It was a nice story when Craig Austin was recently rewarded for his 10 years as a Santa Monica College football assistant by becoming the head coach at West Los Angeles College.
Although West LA was 1-9 last season, Austin rounded up a representative collection of players and appeared to be on the right track.
Then the story changed dramatically last week. In a bombshell development, West LA decided to enroll linebacker Willie Williams, a nationally prominent player from Florida with a troubled background, and make him eligible immediately.
On the day Williams signed a letter of intent with Miami in 2004, it was revealed he had been arrested 11 times. He was recently serving 36 months of probation for violations on a recruiting trip to Florida – he pleaded no contest to hugging a woman without her consent and turning on fire extinguishers at a hotel. The probation was ended six months early because of his good behavior.
At a time when California community colleges are under heavy scrutiny for their lax policies in accepting out-of-state athletes, Austin would seem to be jeopardizing his future as a head coach by taking on such a controversial player.
The Los Angeles Times ran a story last week listing numerous crimes committed by out-of-state athletes at California community colleges and pointing out that not enough research is done about them. All that is required for admission is a student must be at least 18-years-old and have a high school diploma or the equivalent of one.
But here is where the story gets especially interesting.
Austin is a Los Angeles County sheriff who has pledged to personally monitor Williams. Austin trains deputy sheriffs. In addition, Williams’ stepfather, Leonard Pressley, intends to move from Miami to Los Angeles. “I’m a guy that cares about the community and gives back, in part, by coaching this team,” said Austin. “I have a very strict disciplinarian policy, and Willie must adhere to team rules.”
As for Williams’ football ability, Austin calls him a premier linebacker who can be unblockable.
“Willie is more polite than most of the guys we have,” said Austin. “He also has God-fearing parents who are concerned.”
Last week camera crews from ESPN and Florida television stations and representatives of Florida newspapers came to West LA College.
One premier player isn’t likely to transform a losing team into a winning team, but the addition of a premier player to a promising squad can make a major difference.
And Austin seems to have some other quality players, many from the local area.
The quarterback is likely to be Boomer Wells from Beverly Hills High and Santa Monica College. Since then he’s been playing professional baseball but has one season of community college eligibility left.
Wells will be throwing to Eddie Newton from Venice High who played in the defensive backfield for SMC last season, returnee Aaron Turner, Rick Montgomery and freshman Ryan Henry, who was at Palisades High last season.
Austin is less certain who his running backs will be and wants to see them longer in practice before making decisions.
But a huge offensive line looks promising. Ricky Jackson from Serra High is 6-foot-7, 310 pounds. Brandon White from Locke High is 325 pounds and according to Austin “gets better every day.”
Austin is very happy with the secondary, saying he has several Division 1-caliber players there.
Matthew Mason has been at Utah and Talibh Woods, from Venice High, and came close to enrolling at Washington State. Freshman Cameron Brown from St. Bernard High figures in the plans too, as does Zuzu Weasi from Fairfax High.
Two prominent safeties will be Brandon Roundtree from Long Beach Millikan High and Joe Manning from Florida.
A defensive line that Austin calls “sound’” will be headed by 300-pound Kiyoshi Jones from Venice High, Jesse Sanchez, who comes from El Camino College and 320-pound noseguard Ron Boone, who was at SMC.
The linebacking corps includes Joshua Shipp from SMC and all-CIF Sherman Miles from Dominguez High.
Since WLA’s campus field doesn’t have lights, home games are played on Saturday afternoons.
Asked why he selected this school for a head coaching job, Austin cited the positives. “The location is excellent,” he said. “We’re going to have a new weight room and the administration is excellent.”
The athletic director, Chris Caminiti, is also a football coach. He’s in his first season guiding St. Monica High.
WLA has two famous football alumni, Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon and NFL receiver Keyshon Johnson, the former USC star.
In more recent years the school, which plays in the Western State Conference with SMC, had winning teams under coach Rob Hager. And the men’s’ basketball team was conference champion last season.
So, it does appear that a lot is possible. But a lot is riding on Williams’ behavior. If he falters it is likely to be a big setback for the program.