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At Chatsworth High, a player and coach unite to keep hope alive

Chatsworth junior football player Rayshaun Tillman (left) and coach Marvin Street pose for a photo.
Chatsworth junior football player RayShaun Tillman (left) and coach Marvin Street, who helped him turn around his academics.
(Eric Sondheimer / Los Angeles Times)

Tall and thin and wearing a black mask, 16-year-old RayShaun Tillman walked out of the classroom filled with football players at Chatsworth High and offered a firm, confident handshake, adding mystery to the story that brought me here.

In eighth grade, Tillman got all F’s. In ninth grade, he got all F’s. Something changed, because now he’s eligible and getting A’s in geometry and French while scoring touchdowns for the unbeaten football team.

“I just never went to class,” Tillman said.

Enter football coach Marvin Street, who decided to intervene and make an attempt to give Tillman a chance to turn around his life.

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“The thing is, there were a cohort of kids that were rambunctious on campus,” Street said. “Me being a kid from Pacoima, I kind of can relate. I didn’t act like that growing up, but I’ve seen it in friends. The way I look at it, 78% of our student population comes from lower economic status. My mission as an educator is to help bring that number down.

“I go all out all the time. It’s not only RayShaun and his friends. It’s any kid. I see them. I try to help and how much they respond back, I keep coming. I used to chase him around campus and tell him I’m going to come to your class to make sure you’re there. He saw the follow through was there.”

So what gives? How could Tillman, who has grown to 6 feet 2 and 167 pounds as a junior, get all F’s, even in P.E.?

“The lesson I’ve learned is hang around better people and get your work done and don’t slack on things because you can get in a hole that’s hard to get out of,” Tillman said.

In March 2020, when COVID-19 struck and schools switched from on-campus learning to online classes, Tillman started to flourish. The people he was hanging around with at school disappeared. He was home studying and being tutored by Street and others via a computer. And it worked.

“Yeah, I would say it’s easier going online than at school,” he said.

He got his first A — in French.

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“I started believing in myself knowing I had a lot of support,” he said. “I had things to look forward to. It was being lazy, me being around bad influences.”

In January of last year, during a call with Street, Tillman said he was informed he had become academically eligible to join the football team.

“I had this big smile on my face. I was really proud of myself,” he said.

Here’s the Week 2 Southern California high school football schedule.

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He was able to play for Chatsworth last spring and run track during the end of his sophomore year. His work in the classroom has continued. He got an interception and touchdown in Chatsworth’s first game playing defensive back and receiver.

He said a turning point was seeing the disappointment on his father’s face when looking at one of his report cards as a sophomore.

“I thought I got to get my stuff going because who knows where I could end up,” he said.

Tillman remains a work in progress. Only last week, Street dropped him from the varsity team and put him on junior varsity for a week after he missed a practice and didn’t explain the reason. This is a coach who places more importance on helping his players develop skills for adulthood than wins and losses.

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“I got to tell you it was a struggle,” Street said. “Calling him to make sure he’s in class, making sure he’s doing his work, making sure he’s keeping his word, teaching him those skills. It was a matter [of] him finding someone to believe in him and keep pushing.”

Street loves teaching so much that he’s taking classes on Mondays for a two-year program to become a full-time teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Every student at Chatsworth is going to benefit having a teacher and coach like Street, whose team is 2-0 going into a game Thursday against Sun Valley Poly.

And yes, there will be setbacks, but Street, Chatsworth High class of 2000, and Tillman seem determined to make this work.

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“It shows how things are out here. It’s not all perfect,” Street said.


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