Leroy Wilson says he is not afraid of a challenge, which is good considering the task he undertook three years ago when he was named football coach at Narbonne High in Harbor City.
Narbonne has long been one of the down-and-out teams in the City Section, a favorite homecoming opponent.
Before Wilson arrived, the Gauchos had won only three games in six seasons. There was little coaching staff, less support from the student body and community, outdated equipment and few quality players. The weight room looked like something out of the 1950s, and the football field was covered with weeds.
Wilson didn't have a desk or telephone. He hasn't had a vacation in three years.
"There has just been so much to do I can't seem to find time to take off," he said. "My family has been understanding, but it doesn't always seem fair. I don't think a lot of people understand all the things that go into being a coach. There's a lot to do."
At Narbonne, there has been plenty to do. Wilson, 42, started by assembling a coaching staff. He went from zero to nine varsity coaches and four on the freshman-sophomore team. Two assistants, Rick Soria and J.R. Munoz, run the area Pop Warner program and encourage players not to transfer out when they get to high school.
"When I got here, none of the top guys in the community attended Narbonne," said Wilson, who had been an assistant at South Gate. "They wanted to play for a winning team, so they transferred to Carson, Banning or San Pedro. I can't say that I blame them. But we've been changing that trend."
Wilson and his new staff also strolled the campus in search of athletes. The first season, 37 players were on the varsity. This year there are 50. The same number are on the freshman/sophomore team, which went undefeated last season.
Getting players out is one thing, but keeping them academically eligible is another. Wilson has spent countless hours setting up a tutoring program. He helps his players select the right courses and monitors their grades. Lists are posted all over the locker room with dates for college entrance exams.
"Whether our players play football beyond high school is not as important as that they have the opportunity to attend the college they want," Wilson said.
The booster club helped equip a new weight room, and Wilson began sponsoring weightlifting contests. The locker room was repainted in the school colors of forest green and gold. And Wilson finally got his own office, complete with desk, phone, television and video recorder.
The field has thick, green grass. Community members have also started raising money to help pay for lights.
All of the efforts are beginning to pay off. After finishing 3-7 in 1993 and 2-8 last year, the Gauchos are 4-1 and expected to reach the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.
Several milestones have also been reached. A 14-0 victory over Carson two weeks ago was the team's first over the Colts in 30 years. Last week's game against San Pedro drew 5,000, the largest crowd to see Narbonne for as long as anyone at the school can remember. And offensive lineman Kevin Jordan, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior, is expected to be the first Division I college recruit in many years.
"You work very hard for all the little victories, but I think you get to a point where the improvement can be pretty rapid," Wilson said. "We're almost to that point, but not quite yet."