Julio Segura had never played tackle football until he came out for spring practice at the urging of a couple of football coaches who saw him play basketball as a sophomore at South East, a new high school in South Gate.
His experiment at playing quarterback lasted less than two weeks. He had trouble memorizing the plays and felt confused and awkward.
"I'm done," he told assistant coach Juan Carrera.
During the summer, coaches saw Segura playing soccer and invited him to try football again, but this time at defensive back. He showed up in August 2006, learned to play free safety and became an instant standout. He had nine interceptions in his rookie season.
"His instincts are incredible," Carrera said.
As a senior, Segura, 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, has 20 tackles and two interceptions for South East, which is 3-0 entering its nonleague game against visiting Los Angeles Franklin tonight.
South East is part of the Los Angeles Unified School District's massive building project in which 37 new high schools are scheduled to open by 2012.
Segura's development from rock bottom mirrors the rise of his school, which drew students from South Gate, L.A. Jordan and Huntington Park when it opened in 2005. The Jaguars went 0-10 that first season and 4-6 the next. Now South East is on the verge of becoming one of the first of the finished new high schools to make a name for itself in football.
"Little by little, the kids started building their confidence," said Coach Roger Satti, whose program was able to raise $92,000 to send 60 players and 15 coaches to Hawaii for a season-opening game last month.
"The kids came through," Satti said, though he said he was prepared to refinance his home mortgage to make the trip happen.
The team spent five days in Maui and came away with a 17-0 victory over Maui High.
"It was unforgettable," Segura said of his first trip to the islands.
He still can't believe his good fortune in discovering he had a talent for football.
"I didn't know all this was going to happen," he said. "I'm very thankful."
His entire football experience had consisted of playing touch football in the street with friends. He had to learn everything, from putting on pads to tackling.
"He's coming up and putting on hits," Carrera said.
The coaches learned a lesson from their first experience with Segura.
"You can't drive someone into something if they don't want it," Carrera said.
But they left open the possibility for a second chance, and Segura could end up earning an NCAA Division I-A scholarship. Washington, San Diego State and Arizona continue to follow his progress.
Asked what he has learned, Segura said, "To not give up."
The improvement made over the summer by Santa Ana Mater Dei quarterback Matt Barkley was obvious to anyone watching, and he has started this season by passing for 303 yards against West Covina and 435 yards against Utah American Fork.
He and the top-ranked Monarchs are going to face much tougher tests this season, but Coach Bruce Rollinson is thrilled with Barkley's progress.
"The biggest thing is Barkley's maturity and grasp of the offense," Rollinson told The Times' Martin Henderson. "We've opened up the playbook. We're doing a spread offense and running it to its truest design. Matt's a student of the game and understands what needs to be accomplished."
Next week, Mater Dei will play Huntington Beach Edison at Santa Ana Stadium in a game that's not to be missed.
Westlake Village Oaks Christian has a Southern Section-record 48-game winning streak that could end tonight when the Lions play Ventura St. Bonaventure at Ventura High.
"They're very physical," Oaks Christian Coach Bill Redell said of the Seraphs. "I think they're better than they were last year."
Oaks Christian defeated the Seraphs, 59-13, last season with a team that included 10 players who earned NCAA Division I-A scholarships, led by quarterback Jimmy Clausen. Losing Clausen was supposed to be a big deal, but senior Christopher Potter, who played wide receiver last season and has already committed to Boise State, has taken over and is far better than some people might think.
He has played in only the first half of big victories over Lompoc and Pasadena Muir, but will likely be turned loose tonight and allowed to run out of the shotgun formation. It will be interesting to see who has the longest runs, Potter or St. Bonaventure's Darrell Scott, considered the top running back recruit in the nation.
Eric Sondheimer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.