THE HIGH SCHOOLS : Despite Earlier Doubts, Poly’s Campbell Finds Football Has Its Reward
Jonathan Campbell had heard it before and he wasn’t buying it.
The 1990 high school football season was approaching, and, as in the two previous seasons, the Poly coaching staff was talking positively, telling its charges that this year’s team was capable of winning games and possibly even qualifying for the City Section 3-A Division playoffs.
But after suffering through a 2-8 season as a sophomore in 1988, and a 1-8-1 campaign last year, Campbell was a hard sell.
“I was just hoping for a .500 record,” said Campbell, a three-year starter at running back who led the Parrots to a 28-8 victory over Lincoln in the 3-A final at East Los Angeles College on Friday night. “Some of the new players believed what the coaches said, but I had heard it all before, so I was trying to be realistic.”
Fourteen games--and 11 wins--later, Campbell is a devout believer. Poly posted an 11-3 record and won its last five games en route to the school’s first City football title since 1928, when the championship was awarded to the winner of the regular-season City League.
“I’ve been playing football for a long time on a lot of losing teams,” said Campbell, who rushed for 182 yards in 31 carries and scored two touchdowns against Lincoln. “I always knew I was playing for a reason. (Friday) night, I found out what it was.”
Campbell, who gained a school-record 2,091 yards and scored 31 touchdowns this season, said that the further he got into the season, the higher his goals rose.
“At first, it was finish with a .500 record. Then it was was make the playoffs. And then, after we won in the first round (a 29-20 victory over Locke), it was win the whole thing,” he said.
Campbell and Poly Coach Fred Cuccia agreed that Poly’s 45-28 loss to visiting Sylmar on Nov. 9 was one of the keys to the season.
According to Campbell, the loss kept the Parrots, who were 6-2 entering the game, from getting “too high on ourselves.” Cuccia said it proved that Poly was capable of playing with good teams.
“Except for a couple of officials’ calls that went against us,” Cuccia said, “we were right in that game.”
A week later, Poly crushed nemesis North Hollywood, 56-19, in the regular-season finale to clinch second place in the East Valley League and a berth in the playoffs.
Once there, the Parrots were unstoppable.
They came from behind to defeat fourth-seeded Locke in the first round. They blasted Manual Arts, 33-0, in the quarterfinals. They upset top-seeded and previously undefeated Fairfax, 35-28, in the semifinals, before dominating Lincoln.
“Once we beat Locke, I knew we could beat any team in the City at the 3-A level,” Cuccia said. “They were a good football team, but so were we. From that time on, I said that the only team that’s going to beat Poly is Poly.”
Now it can be told: Despite Lincoln’s 43-6 semifinal victory over Belmont--which had defeated Sylmar, 17-15, in the quarterfinals--Cuccia had no doubt that Poly was going to win the title.
“I knew, and the players knew, that we were going to win the City championship,” Cuccia said. “I knew that if we stopped their trick plays, and didn’t let (quarterback Gaspar) Ortega get outside, that we’d win.”
Cuccia was so sure of victory that the team watched very little film of Lincoln.
“I didn’t want them getting too overconfident,” Cuccia said. “After watching them on film, we didn’t think they’d be able to stop our run, and we didn’t think they could throw the ball on us effectively.”
Ortega, who had passed for 2,165 yards and 25 touchdowns entering the game, was held to eight completions in 19 attempts for 82 yards and a touchdown, and he threw one interception. Poly held Lincoln to 177 yards in offense.
Peak condition: Campbell said that the first-year players on Poly’s roster had a lot to do with the title run. “We had so many guys who had never played football before, that each game really helped them,” he said. “They improved a lot with each game and so did we as a team.”
The Parrots’ offensive line was a case in point. Left tackle Francisco Flores (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), left guard Art De La Torre (6-2, 240), right guard Jake Loveridge (6-2, 240) and center Charlie Lemos (5-11, 190) were all first-year players, and Gerardo Munoz (5-11, 185) was in his first year as a tight end.
Aloha, again: Amy Cook, a kicker on Chaminade’s football team, will compete on the Hawaiian Islands for the second time this year when the Eagles’ girls’ soccer team plays in the Hawaii Mililani tournament on Oahu next week.
Chaminade (5-0-3) will play Kaiser on Thursday, Pac-Five on Friday, and host Mililani on Saturday in the four-team round-robin tournament.
Cook, a center fullback, traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii in late August when Chaminade played Konawaena to a 6-6 tie.
Recruiting watch: Deena Drossin of Agoura High, who finished sixth in the Kinney national cross-country championships earlier this month, will make recruiting trips to Arkansas and North Carolina State in the next couple of months.
Wisconsin also has expressed interest in Drossin.