University. They, like their dad, first played tackle football in high school. Unlike their dad, Alex and Julian knew football.
Shar, who was born in Tehran, Iran, said he was 13 years old when he moved with his family to the U.S. in 1983. Two years later, Shar went out for football at University because of a friend. To this day, Shar calls Cunningham a very special person in his life.
Leaving his old coach and taking his boys to Pacific Coast League rival CdM wasn’t easy for Shar, who was the offensive line coach under Cunningham.
“It was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. It was one of the toughest decisions that the boys ever made,” said Shar, who graduated from University in 1988. “We had to weigh the factor of my kids following my tradition, my footsteps, playing for the coach that I played for, versus going somewhere where they’re going to be challenged more, they’re going to face tougher competition. It was really difficult, it was very emotional, but I’m very grateful because Mark has been fantastic. He’s been supportive of us.”
Cunningham, a Costa Mesa resident, has gone to CdM this week to watch and support the Pourdanesh brothers and the Sea Kings practice. Cunningham and CdM coach Dan O’Shea are dear friends.
Alex said Cunningham, whose team did not make the postseason this year, plans to attend CdM’s playoff opener. Alex is beginning to run hard like he did during his junior year at University, boding well for the Sea Kings’ chances of making a run to the Division 4 final for the second consecutive year.
Last week, with the league championship on the line and starting running back J.T. Murphy out with a calf strain, Alex produced. He rushed 24 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns, leading CdM to a 41-21 win against Woodbridge at University High.
Alex saved his best performance with the Sea Kings for the last regular-season game, allowing CdM to claim its sixth straight undefeated league title. Performing one more time on the field he used to play on meant something to Alex.
Alex always credits the offensive line for his success, and his brother played a vital role to his career night.
“I would say that I’m a bit more protective when I’m blocking for my brother,” Julian said with a laugh.
Alex said he owes a lot to Julian, for not only paving the way for him, but for also coming with him to CdM.
“He had made the move because he wanted to be with me. I knew that he was sacrificing a lot just for me,” Alex said. “There was nothing I could have said to him to show how much I appreciated the sacrifice that he had made.”
When Alex and Julian showed up at CdM in February, they did not have any friends on campus. The only students they knew were the ones they played football against the previous three years.
Arriving at CdM was the easy part for Alex. Saying goodbye to University was not.
“When I knew I was going to transfer the week or so before I actually transferred, I had like this [sick feeling in the] pit [of] my stomach. I just felt empty,” Alex said. “When we transferred out of [University], I remember the lady [I talked with in the school office]. I’ll probably never forget what this lady said to me, ‘OK, you’re officially unenrolled at University High School.’ I was like, ‘Thank you.’ Then I walked out and I remember thinking, ‘Wow! I just did that. There is no going back. It’s happening.’”
The Pourdanesh brothers quickly made friends with CdM’s football players. The Sea Kings welcomed Alex and Julian, even though some of them, like standout wide receiver TaeVeon Le and Murphy, still remembered how Alex and Julian beat them on the freshman level three years ago.
Alex, who is a physical runner, single-handedly ended the CdM freshman team’s 38-game winning streak. Alex said he rushed for more than 200 yards, and recorded five touchdowns and a couple of two-point conversions, leading University to a 36-33 win at CdM.
Until last week, Alex said that was his most memorable game, which was part of University’s 10-0 season. At that point, Alex started to believe he could play in college, and he said Northern Arizona, the University of New Mexico and the University of Nevada, his father’s alma mater, are interested in him.
That freshman game against CdM was also an icebreaker for Alex and Le.
“Le had come up to me [in school], because he played corner or safety [in the game],” said Alex, adding that Le told him, “On a play you ran straight at me, and I’m like, ‘Is this dude going to go around me? Nope, he’s not going to go around me.’ You went right through me, you knocked me over, and you gave me a concussion.”
Born: Oct. 24, 1999
Height: 6 feet 2
Weight: 235 pounds
Coach: Dan O’Shea
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite movie: “Step Brothers”
Favorite athletic moment: “This last Friday, just how I performed and the night in general.”
Week in review: Pourdanesh rushed 24 times for 210 yards and two touchdowns, leading Corona del Mar to the Pacific Coast League title with a 41-21 win against Woodbridge at University High last week.