Crenshaw helps Mesa get back on track

On many Tuesday nights, up to two dozen football players pack a classroom at Costa Mesa High. They arrive after a long and grueling football practice for help with their schoolwork.

Some players don't even have to show up for tutoring. They come and support their teammates who need to improve their grades or improve in certain subjects.

Some come to just eat.

"It's not a cheap dinner. They're getting some solid food in there," Costa Mesa Coach Wally Grant says of the chicken and steak bowls players ate on a recent Tuesday night.

Oronde Crenshaw is one of those players who makes the one-hour session. He's not going to lie, the food, donated by local restaurants, lures him into the classroom.

The reason why he's in the room is because one subject gnaws at him.

"I suck at math," Crenshaw says. "When it is math, and I'm not able to get it, I get a little frustrated with myself because I feel like I should get it. I start getting unfocused and start over-thinking things."

If Crenshaw could tackle math problems as successful as he does whoever has the ball on the field as a middle linebacker, he wouldn't have to be in that room.

Making time for that room is vital to Crenshaw's future. Grant reminds Crenshaw why.

"He'll love [math]," Grant says, "because that's what will get him to the next step."

Playing football in college is Crenshaw's goal. The senior has the talent as he says Arizona State, Boise State, Fordham and UCLA are a few schools following him. His coaches, teammates, tutors and his family members are doing their best to make sure he qualifies for college as a student.

Four days a week, Crenshaw says he's studying for the SAT. The prep classes for the test he takes in November are all free, thanks to his aunt, Tanya Mora.

Crenshaw says Mora has tutored students on the college entrance exam. He goes over her house and spends up to three hours there, learning 20 new words and writing essays in 25 minutes.

The short time to write to Crenshaw feels like the Mustangs' run-heavy offense running the two-minute drill. There's no time to waste. He has to score as many points as possible in this portion of the test.

"I've been getting so much better at writing these essays," Crenshaw says. "It's just good to be able to, you know, feel better in something that you didn't feel like you were that strong in. At first [it was intimidating]."

Crenshaw has been able to focus on the SAT since nagging right foot injuries sidelined him for two weeks.

He returned to the field last week. The game marked his first in three weeks, and he played well on both sides of the ball.

He rushed 22 times for 123 yards and one touchdown, lifting the Mustangs to a 21-19 win against Savanna at Glover Stadium. His presence ended his team's two-game skid.

At this point, his final regular season is halfway done. Missing two weeks, Grant says, has also affected Crenshaw's recruiting.

"[Recruiters] want to see his Hudl stuff and see what's going on with him," Grant says, referring to the software program that features footage of Crenshaw's highlights and games online. "He's not in there one week, and they say, 'All right.' He's not in there two weeks, and they're like, 'What's going on?'"

With five games left in the regular season, Crenshaw approaches the Orange Coast League opener on Oct. 11 with a sense of urgency. The fact the Mustangs (2-3) are facing their rival, Estancia (1-3), in the Battle for the Bell, just intensifies things.

Crenshaw has never beaten the Eagles. To get past them, he says he has to be out there to perform. This bye week bodes well for Crenshaw to be closer to 100% come next week.

When healthy, Crenshaw, who's 6-foot and 197 pounds, has shown he can do it all. He has rushed for 391 yards and four touchdowns and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns, all in just 10 quarters this season.

As a linebacker last year, he made 100-plus tackles for the second straight year. Recruiters have been following him ever since.

One from Stanford watched the second game of the year, the same game Crenshaw went down with a high ankle sprain and bone bruise on top of his foot. Crenshaw hasn't forgotten the play that knocked him out for two weeks and the words a Santiago player said afterward.

The play went left, and then Crenshaw hurdled over a pile before someone dived at his ankle near the goal line. The defender hit Crenshaw's ankle with his helmet. Crenshaw says the player told him, "That's right. Stay down, Oronde."

There's no keeping Crenshaw down for long. He says he will fight to stay on the field the rest of the way and also produce a high enough SAT score to play in college. He says he needs at least a 1,200 on the 2,400-point exam.

"Once that's taken and the score is posted [in December], then everything will start flowing from there," Grant says of college offers for Crenshaw.

"What their concern is, and we didn't do a good job of communicating that, you know, he hadn't taken [the SAT] yet. As a senior and he hasn't taken the SAT, unfortunately that's red flags. It has nothing with him not being able to do it. They want those [SAT scores] and make sure that he's a qualifier. Once that happens, then they'll burn an offer … and the [recruiting] circus will start."

Oronde Crenshaw

Born: June 10, 1996

Hometown: Costa Mesa

Height: 6-foot

Weight: 197 pounds

Sport: Football

Year: Senior

Coach: Wally Grant

Favorite food: Grandma's enchiladas

Favorite movie: "The Dark Knight Rises"

Favorite athletic moment: "There was one block against Calvary [Chapel], back when we played with [tailback] Mario [Smith two years ago], and I pushed the guy all the way to the sideline and Mario broke like an 80-yard run. It was the best block I ever [made]."

Week in review: Crenshaw rushed 22 times for 123 yards and one touchdown, lifting the Mustangs to a 21-19 win against Savanna at Glover Stadium.

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