BAND OF BROTHERS
COLISEUM MARCH: Heading into the City Section final on Saturday, Crenshaw is nationally and state ranked for the first time in school history but it's the selfless attitude and family atmosphere they've displayed that has endeared them to their community.Â (Photo by Robert Helfman) De'Anthony Thomas made an impact running the ball against Culver City, but it's been his hard hits as a defensive back that have added the toughness of the Cougar defense this year.Â
As perhaps the most highly recruited member of the team, Hayes Pullard has done double duty as a fullback and linebacker for the Cougars. But he's been a leader in promoting the unity on the team.Â All-for-one attitude guides Crenshaw's season.
As Dorsey and Crenshaw exchanged handshakes and embraces after the Cougars defeated them 34-7 in the City Section semifinals last week, a Dorsey coach told a Crenshaw player these words.
"Go bring that 'ship back to the hood," referring to the City championship up for grabs this Saturday in the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.
It was more than mutual respect between longtime rivals. It symbolized how much South Los Angeles is rallying behind a team that is having a season for the ages.
When Crenshaw (12-0) meets defending City Section champion Narbonne (6-5), it's more than a championship game - it could be the coronation of one of the greatest teams in City Section history.
Crenshaw's success - defeating five Southern Section teams, allowing only five touchdowns since October 2 - has them being mentioned amongÂ Â
But for the team wearing blue and gold, it's just one more goal on their checklist. Something they care about more than individual accomplishments.
They are a brotherhood - a team bonded by the memory of narrowly losing to Narbonne 25-24 in the City semifinals last year.
The bond developed over the summer when they carpooled to Loyola High School for several passing tournaments and it matured with each game this season.
On the field, they fire each other up after a big play. Each big hit is greeted with several helmet slaps and encouraging words.
On the sidelines, players roam up and down telling teammates to applaud after a first down. No small play goes unnoticed and standing still is unacceptable as the players police themselves on showing support.
Off the field, they hang out after practice like any group of teenagers. Most players know each other from having played in Pop Warner leagues and continuing that bond helps strengthen that chemistry.Â
"We go to the mall, we sleep at each other's houses, we do everything together," junior DeAnthony Thomas said.
In postgame interviews, they rarely credit themselves - choosing to deflect praise to teammates. With the bulk of the attention given to their skill positions, they credit their offensive and defensive lines for setting the tone.
"Without the O-line, there is no shine" senior linebacker Ronald Stovall said.
Senior linebacker Hayes Pullard, one of team's most heavily recruited player, agreed, "We have the skill players and the athletes but without them, nothing is possible."
It's an attitude that comes from the top down, starting with head coach Robert Garrett. In his 22nd year at the helm, he often shuns the attention, directing reporters to interview his players.
"The kids deserve the press, the kids are the orchestrators, I'm just the vessel," Garrett said after a win earlier this year.
For years, Garrett - a former offensive lineman at Jefferson - never allowed official stats posted on sites like MaxPreps.com and is a shrewd protector of his kids being promoted. Â Some have criticized his tight ship and often gruff personality but they can't deny its impact - five consecutive years in the City semifinals, four consecutive wins over Dorsey and the 2005 City title.
After every game, the teams leave the field in two lines, hand in hand - a tradition that has taken more meaning this year. No one leaves the field alone - they enter as a team and leave as one.
It's a disciplined, family atmosphere that has helped transform this school from a national basketball power to a respected football power in the Southland.
But despite their accolades - No. 2 in the Cal-Hi Sports state poll, No. 10 in the USA Today Super 25 poll - most have never seen this team in action. Their games aren't television on Fox Sports West because the network has a contract with the Southern Section.
To some, Saturday's game is overshadowed by the Pac-5 Division championship later that night between Huntington Beach Edison and Anaheim Servite, where the winner is guaranteed a state bowl.
Those who know say this team is one of the best they've ever laid eyes on. But it's how they play with a selfless, all-for-one attitude that has set them apart as well .
"They've set the standard for future Crenshaw teams" one parent remarked before their semifinal game.
When they take the field on Saturday at a stadium most have never set foot on, they'll walk as one. A band of brothers not just chasing history - no City team has finished undefeated in nearly three decades - but defining the meaning of the word team.