Despite hardships, Compton Centennial makes CIF playoffs


"We carry 15 guys, not by choice, and we play probably 13," said Apaches head coach Jimmy Nolan.

But they have an awfully good 13. They may not win the numbers game on the sidelines, but they do so on the scoreboard.

"Practically, the teams laugh because there's only 13 guys," said lineman Jonathan Aguilar.

"They don't think we're tough, but if they play us, we'll show them something," said running back Shavony Drew.

The Apaches are headed to the CIF playoffs for the second time in as many years under Nolan.

A former boxer and college football player, Nolan wanted the job that most other coaches would run away from.

Nolan is a walk-on coach who has his own sports training business. He's paid a $2,000 stipend by Centennial to drive from Mission Viejo to Compton five days a week to coach a team with the bare minimum in facilities and resources, and more than half its players from foster care.

"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 Nolan first took over as head coach before last year, he quickly realized his team was lacking equipment and many of his players were lacking food. So he asked for donations and received one surprising donation from a high school football player in Rancho Santa Margarita, Thomas Stokes.

Stokes is a wide receiver at Tesoro High School. A few months ago, he read about the situation at Compton Centennial and took action, collecting cleats, socks, money and food from fellow teammates and their parents.

"We thought it would be great thing to do because we're a privileged school, so we might as well help out and give some of the stuff we have," Stokes said.

"I know people have tried to give our football program credit, but it's all him. Thomas has done all the work. It's unbelievable. I am so proud of him," said Tesoro football coach Brian Barnes.

The Apaches now have enough equipment.

"This kid is very mature in that he's looking to help others," Nolan said. "If we got more of that going on, this would be a better world."

With help from his wife, Nolan brings food for the players to eat before every practice and game.

After practices, Nolan drives players home because it's not safe for them to walk.

"He really cares about us," Drew said. "He's like another father to us. We want to win this for him, actually."

Nolan also considers the boys family.

"When I go home on Friday night, I start to miss them by Monday. There's something really special going on here," Nolan said.

As they head to the playoffs, no team they'll face has done more with less.

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