Before the start of the high school football season, Louis Jones of Venice High gave little indication that he would have the type of season he has had.
After playing primarily as a defensive back and wide receiver his previous two varsity seasons, Jones was moved to quarterback during the off-season before the start of his senior year.
It turned out to be the best decision Venice Co-Coach Al Dellinger could have made. Jones has become one of the most dominating players in the City Section.
In leading Venice to an 11-0 record, Jones, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound all-purpose quarterback, has left opponents wondering if there is anything he can't do.
He has played nearly every skill position, and has been the Gondoliers' kicking specialist, despite having never kicked before. He has accounted for nearly two-thirds of Venice's points and has amassed more than 1,500 yards in total offense.
In accounting for 22 touchdowns, Jones has rushed for 13, passed for six, caught passes for two and returned a fumble for one. He has kicked a 30-yard field goal and more than a dozen extra points. He has rushed for a two-point conversion and is averaging nearly 40 yards a punt.
On defense, Jones usually plays free safety, unless Venice needs him at linebacker, defensive end or to cover the opposing team's best receiver, one on one. He has five interceptions, seven forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and is among the team leaders in tackles.
"If we had to play Venice again, I would have Jones kidnaped before the game," Westchester Co-Coach Larry Wein said. "The only way to stop him would be for him not to show up."
Wein should know because two weeks ago, in the Western League championship game between the schools, Jones was unstoppable in Venice's 29-27 victory. He scored 23 points, including the winning two-point conversion with 13 seconds left in the game.
"Jones is the biggest impact player in the city," Wein said. "He makes his team so much better with his winning attitude. He just has the ability to always make the big play."
Dellinger, who in 25 years of coaching has worked with several players who have played professional football, calls Jones his best all-around player, ever.
"Louis does everything so well," he said. "He is a leader and a competitor who comes into every game ready to play. He is like a throwback from an old football movie with a triple-threat hero. He is an All-American."
Dellinger says that he did not expect Jones to be so successful this season at running Venice's offense. Jones was originally scheduled to stand in at quarterback until sophomore Jason Ehlers matured.
"Jones played quarterback during the summer passing leagues, but we were not certain that he was going to stay at quarterback," Dellinger said. "But once the season started, it was clear that he was our quarterback. He is an excellent runner who throws well enough to be dangerous."
Jones says that his quarterback role turned out different than he had planned.
"I thought I'd be more of a passer than a running quarterback," said Jones, whose stepbrother, Morris Nettles, played professional baseball for the Angels. "I'm glad that things turned out like they did because this season has been like a dream. I never thought that I would have so much success and fun at the same time."
Venice is a strong contender to win its first City football title. Last Wednesday, Jones rushed for more than 200 yards in Venice's 28-6 win over Marshall in the first round of the playoffs and Friday night, the undefeated Gondoliers will play host to Locke.
In the City's Pacific League, Crenshaw and Dorsey have advanced to the second round of the 4-A Division playoffs, but it hasn't been easy.
Crenshaw, 7-4, earned its spot the hard way, by defeating Wilmington Banning, 6-0, in a 16-play tiebreaker Nov. 20, and then opened the playoffs with a 27-24 victory over San Fernando, two days later.
In the Cougars' win over Banning--which halted a Pilot playoff-appearance streak stretching back to 1974--Crenshaw needed a dramatic 79-yard touchdown catch and run by quarterback Derreck Williams on the 11th play of the tiebreaker.
"Before the play, we were worried that we would run out of plays," said Williams, who caught the option pass from tailback Kevin Hicks. "Someone needed to come up with the big play and I'm glad I was able to provide it."
Against San Fernando, Crenshaw again needed late heroics. With 3:17 left in the game, fullback Sean Lowery scored on a one-yard run on fourth and goal, then Hicks added a 35-yard touchdown run to hold off the Tigers. Hicks, who has rushed for more than 1,600 yards this season, had 137 yards against San Fernando.
