It started Friday with one earth-shattering backflip.
As they sat eating lunch in their classrooms, the noise built outside their windows, King/Drew High English teacher Deonte Townes recalled. Teachers began poking their heads out to see what the commotion was about, like Brooklyn natives looking out from their apartment fire escapes, Townes chuckled.
It was a pep rally like no other. The cheer squad set up pyramid tosses to thundering cheers. Football players gathered in a dance circle and hit the “Curry Sway.” And senior Jesse Philphott executed a back handspring-into-clean-flip that sent the school into an uproar.
King/Drew football had arrived.
“I’ve never seen the spirit this heavy,” Townes said.
The spirit soared a few hours later during the program’s first game ever, a 36-6 win over View Park. A sea of black and yellow wrapped all the way around the block at Los Angeles Harbor College, adding through the night to a packed home crowd.
“Dang,” said 2006 alumnus Gary Stouman on the sidelines, slapping former classmate Chuma Obiona’s hand, “we got a football team!”
It’s been decades in the making, decades of alumni such as Stouman and Obiona begging for a team while they were students. To the people in the Compton and Watts supermarkets coach Joe Torres frequents, sporting his Golden Eagles gear, it still didn’t seem true.
Students went elsewhere, or gave up their dreams entirely. It squashed the promise of those like Brandon Crook Jr., who nearly went to Gardena Serra High to play football in 2016 but begrudgingly accepted his parents’ wishes to attend King/Drew for the education, father Brandon Crook said.
“At that point, he told us he’s going to hang up his cleats,” Crook said, “and save his hands for surgery.”
Over his eight-year tenure, King/Drew principal Reginald Brookens began noticing students transferring out to play football elsewhere. Four years ago, he said, the school set in motion the idea to start a program, confirmed last fall alongside the hire of Torres.
He was brought in not just as a coach, but as an architect. Torres helmed the first teams at St. Frances Academy in Baltimore — today one of the best programs in the nation. He preaches discipline, unity, his players organizing themselves in two single-file lines every time they run on and off the field.
“What did we talk about?” Torres said to running back Elijah Mosley after he scored a touchdown Friday, clasping the senior’s head in both hands. “I believe, you believe, right?”
Not all the kinks are ironed out. King/Drew wore practice jerseys Friday night, and it’ll be two to three years before they have a true home field, sharing a plot of land bought by neighbor Charles R. Drew University.
But the team looked remarkably close to a finished product. Senior wide receiver Dylan Reed caught a long touchdown pass down the right sideline in the second quarter, the entire bench streaming down the sideline along with him to mob him after he crossed the goal line. Junior Sadiq Henry dominated on both sides of the ball, a standout in basketball who’s sure to draw recruiting attention.
“It’s the start of something beautiful,” Henry said.
Even just one game in, King/Drew has all the ingredients of a future City Section powerhouse — huge engagement at a time when many other programs have seen numbers freefall.
As once-storied City programs such as Carson, Banning, Crenshaw and Dorsey all lost emphatically in Friday night openers, a new champion could be rising in Willowbrook.
“The buzz,” Torres said Friday night, walking off the field, “is gonna get out.”