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Column: Angelou High football players get a workout while helping community

Angelou High quarterback Omar Sahagun, right, helps move 25-pound food boxes to distribute to community members.
(Courtesy of Gary Parks)

Omar Sahagun, a 5-foot-9 senior quarterback for Los Angeles Angelou High, joined four teammates last weekend loading trucks in Carson with 25-pound boxes filled with pre-packaged food. There were 600 boxes and he estimates he moved about 100 of them so they could be distributed to community members.

“It was doing a good deed, and getting a workout was a bonus,” he said.

While his arms were a little sore at the end of the day, it was the best of times — getting the chance to condition for football while helping feed members of his community.

Across the Southland, high school coaches have been trying for months to keep their players connected through virtual meetings while also thinking outside the box to deal with obstacles created by the COVID-19 pandemic. The start of the high school sports season has been delayed until January at the earliest.

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“It’s difficult,” Angelou coach Gary Parks said. “Kids are frustrated, but they understand the importance of getting through this time.”

Parks has a foundation that’s distributing 1,300 boxes of food on Saturdays through Dec. 26, and his players take turns helping move the packages. Sahagun is hanging out with his linemen while wearing masks.

Angelou football players Malik Bradford, Michael Bradford and Semaja King help move boxes of food.
Angelou football players Malik Bradford, Michael Bradford and Semaja King help move boxes of food.
(Gary Parks)

“We get to know each other,” he said.

Sahagun continues to train at his South Los Angeles residence, where he lives with his mother, father and two younger siblings. He’s distance learning and also working part time in his grandparents’ landscaping business. He remains focused on being ready if a football season happens in 2021.

“I’m just blessed with what I have,” he said. “I have a roof over my head. Just looking for better days ahead. I do what I can to keep myself fresh and my IQ up. As soon as we get the green light, full speed ahead.”

Sahagun is in his ninth month without being in a classroom and without getting to play football.

“I remember when it first started, they said it was going to be for two weeks,” he said. “Whatever we can do to pass the time and make the most of it, that’s what I plan to do.”

His father, a former high school baseball player, has become his No. 1 receiver when throwing a football.

Parks has videoconferences with his 17 players twice a week.

“Our kids are focusing on academics, and it’s awesome,” he said. “They challenge each other, and it’s amazing to watch.”

Another coach intervening to make sure his players stay focused is Bucky Brooks of Granada Hills. Three times a week for months, he has been helping his players with 6:45 a.m. video workouts. Another videoconference is reserved for teaching leadership and having guests offer advice.

He said the pandemic has forced families and individuals to deal with food, financial and emotional struggles. He has tried to create a familiar routine that his players can rely on.

“It was important to maintain a routine, whether we knew we were coming back or not,” he said. “By going in the morning, there were no excuses for not going to class. Keep them engaged. Our kids have been steady and resilient. We try not to talk too much about a start date. We try to keep them off the emotional roller coaster. When we find out we can go, we can go.”

Brooks has close to 45 players participating in workouts. He’s talked to other coaches and offered support while also seeking feedback on ideas how to keep moving forward.

“You have no idea what others are doing,” he said. “It’s unprecedented.”

Brooks said he believes when football returns, his players will be better prepared because of the adversity they’ve experienced.

“I think we’re better connected as a team than in the past and hopefully when we get together, the results will be positive,” he said.


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