Sanders helped put flair back into Blair
By Scott Galetti Staff Writer
PASADENA — He could be described as a miracle worker after taking over a struggling program and turning it around.
A better way to describe Blair High School football coach Lavell “Tip” Sanders would be the right man for the job.
Sanders can add the Star-News Coach of the Year to his list of accomplishments after guiding his Vikings to a 9-2 record and a share of the Rio Hondo League championship.
“He came and changed our program,” Blair senior running back Devin Fuller said.
When he took over the reigns of the program, Blair was coming off an 0-10 season in 2005.
“Coming from Marshall, it was basically the same program,” Sanders said. “Marshall hadn’t won a game in three or four years and Blair hadn’t won a game in three or four years and they had coaches that pretty much didn’t care.
“To me, it was just coming over from one program to the other.”
Under Sanders, the Vikings took baby steps by winning two games in 2006.
There still, however, was much work to be done.
“My first year (under Sanders) went kind of sour because we had issues on our team,” Fuller said. “The second year, everybody came together as a team and as seniors, we wanted to win and we pulled it out by coming on top with a Rio Hondo League championship.”
In what seemed like an impossible dream, Blair dethroned defending league champion Temple City with a 22-10 victory and beat co-champion Monrovia 38-26 along the way to share the title.
“He made everybody realize that we’re playing for pride and we’re all a family,” Fuller said. “He changed everybody from not coming to practice to coming to practice and got everybody stronger in the weight room.
“He did a lot for the team.”
Sanders, a long-time fixture in the Pasadena area, was challenged daily in his quest to turn the Vikings into a champion.
“My biggest challenge was trying to get them to see their potential and to play up to that potential,” Sanders said. “One of my biggest goals was to try to get each player to the point to understand that `what you have, God gave it you and you can take it and make something of yourself.’ ”
He took that challenge head-on with the goal of improving each one of his players and playing as a team at the forefront.
Blair opened the season with impressive blowout victories over Marshall, Hollywood and Hoover.
“Once they found out that they could win, they learned what it was to play together,” Sanders said.
The Vikings began to turn heads with wins over Whittier Christian (38-26) and Temple City.
Blair’s lone regular-season setback was a 29-28 loss to San Marino. The Vikings didn’t fall again until a 34-24 to Cerritos Valley Christian in the quarterfinals of the CIF-Southern Section Mid-Valley Division playoffs.
Fuller led the Vikings with 1,364 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns. He also had 486 kick returning yards.
The senior gave much of the credit to Sanders.
“He believed in me and believed I could carry the team,” Fuller said. “I would hang with him during my third period before P.E. on the day of the game and we’d talk about the game and he’d tell me that he was relying on me a lot that night.
“I took that in and gave him my best every night.”
In his second varsity season, Junior Kendell Hollinquest saw a huge change in the way the Vikings functioned. It was a change that resulted in victories.
“The coach put in our heads that everybody plays as a team,” Hollinquest said. “We played as a team and had a good record this year.”