Vikings aren’t finished quite yet
From left, Nolan McSwain and Kendell Hollinquest of Blair High School have helped lead the Vikings into its playoff game against Malibu. (Sarah Reingewirtz/Staff Photographer)
By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
A league title is the goal of every high school athlete who steps on a field, court and track or jumps in a pool. And in most cases, it’s a very realistic aspiration.
But for the longest time, the Blair High School football team appeared to be the exception. At least that seemed to be the mindset over the years for most of the Vikings players.
These indeed are happy times at the school, which is enjoying the spoils of its first league championship in recent memory. The title run brings back recollections of the “Blair Pair” – running backs James McAllister and Kermit Johnson – who led the Vikings to not only a league title in 1969 but also a CIF-Southern Section division title.
“It feels great,” said senior linebacker Nolan McSwain, who leads a defense that has been the backbone for Blair. “I been following (Blair) for six years, since I was (in middle school). It’s such a great feeling to finally get it done.
“Everyone, all over town was always downgrading us, so to finally pull through and get it done is a great feeling. We finally did something right.”
McSwain has played a major role in a resurgence that saw the Vikings improve from last season’s 2-8 campaign to an impressive 8-1 record going into today’s CIF-SS Mid-Valley Division playoff game against Malibu at Pasadena City College. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
The senior, who has 46 tackles and two interceptions, leads a unit that yielded a little more than 15 points game, including a shutout in Week 2. The other key players on Blair’s defense have been junior Kendall Hollinquest, who has a team-high 86 tackles; junior Torreon Johnson, who is tops in sacks with eight; and sophomore Raheem Broadnex, who has a team-high three interceptions.
“The defense has been the big key,” Blair coach Lavell “Tip” Sanders said. “They’ve kept us alive in games. Nolan and Kendall have been an anchor.
“We’re not a one-man team. We have incredible speed and just try to get everyone to the ball.”
But at Blair, at least over the years, that had been easier said than done, and nobody knew that more than Sanders, a Blair alumnus. But he knew he could change that mindset.
“I went to Blair, so I knew what the school had,” he said. “This year, it was just getting the kids to believe in themselves. But they didn’t know what attitude was.”
It didn’t take long for the Vikings to learn. They showed it early by winning their first three games and outscoring the opposition 149-26.
“I knew 100 percent what we could do,” McSwain said. “We all knew what we could do. We have a great defensive unit, we have a lot of team speed and we had good guys up front.
“We just had to believe in ourselves and work real hard, and all that stuff people kept saying would be put behind us.”
But a successful football team can’t survive on defense alone. It also needs some help from the offense, and that’s where running back Devin Fuller came in.
The senior rushed for more than 1,300 yards and accounted for 16 touchdowns. Broadnex and McSwain combined for almost 800 yards and nine TDs, and quarterbacks Kishon Sanders and Johnson combined to throw for 665 yards and 12 TDs.
“It’s just an excellent feeling,” Fuller said. “It shows that all our hard work paid off. We endured a lot of struggles, but we worked hard and finally are Rio Hondo League champs. It feels great to conquer the mission you set out to do and get to the top of the hill.”
But Blair still has one more mountain to climb when it hosts Malibu.
“After everything we’ve had to go through and win league, it’s real hard to put it behind you,” McSwain said. “But there’s something better than winning a league title, and that’s winning a CIF title.
“And that’s what we want.”