WE ONLY NEED ELEVEN

By Kevin Clark

This blog is the anatomy of a winner, who has made a way out of no way as coach, trainer, and surrogate parent to inner city kids from Compton. There are more famous people who’ve have graced the halls of Centennial High, such as Dr. Dre, Kendrick Lamar, and others, but few have gotten more out their time there with meager resources than Jimmy Nolan.

This man embodies the spirit of throwbacks such as Knute Rockne. His name is  simply, Jimmy Nolan, as non Irish-American as you can be, but has immersed himself in social engineering on a scale that needs to be examined for selflessness and commitment to building this countries youth through character and leadership building.

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Despite hardships, Compton Centennial makes CIF playoffs

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Compton Centennial High School football team – the entire team – is comprised of 15 young men.  “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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This Compton Centennial football team is hungry

Jimmy Nolan, the coach of the Apaches, has to worry about gangs and lack of equipment. But his biggest problem is simply making sure his players have enough to eat.

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August 14, 2010
Bill Plaschke

After the first five days of football practice in a dusty corner of Compton, Hell Week rises to a new boil.  Jimmy Nolan, the new coach of the Compton Centennial Apaches, is wondering how he can unlock the potential in his young football team when he doesn’t even have the keys to the stadium.  Some days he scales the wrought-iron gates. Some days, his players climb with him.  “Right now we may not be too good at football, but we’re great at hopping fences,” Nolan says.  When Nolan is able to borrow keys, open the gates and drive his white Toyota minivan next to the field, the players store their clothes there because there are no locks in their locker room. They dress in the sunlight, giggling girls watching from the bleachers, 50 kids of widely varying shapes and sizes tugging on donated shoes that are too tight, old T-shirts that are beyond wrinkled, and never, ever anything blue.

55555005New Coach Jimmy Nolan gives instruction during practice at Compton Centennial High, where players use the bushes behind the end zone (background, right) for bathroom breaks because they have no restrooms near their field. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Blue is for the Crips, and this neighborhood belongs to the Bloods. “Somebody donated blue shirts, but the kids are afraid to wear them,” Nolan says. “Somebody else donated a bunch of nice blue cleats, but the kids keep them hidden in the van.”  The kids should be in pads like the players from many other local high schools who started practice last week, but there has been no doctor available to give them the required physical exams, so they have spent the first week in those ratty shirts and shorts.  The kids should be replicating game situations on their field like many other teams, but nobody ever showed up to put down yard lines or sidelines, so they set out orange cones and pretend.

When the kids have to relieve themselves, they go between a set of bushes behind the end zone because the nearest toilet is either too far away or doesn’t work.  “I am not complaining,” Nolan says. “Everything we go through builds character.”  The construction required here is immense and intimidating, its burden falling on the thin shoulders of a pale red-haired guy from Mission Viejo who inexplicably signed up to spend two hours a day driving to and from the battle of a lifetime, coaching kids and changing lives for a $3,500 stipend that he is donating to charity.

One week into summer football practice, the new coach is working with no office, no phone, no computer, no video camera. He can’t order anyone to run the stadium steps because one-third of the bleachers are surrounded in yellow tape. They were burned in a recent fire. He can’t literally bench anyone, because, well, the field contains not a single bench.  He last coached at affluent Laguna Beach High before leaving three years ago to focus on his Orange County athletic training business. Yet Friday, dressed in colorful board shorts and a white headband, he hopped around his players as if he had just struck it rich.

“Some people wonder why I picked Compton Centennial,” Nolan says. “After being here awhile, it feels like Compton Centennial picked me.”  Other local high schools face similar economic and environmental challenges, but none has tackled a new coach like this — greeting a cheerful idealist with such a stark reality.  Nolan has two returning starters from a defending league championship team, and one of them is injured. Half of his team are sophomores and many others are playing for the first time, one even asking him to define “tailback.”

Yet none of those things are Nolan’s biggest problem.  “The biggest problem here is hunger,” Nolan says. “A lot of kids were getting dizzy, forgetting assignments, it turns out a lot of them had not eaten all day.”  The No. 2 problem?  “They need rides home,” Nolan says. “Right now, I can’t practice late because it’s too dangerous for these kids to be walking home in the dark.”  The third-biggest problem is making sure all those e-mails get sent. Did you get one? It seems like everyone in town did.  After getting a look at his new team this summer, Nolan did something that football coaches rarely do. He admitted vulnerability. He sent out three mass e-mails asking for donations for his team.

“It isn’t like we could just hold a carwash or a bake sale; we don’t have enough players or involved parents,” he explains. “I couldn’t think of anything else.”  He began his first missive with, “I am the sole booster club for our program….I need some help.” He asked for water, food, cleats, socks, underwear. He asked for shoulder pads. He asked for one dollar per person. He sent the e-mails to more than 2,000 people.  “I knew it could be difficult here; that’s why I wanted the challenge,” Nolan says. “But I had no idea my coaching would begin with soliciting big jars of peanut butter.”  But the crazy idea worked. Somebody sent cases of water. Somebody else sent packages of boxer shorts. A guy showed up at practice the other day offering slightly used cleats, and Nolan tossed him a $100 bill and bought all of them.

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Lakewood High announced on Friday that it’s hiring Jimmy Nolan to be the Lancers’ new head football coach. Nolan, 40, will be the fourth coach in that last five years.  About a month ago, Kenric Jameison stepped down after a 5-6 season and first-round departure in the CIF Pac-5 playoffs. The Lancers haven’t won a playoff game since 2010. Lakewood made back-to-back Pac-5 semifinals in 2008 and 2009.

“(Nolan) is the right guy,” said Lakewood first-year athletic director Chris Murphy. “His energy is what we need to get going very quickly.”  Nolan finds himself in a difficult situation with some local high schools already running spring practice drills. He will have to organize spirit packs, equipment, summer passing leagues and a coaching staff in less than half the time his competition has had during the offseason.

“We’re in rush mode, times two,” said Nolan, who hopes to be cleared by the Long Beach Unified School District as soon as possible. “We’re way behind the ball and we’ve got a hell of a schedule waiting for us.”  Jameison aimed high with his 2014 non-league schedule as Serra, Loyola and Vista Murrieta will take on the Lancers after playoff appearances in 2013.

“It was a long process and a tough decision,” said Murphy of the hiring. “We had very strong candidates for the job. Hopefully this will be the last time we have to do this for a long time.”  Nolan played football at Mater Dei High and the University of Utah before trying to break though professionally in Europe and arena leagues. An Achilles injury ended his playing career but opened the door for Speed Kills, his agility training program for young athletes.

After assisting with the Mater Dei and Fountain Valley football programs, Nolan took his first head coaching job at Cantwell Sacred Heart, where they hadn’t won a game in two years.  “I love being the underdog,” said Nolan. “I’m always looking for the teams that need the most help.”

Nolan also had head coaching jobs at Laguna Beach and Compton Centennial, where he was named the Press-Telegram Coach of the Year after his first season. After one season at Carson, Nolan left coaching in January of 2013 to attend to family matters and turned down the Lakewood job last year for those same reasons. “Everything happens for a reason,” said Nolan. “I’m ecstatic the Lakewood job opened up again. … I’m patient and I understand the situation and the way it is. We’ve got to go through the process. It just feels good to be coaching again.”

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