Each time the Dorsey Dons have run onto the football field this season, 6-foot-4, 215-pound tight end Isaiah Smalls has proudly carried the school flag with his right hand, waving it while teammates follow.
Standard-bearers have always been important in history. Armies fought under, and protected, their flag. If the standard-bearer ever fell, another solider picked the flag up. Football is no different.
"Carrying the flag means a lot," Smalls said. "I want to show everybody we're here. We're going to show our enthusiasm and be ready to play. I want other teams to know I'm going to be here for all four quarters."
Dorsey (6-6) was supposed to be the prime challenger to Narbonne in City Section football this season. A 1-6 start put an end to that. Now the Dons have regrouped, gone on a five-game winning streak and are playing at South Gate on Friday in a Division I semifinal.
Smalls, an Oregon State commit who's probably the best football player on the Dons, is an example of what you expect out of a leader. He has sacrificed for the good of the team.
In the last two games, he's caught one pass. The team needed him to focus blocking, and that's what he has done.
"He blocked his butt off," coach Charles Mincy said. "It's a benefit to have someone who's versatile and we can move around. Any time you have deficiencies, he helps us. Like every receiver dude, he wants to catch passes."
Said Smalls: "I'm frustrated I don't get the ball, but take it out on the guy I have to block."
Smalls played quarterback when an injury knocked out starter Mekhi Ellis. He almost rallied the team to a win against Culver City and battled to the bitter end in a 33-14 loss to rival Crenshaw. You could sense the lessons he was learning and the examples he was setting: never stopping the fight until the last second.
"He's the elder statesman, so to speak," Mincy said. "He's the most mature guy we got. We have to lean on him for a lot."
Smalls has stayed at Dorsey for four years. Yes, that's important at a time when players move around for what they perceive as better opportunities. Sometimes staying is the best opportunity. Smalls' father died several years ago. It's been him, his mother, his sister and his teammates working together through ups and downs.
"It's just a family and never stops," he said.
Showing loyalty, trusting your coach, believing in yourself — those are great concepts to embrace on Thanksgiving weekend.
Early signing date
There's a new early signing date for high school football seniors: Dec. 20-22. It's a good idea for everybody. Players certain about their college choice can end the recruiting process rather than wait until the next signing period in February. Coaches, tired of the games being played, whether someone is truly committed while they're taking other visits, find out the truth.
Of course, if a coach gets fired after signing day, that could be a problem. Since this is all new, let's hope schools will release players following a coaching change as common sense dictates.
And if any players have concerns, they can always ask to sign a financial aid contract instead of a letter of intent. That binds the school but not the athlete.