Centennial completes remarkable turnaround
SOLID START: Centennialâ€™s Kevin Smith started their regular season finale with two touchdowns on the opening kickoff and Lawndaleâ€™s first punt.Â The Apaches went from worst to first in the Pioneer League and host a playoff game Friday. Apaches went From 1-9 last year to league champions and host Harvard-Westlake Friday
– Nick Koza for Sentinel
SOLID START: Centennialâ€™s Kevin Smith started their regular season finale with two touchdowns on the opening kickoff and Lawndaleâ€™s first punt.Â The Apaches went from worst to first in the Pioneer League and host a playoff game Friday.
Apaches went From 1-9 last year to league champions and host Harvard-Westlake Friday
By Randall Blakely
Sentinel Sports Writer
Compton Centennial hosted Lawndale to determine the Pioneer League championship and when the Apaches stormed the field after their 48-21 victory, it completed one of the season’s best turnarounds.
It was their first outright league championship since the 1960’s and come on the heels of a 1-9 season last year. In fact, the program had only won five games in their league since 2001.
But these weren’t the same Apaches. And it didn’t take Lawndale much time to find out.
Senior Kevin Smith took back the opening kick 87 yards for a touchdown. Five minutes later, he returned a punt for a 70 yard score and teammate Shaca Henry did the same on Lawndale’s second punt.
It was 21-0 before the Apaches’ offense took the field. Quick strikes that showed how much this squad improved in a matter of a year.
“We keep trying to get them to believe in themselves,” Centennial head coach Eric Scott. “We ran our offense and defense based on the players we had. Most importantly we had to teach them humility.”
From 1998-2005, Scott, who has two Master’s degrees, was an assistant at Crenshaw, the school he also starred at before going on to UCLA. After helping the Cougars win the 2005 City title, he was hired at his alma mater.
He served as UCLA’s wide receivers coach from 2006-2008 and was partly responsible for the Bruins acquiring recruits such as Brian Price, Rahim Moore, Milton Knox, Aaron Hester. But he was let go after Rick Neuheisel replaced Karl Dorrell as head coach.
He got the Job at Centennial two weeks before school started in ’08 and his squad went 1-9. But this year, he knew things would be different.
“I would walk around campus and if I saw a kid that I thought looked like he could help, I would invite him out. We had so many kids that had never played before, we had to get the fundamentals down, I had to teach them the game.”
The team went through several passing leagues, gaining experience along the way. The potential was evident in their season opening loss to Compton.
Â In the fourth quarter, the Apaches scored 18 points and showed how their offense could click down the road. In five of their next nine games, they scored over 40 points.
Â But more than winning a league championship, Scott and his coaching staff helped provide leadership in the classroom and in life. They’d make sure players had their grades up to par and helped provide counselors with more information on getting into college.
Â “I feel that sometimes it takes a whole lot of men in a village to lead our boys and that’s what our coaching staff was all about,” Scott said.
Â It’s changed a culture around a school long known for only its basketball program.
Â “Coach Scott turned our program around by having kids believe in themselves,” Centennial vice principal Lakeshua Washington, “The kids have a good understanding and it’s all because of the good energy and spirit he brings.”
The Apaches host Harvard-Westlake in the first round of the CIF playoffs on Friday, their first playoff game since 2007. But just being there is a success enough for a team and coach that have fit like a glove.