Here’s my column from Friday … drink it in.
I’ve always been a fan of freedom of choice when it comes to where an athlete wants to play high school football.
If a kid and his parents feel their best shot at greatness is playing for Uncle Greg, Captain Lou or Colonel Hagerty, then more power to them.
Who am I to argue with somebody who has four short years to make it all happen?
But when they leave their neighborhood for what they feel is a greener pasture, there’s a ripple effect. The neighborhood team doesn’t have the quality roster it should have had if only Little Johnny The Superstar stayed home.
That’s why what Azusa is doing this season is so refreshing.
Like most schools of similar ilk, Azusa could regale you with tales of the would-be star player who lived a half-block from the practice field but decided to go elsewhere. And if they don’t, I will.
Guess where former Bishop Amat linebacker and current Mississippi starter Jonathan Cornell called home? That’s right, Azusa. He’s just one of many not to don the baby blue.
It now seems everybody must be staying home because it’s finally Azusa’s time in the sun. It doesn’t happen often and it rarely lasts long, but when it does it creates the kind of excitement that reminds us why high school football is so great.
I’ve had the privilege of covering some pretty amazing teams from around these parts. I was on the field when Los Altos won CIF in 2003. I was on the field when South Hills won CIF in 2005. They were great moments to be a sports writer, who happened to jump on the bandwagon at the right time.
But you know what I enjoy even more than that? Getting on the bandwagon of a school that’s not tasted success in almost forever. And that’s where I am today.
I’m aware I’m arriving late to the party. The Aztecs have been strong the past two years, but this year feels different.
So what makes it so alluring? I can’t and won’t speak for the players and coaches, just the sports writer who hopped on the bandwagon. It’s the innocence and rawness of it all.
It’s knowing I discovered Azusa coach Joe Scherf several years ago.
Back then, I said Scherf was one of the best coaches in the area … but at the time he was the Aztecs’ girls basketball coach.
Fast forward a few years and the same guy who was trying to get teenage girls to break a press without throwing a ball 15 rows up in the stands is building an improbable area power in football.
Let’s see Richard Wiard do that.
Another part of the allure is knowing that after any of Azusa’s big victories, I won’t get an e-mail from some semi-anonymous person telling me the star tailback was recruited from Las Vegas and the stud linebacker is helicoptered in for every game.
It’s a whole neighborhood talent aspect that’s so rare these days when we’re talking about winning programs.
When Charter Oak wins a big game, its players breathe a sigh of relief because they know what’s expected. When Azusa wins a big game, the whole Aztecs contingent hits the blogs, screams from rooftops and puffs its chest out for anybody who will watch.
In many ways, high school football has lost its luster. It’s become more of a business than the innocent sport it used to be. Parents are crazier than ever and the amount of media coverage is frightening even to me.
The Valley’s top programs and their coaches have an immense amount of pressure to continually produce a top-notch product. If they don’t, well, don’t sign on to any of the blogs if you don’t want to see the results of not producing.
It’s getting like that at Azusa now. Go figure.
Tonight, I will be at Bishop Amat to see the Valley’s most tradition-rich program take on another of the Valley’s stalwarts in Muir. I’ll see 20 of the type of players that I’ll only see one or two of when I watch Azusa.
Doesn’t make it any more or less sweet. It just makes what the Aztecs are doing that much more refreshing.