As if high school football had professional baseball’s free-agency policy, quarterback John Walsh transferred from West Torrance High to Carson last spring because Carson had the best showcase for his talents.
It has been an ideal match. Walsh leads the Colts (11-1) into Friday night’s City 4-A Division championship game against longtime rival Wilmington Banning (9-3). With 4,030 passing yards, he broke the state single-season record of 4,019 yards set by Santiago Alvarez of Franklin.
Walsh is 426 yards shy of the national record set last weekend by Donnie Davis of Burlington (N.C.) Cummings High. Walsh, who has broken 26 school records, has passed for 46 touchdowns and seven times has thrown for more than 300 yards in a game.
For Carson, which lost in the 4-A final to Dorsey last season, Walsh’s arrival has been a blessing. The Colts were expected to be one of the City’s top teams if they could find a quality replacement for graduated quarterback Armin Youngblood. Walsh has more than filled that need.
“He fits right into our scheme of things perfectly, like a puzzle when you put it all together,” said Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle, who in coaching his last game will be going for a record-breaking 10th City title.
“With our short-passing game, he is a natural for it.”
Said Walsh: “I thought that I was a pretty good quarterback at West Torrance--maybe not as good as this year because I’m throwing more and I have a little more experience.”
Walsh might have brought temporary happiness to Carson, but he has raised many questions with his transfer. Carson has a history of controversial football transfers, the most celebrated involving quarterback Perry Klein in 1988. Klein, who transferred from Palisades, led the Colts to a 4-A title but left their image tarnished because of his relationship with Steve Clarkson, a former Carson assistant coach.
Clarkson, a former quarterback with the Denver Broncos and in the Canadian Football League, is a quarterback coaching specialist in Southern California who has worked privately with Klein and USC’s Todd Marinovich. Last spring, Clarkson--who did not coach at Carson last season--began working with Walsh. This connection raised eyebrows after Walsh’s transfer.
West Torrance administrators complained to the Southern Section regarding Walsh’s transfer, but the matter was dropped because of lack of evidence. However, Dick Mattingly, a Carson assistant principal, would not allow Clarkson to coach this season.
“In no way is he on our coaching staff, absolutely not,” Mattingly said in September. “I don’t care what any other coach wants. The principal runs this operation, not the coaches. We do not participate in the recruitment of athletes from other schools. We want to keep our integrity, and we will maintain it.”
Clarkson said he has since been asked to rejoin Carson’s coaching staff for next season.
“It is an unwritten rule that if another team files a complaint, it has to be investigated,” Clarkson said. “West Torrance filed a report, and basically nothing substantial was found. The matter was solved before the first game against Bishop Amat. I have just never gone public.”
Clarkson has been seen on the Colts’ sideline this season and admitted he still works with Walsh.
“I first came in contact with (Walsh) in 1989 when I was working a prospects camp for California Sports,” Clarkson said. “I did not hear from him again until April 1990, when he called and asked me if I wanted to help out. I see him every once in a while now, but I don’t help out as much.
“I got a (bad reputation) with the Perry Klein thing. But (Klein) had a history of transferring long before he met me. Now, unfortunately, any kid I come in contact with, I’m accused of recruiting. To be honest, I expect a quarterback to come to Carson every year because of the success Walsh has had. As long as Carson has a successful program, they will have this happen. Walsh was just a junior college quarterback (prospect) before this season and now look at him.”
Walsh’s living arrangement also has been questioned. His parents are reportedly separated, and Walsh lives in a Carson apartment with his father. His brother and three sisters live with their mother in Torrance. Walsh has not talked about his personal life this season. Last week, when he had his picture taken for The Times’ South Bay All-Star team, Walsh listed his home address as Torrance. There have been rumors that he plans to transfer back to West Torrance in the spring to play baseball.
“I haven’t talked about my home life and I’m still not going to,” Walsh said. “It is my decision not to talk. I’m like any other 18-year-old. I’m lucky to have parents like I do.”
Walsh did not gain Carson many fans with his transfer.
“I was surprised when I was first told by him that he was leaving,” West Torrance co-coach Mark Knox said. “No one had any idea prior to that. . . . He had made up his mind before he had talked to me. Everyone makes up their own opinions on whether a transfer is legitimate or not. I can’t comment on anything that I don’t know factually.”
Crenshaw Coach Robert Garrett, against whose team Walsh passed for a season-high 470 yards, is a strong opponent of transfer cases such as Walsh’s.
“I think that it’s wrong for the Carson kids,” Garrett said. “Say they did have a quarterback who was first-team. He would then be put in the back seat. The rules say that we should not recruit. But look at Klein and Walsh. It’s obvious that all kids want to play in a winning program, and the move is to Carson.”
Carson defensive back Tarriel Hopper would have been the Colts’ starting quarterback if Walsh had not transferred. Hopper, a standout safety, said he was relieved to see Walsh in a Carson uniform.
“I never wanted to play quarterback,” Hopper said. “It was a surprise when I heard that he was coming here, but I said, ‘Please let it come true.’ It was his show when he got in school, and I willingly stepped aside. We have a wide-open offense that needed the right person behind the controls to set it off.”
It is unlikely that Walsh would have been as successful as he has been without having five quality receivers. Latario Rachal is the team leader with 55 catches for 1,252 yards and 21 touchdowns, all school records for a season. He is followed by Abdul Muhammad, 52 catches for 833 yards and 10 touchdowns; Theron Hill, 45 catches for 727 yards and five touchdowns; Donnell Adams, 24 catches for 391 yards and six touchdowns; and Fred Sims, 23 catches for 623 yards and seven touchdowns.
“I have a real good supporting cast,” Walsh said. “I get (Carson’s wideouts) the ball, and they run wild with it. Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about the players. But when I first saw them, I noticed that they were super fast and that they could catch. I’m not afraid to throw to any of them.”
Walsh has shown the ability throw every type of pass. He has gained praise for everything from his screen passes to bombs. Walsh said he will take his college recruiting visits to Miami, Brigham Young, Washington and USC.
“When I was first told about him,” Vollnogle said, “people told me that he can’t run and that he was a fair passer. But Walsh has proven that he can do it all. He is the best high school passer I’ve ever seen.”
Garrett also is a big fan of Walsh. “He is the best quarterback I’ve ever had the opportunity to see, and I played against Jay Schroeder and John Elway in high school. He is a heck of an athlete. He gets the job done. He has a quick release and he audibilizes very well. I would put him in a class with Joe Montana in five or six years.”
If Walsh returns to West Torrance this spring, it would be a move similar to Klein’s transfer back to Santa Monica after playing at Carson.
“I have had no problems at Carson,” Walsh said. “Of course, you miss being with people you grew up with. But I like it here at Carson.”
However, a move would not shock his teammates.
“Carson is a good team every year, and there are always different players from different teams who want to come to Carson,” Muhammad said. “If Walsh did go back to West Torrance after football season, I would be a little surprised. But I don’t know. . . . He has said that he likes Torrance better.”
Said Vollnogle: “I don’t know if he’ll go back to West Torrance. That’s his decision. But Klein told me that his biggest mistake was leaving Carson after his football season.”