It was Tuesday afternoon, and Western High was practicing football plays on an uneven playing field — literally and figuratively — under leaden skies. On a 105-degree day, this was a welcome development.
Tyler Tuiasosopo, the Warriors’ 27-year-old coach with the sunniest of dispositions, blew his whistle for a water break. One of the Warriors tossed a football in Tuiasosopo’s direction from a good distance. The coach caught it with one hand.
“That’s the way you do it, son!” Tuiasosopo said, the whistle still in his mouth.
This was four days after his players showed their youthful coach how they do it.
Western had beaten Rancho 20-0 on Friday, snapping a 43-game losing streak — a run of futility that had gone on much longer if you take away a game the Warriors won via forfeit in 2012. Western’s last victory on the field before Friday, besides continuing to show up for practice every day in a downtrodden mental state (which should count for something), was 20-14 over Pahrump Valley in November 2010.
“There’s different numbers tossed around, somewhere in the 40s, 50s,” Tuiasosopo said of the consecutive spirit-sapping defeats after practice had adjourned. “But we didn’t speak about that. What I told our guys when we first came into camp is, ‘We’re undefeated. We haven’t been beaten yet. Let’s go out and stay undefeated.’ ”
So far so good. Western is undefeated, 1-0, in first place. Just like Bishop Gorman, except Gorman’s playing field is a lot more level.
It’s what we’ve got
There is a long strip running down the middle of Western’s field that has turned yellow-green from too much use and not enough water. At least the long strip is flat. On either side of it, the grass is overgrown, making it difficult to gauge uneven terrain and see the holes. The literal holes, not the ones created by the offensive line.
One of the Warriors caught a swing pass and appeared to trip over the 40-yard line. He had put his foot in a big hole. There also were bunches of dandelions on the 40, and patches of clover stretching from red zone to red zone.
They don’t have to deal with dandelions on the 40-yard line at Bishop Gorman.
When this is mentioned to Tyler Tuiasosopo, he shrugs his shoulders and goes right on smiling.“Hey, we play with what we’ve got,” he said, adding that his principal, Dr. Monica Cortez, has been so supportive of the football team she would probably level the playing field herself, had she access to a giant steamroller or a huge wad of petty cash.
But wads of cash do not exist at schools such as Western, which a generation ago was a football contender. Urban sprawl changed the numbers and the demographic and the athletic focus, shifting it to sports such as soccer, which require fewer bodies that tip scales at 230 pounds.
Tuiasosopo, who has a football name to go with a football background — his uncle, Manu, and cousin, Marques, played in the NFL — said he never played on a team that lost 43 games in a row, but he can relate to his players in other ways.
“I come from the same background these kids come from,” coach Tooey was saying as the sky began to brighten. “Being on free lunch, having parents working all the time, having a support group of brothers and sisters — you cannot help but be appreciative of the resiliency of some of these young men.
“They’re asked to be grownups at 15, 16 years old. They’re doing things for their family, providing things that really a father should in his 30s, and they’re doing that now. So to have all that pressure and to come out here and practice? And to do something fun and to win a game?
“You put that all into perspective and say, hey, what amazing human beings we have here at this school. It’s just an awesome thing.”
Most of the Rancho players that Western beat on opening night can speak of similar upbringings. But this was the Warriors’ night to throw a long touchdown pass on third-and-36, to count down seconds, to bask in the glow of Friday night lights, to gather in shower stalls and spray their coach and one another with Pepsi-Cola.
It was a night to remember the smallest of details.
Tyler Tuiasosopo, the youthful coach of undefeated Western High, pointed out that Pepsi has the same color scheme as Western — red and blue. Much preferred to black and blue, which is what the Warriors’ colors had been for far too long.
Contact Ron Kantowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.
Western High School snapped a 43-game losing streak with a 20-0 victory over Rancho during opening weekend of the high school football season, but the Warriors once were a football power. The last of Western’s six state championships came in 1996, following title runs in 1964, 1965, 1966, 1975 and 1976.
Source: NIAA record book