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Story by Mark Tennis & Ronnie Flores
It’s not a surprise that former Dominguez of Compton head coach Willie Donnerson has been bombarded with interview requests this week about former Dominguez player Richard Sherman, the Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback who erupted with a rant in front of a national TV audience just a few minutes after making an incredible play to help seal a 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers in last weekend’s NFC title game.
There’s no need for such a request from those of us at Cal-Hi Sports who saw Sherman play ourselves and have vivid memories of a Dominguez team that in 2005 was one of the best in the state.
In fact, if it weren’t for an injury, Sherman wouldn’t be the only player off of that Dominguez team that would be playing for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl next week in New York. Jeron Johnson also is a member of Seattle’s secondary, but the former Boise State player was put on injured reserve in early December with a pulled hamstring.
The Dons finished 13-1 that season and ranked No. 2 in California according to Cal-Hi Sports. The 37-35 loss was in triple-overtime against a Crenshaw of Los Angeles team that, like the Dons, went on to win a section title and had five seniors sign with Division I colleges.
In addition to Sherman (Stanford) and Johnson (Boise State), there was quarterback-defensive back Marvin Johnson (Oregon), 360-pound tackle Sonny Tevaga (UCLA) and running back Elijah Wesson (Utah).
In a ground-oriented Wing-T offense, Sherman was a big-play wide receiver and started at one corner opposite junior David Ross (Oregon State). Senior Hilton Dawson played strong safety and Marvin Johnson was the free safety.
All four players in the secondary eventually played D1 football and even though he played middle linebacker for Dominguez, Jeron Johnson had the intelligence and toughness to become a strong safety in the college and pros, according to Martin French, the team’s defensive back coach.
French has fond memories of coaching that unit in his first season on the staff after moving over from Venice. The thing that jumped out to him about Sherman was the confidence he had in his own ability.
“His confidence level was far and beyond that of a regular high school player,” said French, who played at Fairfax of Los Angeles and USC. “He had a pro-like mind when he was in high school. We were a running team and he knew he couldn’t drop the ball and was always trying to score. Richard just dissected teams.”
It’s ironic that Sherman plays for Pete Carroll with the Seahawks because the impressionable head coach recruited him to play cornerback at USC, but according to French, Sherman wanted to stick with receiver. He chose Stanford, where he was coached by Jim Harbaugh and who later ended up getting Sherman to switch to corner.
Sherman has a place in the Cal-Hi Sports State Record Book for yards per reception in a season, which was 30.7 and places him in the top 20 in state history. He had 28 catches for 859 yards. It’s no surprise to French, however, that Sherman has become one of the best — if not the best — cornerback in the NFL.
“He’s like Keyshawn (Johnson), he’s tough and he’s gotten so much bigger since high school,” French said. “I saw him at Dominguez a few years ago on Seattle’s off week and he told me, ‘In two years, I’m going to be the best cornerback in the league. The guys up here, French, they are really great athletes or possession receivers. Nobody out here can do both.'”
Later on in his senior year at Dominguez, Sherman won the CIF state triple jump crown at the state track meet. The combination of what he did in football and track was just enough for him to barely edge out a top three-sport athlete from Northern California for the Cal-Hi Sports Division II State Athlete of the Year honor – Colin Kaepernick from Pitman of Turlock.
That Dominguez team was dominant in a lot of areas, but one thing about Sherman and Jeron Johnson’s success does surprise French.
“That team was so loaded,” French said. “If you would have asked me who was going to make The Show (NFL) off that team, without hesitation I would have said Marvin Johnson. He was the leader of both the offense and defense.”
In the team’s final game, Dominguez faced 13-0 Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks for the CIF Division III title. And despite Notre Dame being on a 35-game win streak (a total that makes the state record book), the Dons rolled to a 41-14 triumph. Sherman only had two tackles and had a 38-yard kick return in that game. The Dons only attempted one pass because the running game just went through the Knights like Swiss cheese. Junior Brandon Johnson rushed for 258 yards on 30 carries and scored four times.
After the game, notes were gathered up about the Dons for a mock CIF state football bowl game selection meeting. This was one year before the actual CIF state bowl games began and the CIF wanted all of the section commissioners to gather for a meeting (it was held in San Diego in January) to go through a selection of teams as if bowl games were being played.
It’s very rare for a team to overcome a head-to-head loss in the final rankings, but in the case of Dominguez compared to Crenshaw in 2005 it was one time we went against it. Since the Dons’ only loss was in that 37-35 toss-up game, since they won so convincingly in their final outing against a 13-0 foe and since Crenshaw ended with three losses in all, that was enough for us.
In the selection meeting, however, the commissioners voted for Crenshaw to be in the D1 game, which didn’t change our final rankings that had unbeaten St. Bonaventure of Ventura (14-0) at No. 1, with Dominguez No. 2 and Canyon of Canyon Country (13-1) at No. 3. We do wish we had Crenshaw (11-3) higher than No. 12, though.
Earlier in the season, one of the teams Crenshaw lost to was Taft of Woodland Hills. Taft also later faced the Cougars again in the L.A. City final and could not get a second win. One of the leading players on that Taft team was linebacker Malcolm Smith. Yes, that is the same Malcolm Smith who grabbed the tipped ball that Sherman caused in the Seattle end zone off of the pass thrown by Kaepernick.
Who knows, eight years from now, we may get to relive moments of the just concluded 2013 season just one week before another Super Bowl.