Dorsey's problems have been well documented, from the tragic death of Kevin Copeland to the early ending of its game against Crenshaw because of gunfire outside Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Thanks to the leadership of Co-Coaches Paul Knox and Eugene McAdoo, the Dons are 7-3 and have become a force in the 4-A Division. Dorsey won its first-round playoff game over Reseda Cleveland, 26-0, with junior running back Lamont Warren, accounting for all of the Dons' points.
"This has been a very difficult season, in which we have had one major and three or four minor incidents," Knox said, whose Dons will play Palisades Friday. "I am real proud of the kids and how they have hung in there mentally. They all have stuck together and believed in each other."
Friday night, in the City 4-A Division quarterfinals, Crenshaw travels to meet Woodland Hills Taft and Dorsey will play at Palisades.
Last Friday night, Newbury Park was ousted from the Southern Section Division II football playoffs by Santa Barbara, 28-7. Even so, the Panthers ended their 7-3-1 season on a positive note.
Before the season began, the team and its coaching staff made a commitment to take an unannounced drug test during the season. Every player's parents agreed and in late October, the tests were administered to detect any street drugs.
Panther Coach George Hurley reports that no one tested positive.
"If anyone had tested positive, only he and his parents would have been told," Hurley said. "However, since there were no positives, I was told about the results."
Athletes from 12 states and U.S. military overseas bases will compete in the 11th annual Kinney Cross-Country Western Regional Championships Saturday at Woodwark Park in Fresno. Bryan Dameworth and Deena Drossin of Agoura High are favorites to win in the boys' and girls' sections, respectively. Dameworth won his third consecutive state Division I title last Saturday and Drossin won her second in the last three years.
The first eight runners in each section will represent the West in the Kinney National Championships, to be held Dec. 9 at Balboa Park in San Diego.
In City football playoff action, Ivan Wilson rushed for 196 yards and scored the winning touchdown in South Gate's 20-19 comeback win over Reseda. . . . Ontiwaun Carter rushed for 219 yards and scored two touchdowns as Kennedy of Granada Hills beat Manual Arts, 25-7. . . . Quarterback Arnie Madrid rushed for 131 yards and scored two touchdowns in San Pedro's 31-17 win over Sylmar. . . . Locke running back James Fuller rushed for 188 yards and scored three touchdowns in the Saints' 37-6 victory over Van Nuys.
Franklin's record breaking quarterback, Santiago Alvarez, completed 20 of 30 passes for 208 yards before going down with a knee injury in the third quarter in the Panthers' 27-3 win over Huntington Park. Alvarez is expected to play against Gardena Friday. . . . Westchester hopes to have tailback Tim Holliday ready for its game against South Gate, the defending 3-A Division champion and top seed. Two weeks ago, Holliday rushed for a career-high 274 yards in three quarters against Venice before injuring his knee. Holliday, who has rushed for 1,115 yards, sat out Westchester's 13-3 win over Belmont last Wednesday night. . . . Hilario Espinosa rushed for 249 yards in 45 carries in Garfield's 11-7 win over Wilson. Espinosa has 1,826 yards for the season, with 21 touchdowns.
In Southern Section playoff action, Los Angeles Loyola's Kahlil McAlpin rushed 209 yards in 16 carries and scored three touchdowns in the Cubs' 34-0 win over Redlands. . . . Ron Rivers of San Gorgonio rushed for 219 yards in the Spartans' 14-6 win over Long Beach Poly. Loyola will play at San Gorgonio Friday in a Division I semifinal. . . . Paramount running back Leon Neal scored on a 56-yard run with 3:50 remaining to give the Pirates' a 16-14 win over Newhall Hart. . . . Lamont Daniel rushed for 207 yards and quarterback Fred Safford rushed 28 yards for a touchdown with 53 seconds remaining to give Serra of Gardena a 32-25 win over Arroyo Grande.
Napoleon Kaufman rushed for 185 yards and scored three touchdowns in Lompoc's 42-7 win over Chaminade of West Hills. . . . Derek Sparks scored four touchdowns and rushed for 156 yards, and Michael Jones rushed for 134 yards in Van Nuys Montclair Prep's 35-8 win over Fillmore.