(EDITOR’s NOTE: Fred Altieri takes us through the Culver City High football season in this two-part series.)
By Fred Altieri
Culver City High football 2013 is now history as they say and
can only be characterized as “drama past sundown.” And Jerry Chabola Stadium was the scene for half of that drama unfolding during every Friday night home game.
The newly refurbished football stadium, complete with a state-of-the-art synthetic turf field encircled by a top-flight running track, witnessed six knock-down, dragged-out, swinging contests.
Head coach Jahmal Wright with his coaching staff and band of Centaurs came into the season with a number of unknowns: a lot of untested underclassmen filling in both the offensive and defensive lines, revamped and repositioned linebackers, ‘skill’ positions loaded with talent and a pre-league schedule not suitable for the faint or weary.
Wright before the season started said “We’re coming off a year where we graduated eight starters on defense. We have a new group that we’re grooming. We’re fast. We’re physical. We just lack a little experience but we’ll gain that as we go along during the season.
“On the offensive line we have five brand new starters. They’re unproven but they’ve been working hard. We’re going to get them up to speed and ready to man the offensive line so we can have an explosive offense this year.
“I expect our offense to pick up right where we left off and score some points for us. We pride ourselves on being in shape and playing the game fast. Being out here on this turf, on this new field, we think it’s going to help our offense really run up and down the field and score some points.”
After the pregame fireworks, the season home-opener against West High of Torrance started off with a bang in front of a capacity home crowd when the Centaurs scored the first touchdown of the year to lead 7-0 on a classic 48-yard deep pass play from senior quarterback David Handler to junior wide-receiver and defensive back Stanley Norman.
But ultimately, the Warriors responded with some big plays and kept the Centaur defense on the field for most of the second half. Final Score: West 36, Culver 17. Season record: 0-1.
The Centaurs came back with a vengeance in their next game at Peninsula High in Rancho Palos Verdes, winning 41-27. The rare daytime contest saw Culver open the floodgates in the second half. Norman ran the ball 10 times for 194 yards and scored four touchdowns against the Panthers, tying a school record set by Culver’s current offensive coordinator, Aki Wilson, back in 1994 and duplicated by Curtis Nettles in 1997.
Nico Melendez, taking over the kicking duties this year for field goals, extra points and punts, hit on 5/6 in the PAT department. Season record: 1-1.
Game #3 hosting Redondo Union High was Culver’s second setback of the season. The Centaurs gained over 400 yards in total offense against the Sea Hawks but still fell two touchdowns short in a 28-14 disappointing loss. Coach Wright commented, “They ran a Wing-T type offense in a slow-play, slow-paced style. They controlled the clock and wore us down.” Marcus Moore caught both Culver touchdowns, one from Handler and one from Armani Rogers. Season record: 1-2.
The Centaurs made their longest road trip of the season to Paramount for Game #4. It was a hard fought but a similar type of loss, 35-14, reminiscent of their two previous defeats. The Pirates, yet another larger team on both sides of the line, wore them down. Culver was also missing a number of its best players for the game. This time it was Lonnie Walker who caught two touchdowns, one each thrown by Handler and Armani Rogers.
Wright was determined to right the ship, “We have to find a way to put together four quarters of football. We’re still a little bit inconsistent with our efficiency. We have to do a better job of running the football as well as cut down on our turnovers. With three interceptions and one fumble, four turnovers is not going to get it done.” Season record: 1-3.
High-powered Bishop Amat was invited to Culver City for Game #5, the last non-league contest of the regular season. Wright, straight ahead in his reasoning, “We always like to schedule a heavy hitter and this year it was Bishop Amat.” Not unexpectedly, the Centaurs took it good on the chin, 48-26, but not before sending a message to the Lancers by scoring four touchdowns in the second half.
During halftime ceremonies, Culver High dedicated the athletic field as Jerry Chabola Stadium. They also retired the jersey of Centaur star Michael Bumpus, CIF Division 10 Player of the Year in 2003. Season record: 1-4.
The Centaurs began their 2013 Ocean League quest on the road at Hawthorne High searching for a much needed victory. And they got it as they easily dominated the Cougars defensively, 27-7. This night marked the turning point of the season for Culver and would keep them lit up until the season’s end.
Wright was now preparing his defense to contend for a league championship, “Defensively, I thought we did a great job not letting them in the end zone. However, I would like to see us get more stops and not miss assignments on defense so that we can execute the play that’s called more efficiently, so that we can be a lot more solid and give the ball back to the offense. We are going to be playing against some solid opponents the next couple of weeks.” Season record: 2-4: League record 1-0.