One of Los Altos High School running back Tyler Nevens’ biggest fans won’t be in attendance on Saturday night when the 15-year-old standout tries to carry his team to a championship.
Sherman Nevens lost his chance to be a part of moments like this in his son’s life when he was killed in a Compton drive-by shooting in 2007. But he’s still very much alive in his son’s Tyler’s thoughts.
Holding his dad’s memory near to his heart is the way Nevens is hoping to share the experience of winning the CIF-Southern Section Central Division championship on Saturday night against Colony at Cerritos College. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
“I know he’s really proud of me right now,” Tyler Nevens said of his late father. “A lot of people have told me that. It’s truly an honor that I have people who support me and acknowledge that he would be proud of me.”
Nevens lived in Inglewood at the time of his father’s death. The violent nature of such a tragedy was enough for Nevens’ family to pack up and leave that part of the Southland for the relative serenity of Hacienda Heights.
The transition wasn’t always easy for Nevens, who is a self-described loner who has trust issues and prefers to work alone. Although all of that is gradually changing, largely because his teammates and coaches have tried to help fill the void Nevens’ father left.
“It’s pretty devastating for me,” Nevens said. “I’m pretty much growing up without a father figure in my life. It’s just me, my mom and my two sisters. It’s hard.”
Although he’s only a sophomore, Nevens carries both the present and future hopes of the Los Altos program. Without Nevens’ mid-season emergence, there’s no way Los Altos is playing a 14th game. And without Nevens’ outstanding prospects for the next two years, there’d be little reason for Conquerors fans to think a postseason run like this one will be possible in the near future.
“With all of the great players who have come through here, I think he has the ability when it’s all said and done, to be the best running back this school has ever seen,” Los Altos head coach Dale Ziola said. “He’s already close to the single-season rushing record. He’s already had the best sophomore season to date that the school’s ever seen. So the sky’s the limit and the best part is he’s a good kid.”
Nobody knew exactly when Nevens’ coming-out party would be, but Los Altos coaches knew it would come sooner than later. As a freshman in 2013, Nevens helped Los Altos’ freshmen team go 10-0. He scored on the first play in seven of the Conquerors’ 10 games that season.
Nevens began this season as part of a deep mix of running backs vying for carries on the varsity team. But as the season wore on, Nevens clearly separated himself from the pack and that just so happened to coincide with Los Altos playing its best football.
In Los Altos’ semifinals win over Bonita, Nevens rushed for 300 yards and two touchdowns. In the Conquerors’ quarterfinals win over No. 2 seed Monrovia, Nevens ran for 309 yards and five touchdowns.
Nevens has rushed for over 100 yards in six of Los Altos’ past seven games, including 169 against South Hills, 154 against Diamond Ranch and 177 against Charter Oak. All totaled, Nevens has 1,611 yards and 15 touchdowns this season.
“I didn’t expect this at all,” Nevens said. “I know the first part of the season, I wasn’t the football player that I am now. I’m very confident in what I do and I think that’s one of the keys as to how I progressed this season.
“I’ve been focusing on the playoffs. I can’t take my foot off the pedal. I’m going to keep watching film and watching myself to see where I can get better.”
Nevens had thoughts of playing his high school ball elsewhere. There were persuasions from friends for him to go to Bishop Amat among other schools. But Los Altos’ strong history convinced him that playing for the neighborhood team was the best option.
“A couple of friends of mine wanted me to go to Bishop Amat,” Nevens said. “But that’s a private Catholic school and I’m not Catholic. I chose the high school that’s closest to home. I heard they had a great football program, so I came here.”
Before Ziola got things turned around, Nevens was the type of talent who likely would have bypassed Los Altos and went elsewhere. His decision to stay has certainly worked out for everyone involved. It’s also the latest proof that Los Altos is back among the Valley’s elite and keeping its talent home.
“He’s a local kid and we’re glad he came here from Orange Grove (Middle School),” Ziola said. “He probably could have gone to any high school he wanted to in the San Gabriel Valley and we’re happy he stayed at home. We’re extremely thrilled that he’s here. I’m just happy that the kids who are supposed to be here are here.”
Another big performance by Nevens on Saturday might be enough to earn Los Altos its 12th CIF championship in school history. It would also vault the young standout into almost legendary status with two years of eligibility remaining.
As nice as all of that sounds, though, Nevens knows he’s also playing for the accolades of one of his biggest fans who will be there only in spirit.
“I imagine what it would be like if he was here,” Nevens said of his father. “I know that if he was here, I would make him proud. I do mostly everything for him. I use the situation as motivation to keep me going, even in the hardest times that I have.”