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Column: Football game between Hawkins and Narbonne highs pits two rebuilding programs

Daniel Longoria holds a football.
Daniel Longoria is a senior defensive end who has helped lead Hawkins to a 3-0 record.
(Jaime Longoria)

When Harbor City Narbonne High plays host to L.A. Hawkins in a nonleague City Section football game Friday, it will place the spotlight on two programs that saw large player exoduses following eligibility scandals that left the teams in disarray.

In 2016, Hawkins was taking in transfers en masse and having head coaches from Michigan and USC hang out at practices. The Hawks went 13-1, then had to forfeit every victory because of player eligibility issues. The coaching staff was dismissed. Players abandoned the school.

In 2017, the team went 0-11. Ronald Coltress was hired as a physical education teacher from Florida and helped out as an assistant coach.

“I didn’t know anything about California sports,” he said. “They told me all these things happened.”

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Coltress became head coach in 2018, and his instructions were to teach football and make sure the players went to class. The incoming freshmen class was told, “It’s not about winning on the scoreboard. It’s winning in the classroom and winning in life.”

The team went 1-9. One of the ninth-graders was Daniel Longoria. Coltress recruited him out of PE class to join the team, saying, “Hey, you got the size, man.”.

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“I’d never tackled anybody in my life. It was scary,” Longoria recalled. “I grew up playing soccer. Getting instructed in football was a different sport.”

First he learned how to put on shoulder pads. He was one of 14 junior varsity players.

Today he’s a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior defensive end/tight end with a 4.0 grade-point average and has three sacks for a 3-0 Hawkins team that’s made up mostly of students who live and grew up in its South Los Angeles neighborhood.

Longoria lives a block away from campus and was going to Hawkins with or without football. He’s also going to college with or without football. He does wish recruiters would return.

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Coltress said, “They disappeared. We have kids who can play.”

Another player recruited from PE class is junior Chad Sabal, who has passed for two touchdowns, ran for three touchdowns and made four interceptions.

High school football: Week 3 schedule

Most everyone seems satisfied that the team is focused on getting players to graduate and into college whether they are five-star recruits or not.

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“Winning isn’t everything,” Coltress said. “Sometimes winning isn’t on the scoreboard. It’s in a class, it’s at home, it’s walking the street, it’s keeping your head up when losing a game.”

Longoria has never experienced this kind of football success. The team was 4-7 in 2019 and 1-3 last spring.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “Being able to say I’m 3-0 is something I’ve never said in my career.”

It’s taken five years for Hawkins to return stability in its football program, and the question is how long it will take Narbonne, which had a similar player exodus following the 2019 season when the Gauchos were banned from the playoffs because of an ineligible player and their coach resigned following an LAUSD suspension.

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The new coach, Malcolm Manuel, was able to have his team play in one game last spring. This fall, the eight-time City champion Gauchos are 0-2.

“They know exactly what we’re going through,” Manuel said of Hawkins.

Kevin Smith spent 18 years as an assistant coach before Verbum Dei gave him chance to be head coach. He is now 3-0.

Narbonne started with 23 players last spring. It’s nearing 35 players this fall.

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“It’s a process,” Manuel said. “We have a lot of youth. It’s patience on both ends and trying to put the best 11 on the field.”

Longoria has some advice based on his experience the last four seasons. “Build around the people you have in the program,” he said. “Don’t look at what you had but what you have right now.”

Meanwhile, on Friday night, the coaches will be able to compare notes before the game.

Said Coltress: “You have to be patient and you have to find your kids and make them believe in you.”


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