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For Troy Starr, playing for a football championship is a familiar situation

Troy Starr turns 50 in February. How quickly the years have gone by.

He was a fiery 25-year-old assistant coach at Carson High in 1987 when the team was upset by Granada Hills in the City Section football championship game. In 1992, he became head coach at Woodland Hills Taft, taking over a program that had a 0-8-1 record the previous season. He lasted 14 seasons and built the Toreadors into a City Section power. He resigned in 2007 to become the director of football operations for Urban Meyer at the University of Florida.

A year later, he landed in San Diego, taking over the program at La Mesa Helix, a charter school Reggie Bush, Alex Smith and Bill Walton had attended. On Saturday, he returns to Carson in the CIF state championship Division II bowl game, guiding Helix (12-1) against Loomis Del Oro (13-1) at 4 p.m. at the Home Depot Center.

“I still have the same intensity I’ve ever had,” Starr said. “I’ve matured. I try not to make the same mistakes twice, and I made a lot of them.”

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Starr was outspoken and controversial during his Taft days. He was the one who coined the phrase, “What time does the JV game start?” referring to the City Invitational championship game played before the Division I final.

He used to have a yearly duel with City Section Commissioner Barbara Fiege over transfers, since Taft always had the most open-enrollment students joining its program.

He was highly regarded as a coach, taking Taft to six championship games and winning in 1998. He coached many outstanding players, including brothers Steve and Malcolm Smith, both of whom went on to USC and the NFL.

“They are some of the greatest kids ever,” he said. “I loved the kids. That was the best part of the job.”

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Starr was one of the first coaches to understand the significance of the open-enrollment law that went into effect in 1994 and allowed students to enroll at any school they wanted as long as there was room. And Taft had lots of room.

“I was at a school that was two-thirds transfers,” he said. “People were constantly coming and going all the time. I gained and I lost from that.”

He said he enjoys Helix because it’s a community school.

“I’ve got the greatest group of kids you’d ever want to meet,” he said. “They’ve been together for four years.”

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His standout player is quarterback Brandon Lewis, a senior known for his versatility.

Starr feels as if he has found his dream job in San Diego.

“San Diego is fantastic,” he said. “I can see the ocean from my front porch. I can walk to school in two minutes. I absolutely love the school. This is the right fit for me.”

But his days at Taft remain part of who he is.

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“I have so many fond memories of great people,” he said. “The memories of those kids are just precious. Those kids came to Taft on long bus rides to try to get to a better place in life.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com


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