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Serra might be small, but it plays large
With an enrollment of a little more than 600 students, Serra High School in Gardena is one of the smaller private schools in Southern California.
But don't let the school's size fool you.
"Yeah, we are a very small school," Serra football coach Scott Altenberg said. "But we're pretty good in sports."
Pretty good is an understatement. In the 2011-2012 athletic season, Serra ranked first among 579 schools in the CIF Southern Section in number of championships won. Most notably, the Cavaliers boys and girls basketball programs both won CIF titles, as did the boys and girls track teams.
Despite the success across different playing fields, the one team that was unable to claim a CIF title last season was the school's football squad, which plays Edison today in the state Division 2 regional at Orange Coast College at 7:30 p.m.
After losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2011, the Cavaliers bounced back this season by winning the Western Division title with a 30-28 victory over Chaminade of West Hills.
Over the past five seasons, the Cavaliers football program has advanced to four CIF championship games, winning three of them. In addition, Serra has played in two state championship games, winning the Division III title back in 2009.
Over that time, the Cavaliers have compiled a 62-7 record.
"We have a lot of kids fired up about football," Altenberg said. "And because of that, our program has been building."
Even more impressive than the number of championships the Cavaliers have won in the past five seasons is the talent the program has developed over that same timeframe.
The two most recognizable alums can be seen playing on Saturdays inside the Los Angeles Coliseum. In fact, before USC's Marqise Lee and Robert Woods made up the best receiving duo in college football, they were teammates at Serra.
"We're so hands on here that we attract a lot of people in our area," Altenberg said. "We play in a lot of big games. We continue to have players with the right mindset, and we continue to develop character. That's why you see a lot of guys having success at the next level and beyond that."
Under Altenberg, Serra has become one of the premiere football programs in the state. Twenty former players are playing football on scholarship at the collegiate level.
Because they have produced playmakers like Lee, Woods and George Farmer in recent years, Serra has become known for its explosive offenses. This year, though, is a bit different.
"In the past, it's been our offense that have been the strength of our team," Altenberg said. "This year, our defense is the reason why we've gotten back."
Linebacker Dwight Williams and cornerback Adoree Jackson lead a group that has held opposing offenses to 11 points a game over the last eight weeks of the season.
"We play very active as one unit," Jackson said. "We're a selfish defense. We either want to get the ball back for our offense to score or just get the ball for ourselves to score."
In the Western Division final against Chaminade, Williams intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and Jackson scored on a 43-yard fake punt.
"Dwight can go sideline to sideline," Altenberg said. "He's a tough kid to block and doesn't miss many tackles.
"Adoree reminds me of the guys we've had in the past. He has the ability to affect the game in so many ways. He's just so athletic. I can't be surprised by anything he does because he's such a great athlete."
Jackson, a junior, also is the reigning California state long jump champion (25.25 feet) and starred on Serra's CIF Champion basketball team.
In a game against St. Paul High of Santa Fe Springs earlier this season, Jackson returned two punts for scores, caught a touchdown pass and recorded an interception within 13 plays.
"I try to be a playmaker," he said. "You may think I do one thing, and then I do something completely different. I'm quiet about it, though. So if you forget about me, I'll sneak up on you."
On the offensive, the Cavaliers average 35 points a game. Quarterback Jalen Green has thrown for 22 touchdown passes this season and rushed for more than 900 yards. Sophomore Malik Roberson averages nearly 10 yards per carry and has totaled over 1,300 yards on the ground this season.
The Cavaliers finished the season with a 12-2 record and have beaten the likes of Long Beach Poly and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame along the way. Their only losses came to Chaminade, which they eventually avenged in the CIF title game, and Narbonne of Harbor City, the Los Angeles City Section Champions who is unbeaten with a 14-0 record.
"Edison is one of the best teams we've played this year," Altenberg said. "I really like their program. We're going to need to play our best game of the season to beat them."