Derrick Stewart, Brett Washington and Robert Haywood came to Granada Hills High two years ago as sophomores, unannounced and unknown. They showed up during the first week of practice right off the bus that brought them to the Valley each morning from the Dorsey High attendance area.
They were so new that during the first few weeks of practice, Coach Darryl Stroh had trouble remembering their names.
Now seniors, they have helped Granada Hills remain one of the area’s most consistent winners. And this season, two of the three will play even bigger roles.
Stewart, a Times All-Valley defensive back as a junior, will start at tailback. Last year, he gained 82 yards in 11 carries in a reserve role.
Haywood, a three-year starter in the secondary, will play for the first time at tight end.
Washington, whose bruising play at linebacker earned him Times Valley Lineman of the Year honors as a junior, again will start at fullback. Last season, he gained 1,156 yards and averaged 6.96 yards a carry. He has 1,772 yards and is expected to break the school career mark for rushing (2,062 yards, set by Khalid Ali in 1985-86) by season’s end.
“If there are any more guys like these out there, we’ll take them,” said Tom Harp, who has joined Stroh as Highlander co-coach.
Fewer forays at 4-A: Last spring, coaches representing most of the 49 schools in the City Section voted to reduce the 4-A Division from 16 to 12 teams--the eight in the Northwest Valley Conference, plus Banning, Carson, Crenshaw and Dorsey.
All 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs, meaning there will be some repeat matchups in the postseason. Granada Hills, for instance, will play eight 4-A teams during the regular season. In addition to its seven conference games, Granada Hills will play defending 4-A champion Dorsey on Sept. 22.
There is something to be said for familiarity, but there are disadvantages too. Last season, the Highlanders were knocked out of the playoffs by El Camino Real, a team they had beaten in conference play. In 1987, Granada Hills shocked Carson in the 4-A title game after losing--in lopsided fashion--to the Colts in the regular season.
“It’s real tough to beat a team twice,” Harp said. “And it takes something away from the regular season.
“It’s hard to get a group of kids up for a team they already beat. I know that if we hadn’t played Carson (in the regular season), we probably wouldn’t have beaten them.”
The Highlanders are not alone: On Sept. 28, Kennedy will play Crenshaw and San Fernando will battle Dorsey.
Artificial intelligence: In preparation for its season opener Thursday against Kahuku High on the artificial turf of Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium, the Crespi football team conducted practice at East Los Angeles College on Saturday.
Crespi Coach Tim Lins said that the workout at ELAC, the site of the field hockey competition during the 1984 Olympic Games, was the first time many of his players had ever played on artificial turf.
“We had the kids bring the turf shoes and they ran around out there for about three hours,” Lins said. “We noticed that the ball bounces more off the turf and is a lot livelier.
“I think that’s something that’s just good to be aware of.”
While most of the players agreed that they were quicker on artificial turf than on a grass field, there were mixed feelings.
“Personally, I didn’t like it,” wide receiver Ryan Kieling said. “It’s harder on your knees and didn’t give too much.”
Said defensive back Bill Canalez: “I liked it. You just have to make sure to pick up your feet when you make breaks or else it’s real easy to trip and fall on your face.”
Gibbons slowed: Westlake Coach Jim Benkert’s plan for Seamus Gibbons in the Warriors’ offense was delayed after Gibbons underwent arthroscopic knee surgery three weeks ago. He practiced for the first time Tuesday.
Gibbons (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) led the team with 573 receiving yards last year and is expected to fill Luke Crawford’s position as Westlake’s multipurpose back. Crawford accounted for more than 1,000 yards a year ago but has graduated.
Gibbons, who will line up at wide receiver, tailback, and wingback, will participate in nonleague games and is expected to be at full speed in time for Westlake’s Sept. 27 league opener against Agoura.
Kirksey returns: Kris Kirksey, who rushed for 670 yards in 1988 as a sophomore tailback at Camarillo, has returned from a knee injury that sidelined him the latter part of that season and the entire 1989 campaign.
Kirksey, whose knee was never surgically repaired, transferred to Simi Valley last year and reinjured the knee playing baseball last spring. Kirksey’s younger brother, Tim, is the Pioneers’ starting quarterback.
“He’s out there but is taking it easy because of the knee,” first-year Coach Stan Quina said. “We’re keeping a close eye on him too.”
Kirby Lee and staff writers Steve Elling and Jeff Riley contributed to this notebook.