TOM SHANAHAN'S SAN DIEGO SECTION ROUNDUP

Young coach putting Crawford on the right track.

Crawford sophomore quarterback Raymond Patterson strikes a mature pose in the huddle as well as from his free safety position.

When he speaks -- such as the time he told a senior to settle down because he was risking a flag for taunting after a big hit in 33-0 win over Madison -- his teammates listen. The senior shut up and returned to the huddle.

"Raymond might be the most mature kid on the team," said third-year Crawford coach Tracy McNair, a 1990 Morse High graduate and Fresno State alum.

After the Colts' surprisingly easy romp over Madison on Nov. 7 before a large and enthusiastic home crowd, Patterson offered a look into the Colts' future.

"Watch out for Crawford," Patterson said calmly, sounding more like a man stating facts than a kid making immature boasts.

For Crawford, enjoying its first 8-0 start in school history, the immediate future is a second straight home game Nov. 14 against another unbeaten team, Coronado (8-0). Crawford, unranked in San Diego, and Coronado, No. 10 in San Diego as well as No. 2 in the state in Division IV, are 3-0 in Harbor League play. The showdown will decide the league title as well as the better seed in the CIF San Diego Section Division III playoffs that begin Nov. 28.

But the long-term future for the Colts also looks bright, even though Crawford is a school that not long ago appeared to be a hopeless situation for a football coach.

The unbeaten start is the result of more than just a strong senior class. It's the fruits of a rebuilding program put in place by McNair. He's proving himself the right fit for a school that took a chance on him when the administration hired him as a 28-year-old head coach two years ago.

McNair has emphasized academics, he has embraced the role of father figure for kids who need one and he teaches football the way it's supposed to be played. McNair, who played for retired Morse coach John Shacklett, one of the San Diego Section's legendary figures, believes if he teaches those elements first, winning will take care of itself.

"This season has been two years in the building," McNair said. "My first year we were heavy with seniors, and we had to change the Crawford mentality. Now we're pulling, trapping and countering because our linemen have picked it up.

"If we emphasize getting good grades, the kids will be eligible, they'll stay in school, they'll graduate and test scores will go up. If we graduate our players, kids from the neighborhood will stay home and go to Crawford. There are enough good kids in San Diego that if everyone stayed home, there would be more strong programs.

"We make sure our kids have a tutor if they need one. I make sure the kids have my cell phone so they can call me if they get in trouble. My main focus is to make sure kids do the right thing."

Crawford's game against Madison was supposed to be the week the Colts' dubious schedule was exposed. But Crawford, playing a Wing-T offense, marched down the field on its first two possessions against the bigger Warhawks to take a 13-0 halftime lead.

The Colts broke the game open when Stephan Cleveland returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. There was a bit of luck involved in the return, since Cleveland bobbled the ball a couple of times and almost booted it before securing it and finding running room.

But teams with players who block for each and who are in the right place on defense often find the ball bouncing their way.

"We like playing for Coach Mac," Patterson said. "He teaches us the game and fundamentals."

On the sidelines, McNair is all business, rarely changing expression. Football coaches are often a rumpled bunch, but McNair's blue cap with head phones pulled down snuggly, crisp blue jacket and pressed khaki pants fit him smartly. He could get a casting call to play Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham.

"Coach McNair has brought this team together," said senior running back Leonard Moore, the team's leading rusher and scorer. "He teaches discipline and tells us to work hard. No one talks back to the coaches. If we don't do what he says, we pay the consequences. We run."

McNair's vision for rebuilding Crawford football includes more than just the kids who want to play football. One of the problems that plagued the school in recent years is friction on campus among large number of diverse immigrants and other students.

Immigrants from Africa and Asia don't now the game of American football, which reduced the talent pool. But McNair sees benefits beyond winning games if he exposes immigrants to football.

"We try to get the immigrant kids involved in the freshman and JV programs," McNair said. "If they play football and they learn the game, the kids will get to know each other better. It's another way we can bring the community closer together."

Crawford hasn't yet broken into the county top 10, but as the Colts' sophomore quarterback says, "Watch out for Crawford."

This is a school that could soon be shaking up the county's balance of power.

THIS WEEK'S FIVE-PACK

Coronado (8-0, 3-0 Harbor League) at Crawford (8-0, 3-0 Harbor League) -- Two of the section's top running backs -- Coronado's J.T. Rogan and Crawford's Leonard Moore -- meet in a showdown to decide the Harbor League title. Crawford has improved, but Coronado picks up one of the final two wins it needs for a top four seed in the Division III playoffs.

Oceanside (6-2, 2-1 Avocado League) at La Costa Canyon (6-2, 3-0 Avocado League) -- In last week's surprising 51-28 loss at Fallbrook, Oceanside was missing running back Nick Kok, who suffered side effects from spider bite. If Kok plays this week, the Pirates win with the offensive balance they lacked last week. Without him, pick La Costa Canyon.

Rancho Buena Vista ( 5-2-1 , 1-1-1 Palomar League) at Vista (5-3, 3-0 Palomar League) -- Injuries have slowed down RBV's offense and Vista has too much defense to overcome. Pick here is Vista.

Helix (6-2, 3-0 Grossmont South League) at Monte Vista ( 6-1-1 , 2-0-1 Grossmont South League) -- Beating Helix is nothing new for Monte Vista. The Monarchs pick up another win over their rival en route to the league title.

Marian Catholic (8-0, 3-0 South Bay League) at Castle Park (5-3, 2-0 South Bay League) -- The only question here is if Marian wins by scoring 50 points or more for the eighth straight game.

Editor's Note: Tom Shanahan is the San Diego Section correspondent for Cal-Hi Sports. He wrote and covered San Diego high school sports and San Diego sports for 18 years for the San Diego Union-Tribune. We're honored to have his byline on our site and San Diego athletes and coaches should be honored that Tom still wants to continue to write about them in some capacity as he pursues other interests in addition to journalism.


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