Frank Grossman spotted the big kid walking through school last spring, but the Taft High assistant football coach didn't know who the new student was until he was formally introduced to Carl Cannon.
"Then I got excited," Grossman said.
Cannon, a 6-foot-2, 310-pound defensive tackle, was an All-Northwest Valley Conference selection at Cleveland last season. When his family moved from Reseda to Woodland Hills early this year, Cannon transferred to Taft, bringing a new dimension to the Toreador defense.
Stocked with fast and athletic players, the defense has helped Taft to two consecutive unbeaten regular seasons and conference championships.
In the Toreadors' attacking scheme, defensive backs become linebackers and linebackers move up to the line. One of Taft's top linemen last year was Larry Jones, a 150-pound sprinter who was the 1997 City Section 400-meter champion in track.
With the addition of Cannon, a defense that relies on speed and finesse becomes much more powerful. Taft hasn't had a lineman of Cannon's size or ability since Coach Troy Starr took over in 1992.
Cannon will line up alongside 275-pound tackle Chris Garlington, a three-year varsity starter, to form an imposing front wall.
"He's the best defensive lineman we've had since I've been here," Starr said of Cannon. "We knew he was good. We double-teamed him all game last year."
Cannon knew he was leaving a struggling program--Cleveland hasn't reached the playoffs since 1995--for a City Section power. But Cannon acknowledged he was unaware of the rigorous conditioning at Taft.
"I had no idea what I was getting into," Cannon said. "It was tough to do, but I just had to do it."
Grossman, who runs Taft's conditioning program, said Cannon has kept pace with his new teammates. Grossman motivated Cannon with comparisons to Gilbert Brown, the behemoth defensive tackle for the Green Bay Packers. Brown had to be replaced often in the Super Bowl last season because he wasn't in shape.
"I tell him to keep going [if] he doesn't want to end up like Gilbert, waiting on the sideline because he can't play," Grossman said.
The happy-go-lucky Cannon has blended in well with his sometimes boisterous teammates. Adapting to new schools comes easily to Cannon, who has moved four times since eighth grade.
Cannon lived in Inglewood until his parents separated shortly before he started high school. Cannon, his mother, Dara, and younger brother moved to Baldwin Park. Cannon played at Sierra Vista High for two seasons, making the varsity as a sophomore.
Late in Cannon's sophomore year, the family moved to a cousin's apartment in Reseda and Cannon enrolled at Cleveland.
Even with Cannon anchoring the defensive line, the Cavaliers finished 2-8. But Cannon does have one pleasant memory of last season--a 20-14 upset of El Camino Real, eventual winner of the City Section 3-A title. Cannon helped Cleveland hold Quincy Wright, El Camino Real's 2,000-yard rusher, to 85 yards in 22 carries.
"It wasn't like we didn't have talent," Cannon said. "We could play, but we would get to games and just mess up. Against [El Camino Real], we finally did it right."
By February, the Cannons had moved to Woodland Hills and Cannon transferred to Taft.
"He didn't want to go," Dara Cannon said. "He wanted to stay loyal to his teammates and friends at Cleveland, but he realized it would be easier on us."
Cannon also saw the benefits of playing for the Toreadors, who have sent several defensive players--including DaShon Polk, Keith Johnson and Airabin Justin--to Division I schools.
"I'm going to get more exposure [at Taft]," Cannon said. "I don't have anything bad to say about Cleveland. I wasn't mad about the losing. I could deal with it."
The Cannons moved again last week, this time to Northridge, but Cannon will stay at Taft.
"He's been through enough," Dara Cannon said. "I just want him to stay at one school for a while."
Starting Tursday, The Times begins a nine-part series previewing the regions top high school football players for 1998:
Aug. 27: Quarterbacks. Kyle Boller of Hart
Aug. 28: Running Backs. Manuel White of Valencia
Aug. 29: Tight Ends. Mike Seidman of Westlake
Aug. 30: Wide Receivers. Jerry Owens of Hart.
Aug. 31: Offensive lineman: Tony Sanchez of Sylmar
Defensive lineman. Carl Cannon of Taft
Friday: Linebackers. Jorge Tapia of Hueneme
Saturday: Defensive backs. Corey Neal of Sylmar
Sunday: Kickers. Jason Geisler of Camarillo