It's extremely unlikely that Compton (Calif.) Centennial High will win a California Interscholastic Federation City Section football title. That still doesn't mean that it won't have achieved more than any other program by the time its season ends, whenever it is bounced from the ongoing playoffs. There's a good reason for that, and one glance at the team's sideline makes it abundantly clear: Centennial hardly has enough athletes to field a complete team.
"We carry 15 guys, not by choice, and we play probably 13," Centennial football coach Jimmy Nolan told Los Angeles ABC affiliate KABC.
Yes, you read that right: A sectional playoff team in California got there with only 13 players making any kind of regular appearances. That means at any given time, the Apaches essentially have two players on the sideline to come in if someone is winded or gets banged up and needs to sit out a play.
Incredibly, the Apaches made it through an entire season with those slight numbers, and even excelled. Centennial finished the regular season at 7-3, then won an impressive playoff opener against Torrance (Calif.) Bishop Montgomery by the score of 60-10. In case you were wondering, Bishop Montgomery's team roster was 54 players deep.
While it's natural to assume that Centennial would love a few more players on the sideline, Nolan claims that he wouldn't change anything about his close-knit team. The Apaches' limited size allows the head coach to drive most of his players home because the commute from the school would take them through areas that aren't safe at the best of times, let alone the early evening around dusk.
His players appear to recognize the sacrifices Nolan has made to help them -- "He really cares about us. He's like another father to us. We want to win this for him, actually," Apaches running back Shavony Drew told KABC -- and Nolan intimated that in his two seasons at the helm, he's received as much from his players as they have from him.
"I saw there was lot of things going on here, where kids could use the family atmosphere, a mentor. I felt I'm the luckiest man in Compton," Nolan said. […]
"When I go home on Friday night, I start to miss them by Monday. There's something really special going on here."