“Hey! Put the camera on over here and show it gets real out at Reseda!”
A Regents assistant shouts at me to point the camera to a kid doubled over, the victim of the latest string of gassers on a hot September afternoon. There was nothing malicious here -- the player was a defensive starter and the coaches weren’t overly concerned.
But the implication was clear. Reseda, emblematic of the football community in the San Fernando Valley, has long been overlooked by fans, recruiters, and media alike. Attention, sometimes deservedly, other times not, has been paid to schools in the Los Angeles Basin and the South Bay.
The player finished his unfortunate business and returned the sideline. I stood there, chatting with Reseda head coach Alonso Arreola about his star defensive end Alonzo Gray-Hall. I was there to do a story on the “Philly Freak,” a 6’4 man-child whose prowess on the field seemed matched only by his struggles to get there.
Arreola emphasized the importance of keeping “Philly” grounded as attention from media personnel and college recruiters swirled around him. Humility takes center stage at a time like this, Coach Arreola says, because it’s easy to lose sight of the season in front of him.
It’s also not every day that credentialed reporters come out to Reseda High School. It’s very much a “neighborhood” school, and recently received charter status from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Reseda has not excelled in athletics quite like rival Valley schools like Birmingham, Taft, and El Camino Real. Kids seem to transfer from Reseda, not into it.
As a result, the Regents have been written off despite a 4-0 start to the season. They have dynamic players on both sides of the ball, including freshman running back Derek Boyd II and junior receiver Mario Martinez. Sophomore quarterback Dranel Rhodes has served aptly in place of transfer Ezekiel Savage II, who awaits clearance to play after his transfer from Simi Valley Royal High School.
The team is excelling on and off the field because of Gray-Hall’s presence. He’s a formidable edge-rusher who often takes on multiple blockers, leaving gaps open for his teammates. But he’s also drawn a spotlight, and its shine has cast light on other talented players.
Assistants at Reseda are often alumni. Many of them are volunteers, receiving little besides a T-shirt and maybe a pair of shorts. Coach Arreola is an alumnus, too.
As the Regents’ practice winds down, the players suitably gassed, the players take a knee around Coach Arreola and listen to his game plan for upcoming rival Canoga Park. There are the usual urgings to stay focused, to remember their plays and to make sure they know what the heck they’re doing when they get on the field.
The story is the same at San Fernando and Canoga Park high schools. There’s a chip on the collective shoulder of many Valley schools as they feel their summer and fall efforts go unnoticed. For the most part, they’re right.
But it’s a rapidly changing landscape.