Small-town Eagles gear up for first CIF-SS final

Before Serra became the Serra as we know it today, on a Saturday night in early Dec. 2008, the Cavaliers had to get through, believe it or not, El Segundo.

While the Cavs were preparing for a history-making run with senior Ted Landers at quarterback and junior Robert Woods at wide receiver, the Eagles were making history of their own.

It was the first time El Segundo had reached the semifinals. On that night, they came up short, 35-28.

As for the Cavs, they were still a year away from dethroning mighty Oaks Christian. Still, on that night, two very different programs took two large steps that would affect the history of their respective programs.

To be clear, El Segundo isn’t Serra. It isn’t Long Beach Poly. It isn’t Mater Dei.

In this day and age, the small town that borders LAX to the south is a throwback. It’s a one-team town.

Kids in the community, which is only about a mile wide in diameter, grow up together going to Center Street Elementary School before graduating to El Segundo Middle School and eventually landing at the high school.

The varsity football players are local heroes. There’s pride that comes with putting on the El Segundo uniform.

Friday night was, is, and will continue to be a town event.

Once upon a time, the varsity football team would be playing under the lights of Hazeltine Field on a Friday night. About 20 yards away on an adjacent field, there would be kids in their Pop Warner Raiders jerseys — an homage to when the NFL team used to call El Segundo it’s home — playing games of pickup football. If they’d hear a loud cheer or the booming pipes of the late public address announcer Dick Oglesby over the loudspeaker, they’d all run over to catch the action in the varsity game. Following the momentary pause, the kids would all run back to continue their pickup game.

That, was Friday night in the fall.

“You see those little kids when they’re in second grade hanging out watching the games, hi-fiving the players, hi-fiving the coaches and they eventually come into your program…they remember those moments and I think that feeds the small town atmosphere,” said El Segundo head coach Steve Shevlin. “(You’re playing) not just (for) a high school and not for yourself, but a whole town at large, and everyone’s coming out to support. It makes it really special.”

The logistics may have changed, but Friday nights remain a community event in El Segundo. Shevlin has been at the center of it all for 20 seasons now as head coach, and on Saturday at 7 p.m. he will the lead the Eagles (10-3) into their first CIF final in school history when they visit defending champion Nordhoff (12-1) in the Northwest Division final, a game that can be seen right here on Prep Zone.

Those lessons learned in 2008 were beneficial for Shevlin and his staff in advancing to this point. For the Eagles players who weren’t even in high school at the time, it’s stuck with them too.

“All those kids have been talking to all their brothers that played in that game,” Shevlin said.

When they step onto the field, they’ll step into history, doing something that’s never been done since the school opened its doors 86 years ago.

“These are historical moments that our community will never forget,” Shevlin said. “These guys will be revered and remembered by all those little second graders and third graders that are at the game for the rest of their lives.”

The list of names includes quarterback Lars Nootbaar, wide receiver Jamie Stewart, linebacker Jackson Walz and others who have etched their names in town lore.

It isn’t Serra. It isn’t Long Beach Poly. It isn’t Mater Dei.

It’s El Segundo.