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Former SMC Quarterback Has High Hopes As WLA Coach:

When Craig Austin came out of Palisades High he became the Santa Monica College quarterback in 1983 and ’84.

Later he became an assistant coach for the Corsairs. In 1995, he gained the confidence of head coach Robert Taylor and was named offensive coordinator.

“I held that position for 10 years,” he says. “I was very loyal to the program and didn’t apply for a head coaching job elsewhere.”

But last season Austin became head coach at West Los Angeles College and now he’s trying to build a program while playing in the same Western State Conference Southern Division as SMC.

“I learned a lot from Coach Taylor,” he says. “He taught me organization, discipline, how to have winning ways.”

But any young coach would want to move up, and when Dr. Mark Rocha became president of West LA College a year ago and word spread that he wanted to emphasize athletics, Austin became interested.

He wasn’t scared off by the fact West LA was coming off a 1-9 season and the campus field didn’t have any seating for spectators.

“I saw the school as a hidden gold mine,” he said. “It’s in a beautiful part of town and I thought the opportunity came at a perfect time.”

Austin’s team repeated the 1-9 record in 2006 but 18 players received scholarships to four-year schools, a new batch of recruits came in, 1,500 seats were installed for this season, and a larger campus stadium is planned.

Austin said he’s been in contact with former West LA quarterback Warren Moon, a new member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the works is the team’s future home being named Warren Moon Stadium.

Recently West LA brought back its baseball program following a 21-year absence, and an announcement was made that a campus stadium seating at least 3,000 is planned.

Dr. Rocha has stated a goal of increasing West LA’s enrollment from 9,000 to 18,000 – a project likely to take five years. Drawing attention to the school located on the Los Angeles/Culver City border through athletics is one way to jump-start the plan. Campus construction is another, and there’s a lot of that going on now.

With increased attention to the football program, Austin is looking for more on-field success this season, which begins Saturday afternoon with a home game against Antelope Valley.

“We have some outstanding players,” said Austin.

With the program on the upswing, Austin is hoping to make inroads among area players. He has four Culver City High graduates on this season’s team and one from Santa Monica High – tight end Nick Mays.

“He’s a little undersized at 6-foot, 205 but very athletic,” said Austin. “We have other tight ends so we’ll probably use him too as an H-back who goes in motion and tests a defense that way.”

It will be a special day for Austin to coach a win over SMC, but it didn’t happen last season when the Corsairs won and it won’t happen this season as the nearby rivals aren’t scheduled to play each other.

But the competition should be interesting in the future.

Taylor, one of only two SMC coaches on full-time status, is seeking improvement too following two down seasons. Three years ago SMC won the division title, but the Corsairs have totaled just three wins since then.

SMC will open its season Saturday, September 1, at 7 p.m., opposing San Diego Mesa at Corsair Field.

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