In an era that has seen high school football participation in California decline by more than 12,000 students in four years, a resurgent Encino Crespi may have discovered the antidote for the malaise surrounding the sport.
It’s called encouraging students to play multiple sports, which can lead to more friendships, more fun and better all-around physical skills.
Of the 47 varsity football players at Crespi, 28 play multiple sports. They include wrestlers, basketball players, lacrosse players, soccer players, volleyball players, baseball players and a golfer.
“For Crespi, we’ve always had a multisport philosophy,” football coach Dameon Porter said.
It represents a renewed commitment within the school of 550 boys, and football is a big beneficiary. When Porter arrived in March 2018, there were 41 students in the football program. This year, the number is 90. It’s been a slow but steady progression for the Celts, who once were a Division 1 team but are Division 6 this season.
Porter, a former Crespi assistant who left Simi Valley to rebuild the program, seems to have stopped the slide. Crespi is 3-0 this season with wins over Canyon Country Canyon, Lake Balboa Birmingham and Studio City Harvard-Westlake.
If there’s ever a break during football practice and someone wants to bring out a volleyball, basketball, baseball, lacrosse, golf or soccer ball, there would be plenty of athletes who know what to do. Three members of Crespi’s Southern Section Division 4 track champion 400-meter relay team are starters.
“It comes down to how competitive an athlete is,” Porter said of specialization. “A kid who doesn’t have his natural physical ability may need more time honing his skills. The elite athlete can run track, play basketball and be a difference maker wherever they go. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.”
Jackson White, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior defensive end/tight end with a 4.1 grade-point average, came into Crespi as a three-sport athlete. Former basketball coach Russell White (no relation) remembers seeing White stand under the basket as a freshman, leap up and dunk a basketball with no running start.
“I’ve never seen a freshman do that,” he said.
White has participated in football, basketball and track during his high school days. He’s never embraced the specialization trend that has become the norm in club sports.
“If you want to focus on one sport, I think that’s OK,” he said. “For me and a lot of other guys on our team, it’s important to play multiple sports. I think you only live once. Life is about experiences, and I want to be with all my teammates in different sports.”
Asked what benefits he receives, White said, “For sure it’s helped me train my body to do different things. Football has helped with toughness in basketball. Basketball helped my athleticism. Track makes you faster. That helps with everything.”
Football has become White’s focus. He had 2½ sacks against Canyon and one apiece against Birmingham and Harvard-Westlake. He’s hoping to play at the next level.
But there’s something even more intriguing about White’s impact. He sounds and acts like a future coach, which is what he says he wants to be.
“You have to find your passion in life, and I’m passionate about football,” he said.
White is undeterred by the hardships faced by teachers. “You have to do what you love,” he said.
Asked for his definition of a good coach, White said, “Someone who cares about his guys. Brings a lot of energy every single day. Helps out on the field and off the field. Someone you can look up to in your life. We have that here with coach Porter.”