Mark Carrier can’t help but think about last season.
It doesn’t matter that he was named all-Big Five Conference last year. It doesn’t matter that he was named one of the country’s top 25 players by a national publication. It doesn’t matter that his team, Long Beach Poly, is ranked eighth nationally by USA Today.
Carrier’s mind keeps going back to the CIF Big Five semifinal in which his team lost, 35-28, to Riverside Poly. In that Nov. 30th game at UC Riverside, LB Poly had 10 penalties for 125 yards, the costliest coming in the first quarter when a touchdown pass was called back on a controversial offensive pass interfence call.
Later, in the third quarter, LB Poly came up short on a fourth down and two from their its 36, and with 40 seconds left quarterback Nick Risego was sacked and fumbled on the desperation drive.
“That’s like something left out of our hearts that we feel we deserved,” Carrier said. “But first we just want to make the playoffs and go from there.
“This year’s seniors still have that semifinal in the back of our minds,” Carrier said. “We still get asked on the streets, ‘What happened at Riverside?’ ”
Carrier is the caretaker of the LB Poly defensive secondary, which has been nicknamed the “death zone.” While there is an incredible amount of hyperbole in that moniker, it nonetheless has been difficult for opposing receivers to wander into this area.
Carrier said the defense will be especially important if the team is going to return to the playoffs.
“Defense will be the strength this year until the offense comes around,” Carrier said.
LB Poly has two new head coaches. Defensive coach Jerry Jaso and offensive coach Thomas Whiting will still handle their respective squads, but now as co-head coaches instead of as assistants. Head coach Jim Barnett left following last season to take over the football program at newly established Trabuco Hills High in Mission Viejo.
When asked about the adjustment, Carrier said there was none.
“No difference from when Barnett was here, because Jaso is still the defensive coach,” Carrier said.
But Carrier has some reservations about Poly’s high ranking in the polls.
“It (the rankings) made me feel good because we are being recognized for out talent,” Carrier said. “But it make me wonder because we haven’t played any games yet.”
“The pressure’s been added on the team, though.”
Carrier is certainly tall enough at 6-2, and still growing. On the field, he stands straight up, resembling former Raider safety George Atkinson. The player he most tries to emulate, though, is former UCLA safety Don Rogers, now with the Cleveland Browns.
But his weight is just 180, certainly not big enough, and bulk is what the 17-year-old is working for now.
“I will have to put on a lot of weight before I feel I am ready for college ball,” Carrier said. “Maybe in the near future I’ll be 200 (pounds).”
As for college, Carrier said that he doesn’t want the added pressure during the season of choosing a college, although the recruiters are coming at him.
“At this point in time I won’t start evaluating colleges until December,” Carrier said. He added, though, that he would like to stay in the area, but he wouldn’t even hint at a possible choice.
But whatever Carrier lacks in size, he compensates for it quite well with his speed and intelligence.
“I’m like a field general, I call all the coverages,” Carrier said. “My train of thought is my strength. I am thinking at all times.
“That is why I like the position, because the way it is for us, it has a lot of responsibility.”
Carrier has another goal this season besides erasing the semifinal loss from his mind--to beat L.A. Banning High.
“We’ve never beaten those guys,” Carrier said of the Pilots, who Poly faces Oct. 5 at Veterans Stadium in Long Beach. “We’re feeling like this is the year. We’ve had some great teams in the past five years, but we’ve never beaten Banning.
“Maybe we will lose all our games and beat Banning.”