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Long Beach Poly’s Earnest Pettway performs juggling act

Earnest Pettway is no complainer, even when coaches want him to be at two places at the same time. That’s what happened frequently during the summer because he was the only athlete at Long Beach Poly starting for the nationally ranked football and basketball teams.

He’s a 6-foot-4, 235-pound senior tight end who prides himself on being versatile, smart and tough.

“It’s one of the most difficult positions on the field,” he said. “You have to be powerful; you have to be nasty like an offensive lineman. You have to be athletic like a receiver, then you have to outrun linebackers, stiff-arm corners . . . we do everything but throw the ball.”

Pettway is the ideal tight end. His athleticism, size and mobility give the Jackrabbits a valuable weapon when going against smaller defensive backs. And his steady improvement as a blocker adds to his resume.

Then there’s Pettway, the person.

“Character-wise, he’s the best thing that any coach could have,” Coach Raul Lara said. “Everything about Pettway is awesome.”

One night during the summer, Pettway went from football practice in the afternoon to an intense, all-out basketball game in the evening, displaying unselfishness and teamwork while gladly sacrificing his body diving for loose balls on the court.

“I have to take a few deep breaths between practices and games,” said Pettway, who has a 3.8 grade-point average. “I don’t have time to think. I just keep going and going. I love it. I love playing for two nationally ranked teams. Most kids don’t get that opportunity.”

He said basketball helps improve his jumping skills and keeps him in good physical condition while football keeps him strong and prevents injuries through weight training.

He has strong hands, which enable him to make tough catches in traffic in the middle of a football field.

And he credits his mother, Marsha, an accountant, for making sure “I’m disciplined and get good grades and I’m a good citizen and respectful to coaches.”

He would seem to be a good prospect for college recruiters, but many are waiting to see how he performs this football season.

“I think people want to see if I can play consistently at a high level, block, make catches and be a playmaker,” he said. “I have no doubt about it that I’m going to get a bunch of scholarship offers by the end of the season.”

History is Pettway’s favorite subject in school.

“I like learning about the old times, the Romans and Greek mythology,” he said.

There are plenty of Greek gods and heroes for Pettway to follow, and in playing tight end, he knows the challenge is to do everything.

“We’ve got to block, we’ve got to catch, we’ve got to run after the catch,” he said. “We’re expected to run people over. We’re expected to knock people out like linemen, but we’re expected to be fast and quick like receivers. We’re expected to have the whole package, so that takes a lot of work and dedication.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATSondheimer


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