Azusa: Neighborhood football at its finest …

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.

Love it!

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.

Share this postShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

West Covina routs South Hills … how good is Covina?

It’s a rare occasion when South Hills gets flat-out run over. As I said in my 2-minute drill video with Steve Ramirez, I felt this was a year in which WestCo could play with South Hills at the line of scrimmage. Well, they did more than that. And those running backs, wow. They come in waves. Chris Solomon played sparingly, but it didn’t matter. Frazier, Tucker and Lee were spectacular.

As I told Covina coach Darryl Thomas before the game, a win by WestCo only flatters Covina. The Colts were bad enough to get down 21-2, but good enough to rally back for the win. Their power ranking (whoever does those) just went through the roof.

There wasn’t a person at CDF tonight who didn’t say “West Covina is going to win CIF.” I can understand the sentiment, but remember that La Mirada is still something to sweat, as is Bonita. And even Muir on a given night can rock anybody. I still worry about WestCo if it has to throw in the fourth quarter, but the way that ground game is, they may not have to.

As for South Hills … well, the Huskies need a lot of work. They need to play up to their size and finish drives. I don’t want to make too much of this loss, because the Huskies lost to a very good team. But I think that there should be some concern … somebody told me tonight they could go 1-9 due to their schedule. I don’t buy it, but with games against Monrovia, Tesoro, Charter Oak and Chino Hills still to come, .500 isn’t so bad.

Coach Bogan will get things fixed.

Share this postShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Mid-Valley Division PLAYOFFS continue …

But first, here’s my prediction for the playoff cast. I will do this every week, and yes, it will change just like the weather.

Almont League
Champ: Schurr
2nd: San Gabriel

Mission Valley League
Champ: Arroyo
2nd: Rosemead

Rio Hondo League
Champ: Monrovia
2nd: San Marino

Valle Vista League
Champ: Baldwin Park
2nd: San Dimas

Montview League
Champ: Azusa
2nd: Workman

Olympic League
Champ: Valley Christian
2nd: Whittier Christian

At-large berths:
Covina (Valle Vista)
La Canada (Rio Hondo)
La Puente (Montview)
Wilson (Valle Vista)

Olympic League: I’m starting to see a problem develop for the Olympic League. While I don’t doubt the league is one of the strongest in the division, I don’t see where the third-place team will be able to accumulate enough points to qualify using CIF’s at-large formula. None of the teams play inter-division games during the nonleague, therefore they can’t acquire points in big head-to-head games. The league will have to earn praise from CIF for being one of the division’s top, if not the top, leagues. I could be totally over-thinking this, but I’m pretty sure the Olympic is only going to get its top-two teams in, unless the league does something to really distinguish itself during the nonleague. I guess the only thing that could be possible is if for some reason Valley Christian finishes third, CIF could view its daunting nonleague schedule as some sort of evidence to overweight the league’s overall strength rating. So let’s say Covina, Wilson, Village Christian and La Puente are vying for at-large berths. The Covina-Wilson winner will get the nod, narrowing it to Village Christian, Covina-Wilson winner and La Puente. Then the La Puente-Wilson winner will get the nod, narrowing it to Village Christian vs. the La Puente-Wilson winner, at which point CIF will have to determine who had the stronger league. Get it? That’s why nonleague is going to count HUGE!

El Monte at Covina:
The Lions had better take care of business here. They’ve already got one inter-division loss against La Puente and can’t afford another. With a win, Covina can pretty much lock up its insurance contract if it for some reason doesn’t finish 1-2 in the Valle Vista and needs help from CIF to get in the dance.

Northview at La Puente:
Just remember what The Fat Man said on Fred’s blog about driving by Northview practice one day a couple weeks ago. They looked surprisingly good … from the angle from inside my car. Anyway, the Vikes showed they’re no pushover by taking El Rancho to the brink. Now, they can help themselves by getting a big inter-division win over a team that could very likely be looking for some at-large love come Noviembre.

Arroyo at Montebello:
There’s two things going on here. Let’s start with Montebello. The Oilers CANNOT afford two losses to Mission Valley League teams. Then again, if you can’t beat Rosemead, what makes you think you can beat Arroyo. The second thing is Arroyo needs to do everything it can to make the MVL look like the best league in the division so that it can secure a doable first-round playoff matchup … assuming the Knights win the league.

Alhambra at Temple City:
Talk about two teams that desperately need this game. Both teams aren’t looking like league champs currently, but could be third-place teams in November and in need of some formula help. An inter-division can go a long, long way in doing that.

Share this postShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page