CORSAIR FIELD — The game of football can get personal at times.

Tonight’s Santa Monica High School homecoming game against Inglewood has playoff implications, but it also holds a deeper meaning for those involved.

Samohi’s Head Coach Travis Clark gets a chance to face a foe he knows all to well. Clark coached under Inglewood’s Charles Mincy from 2005-06. Clark began as a defensive back coach before moving on to defensive coordinator.

Things have even gotten a little “chippy” between the two coaching staffs.

A few interesting texts have been sent back and forth between Clark and some of Mincy’s staff.

“(Mincy’s) already called me, talking smack,” Clark said with a bit of a laugh, “and several of his coaching staff have been texting me a little.”

Clark said it’s all fun until both teams meet at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field at 7 p.m. tonight.

“Sometimes when you know somebody’s strengths and weaknesses it helps in terms of knowing how they run their system,” he said. “But it doesn’t help you when trying to stop sensational athletes.”

Clark points to Inglewood senior quarterback Shashaun Alexander as the main threat lining up on the Sentinels’ side of the ball. He and a a pair of athletic wide receivers in Derrick Woods and Patrick Onwasor make Inglewood’s passing game Clark’s main concern heading into a crucial league matchup.

Samohi (3-5 overall and 2-1 in league) gets a bit of a reprieve as sophomore defensive back/running back Kori Garcia returns from a one-game suspension he was given for his involvement in a scuffle during the win over Beverly Hills late last month.

Clark said that Garcia’s athleticism should give the Vikings’ defensive backfield a boost when defending against the pass.

“We missed him last week,” Clark said of Garcia. “He’s playing like a junior. He’s going to help us offensively and defensively.”

When it comes to Mincy evaluating Clark’s squad, he said familiarity may not hold much water.

“Yes and no,” he said about any perceived advantage. “It may cancel each other out.”

Although, Mincy said that the he and Clark’s friendship adds a little to any so-called rivalry between the two close men.

“Nobody wants to lose,” he said flatly.

What does concern Mincy is Samohi’s passing game. Calling Viking senior quarterback Garret Safron the second best signal caller in the league behind Alexander, Mincy said that Samohi has changed its attack from years past when the Vikings used to pound the ball between the tackles with the running game.

He has grown to consider Samohi’s passing game as the strength of its offense.

“Their QB is athletic,” Mincy said of Safron. “He has a lot of heart.”

Along with Safron, Samohi’s receiving corps led by Chris Featherstone and Mike Smith gives Mincy reason to think that his secondary will have to step it up against the talented group.

While Featherstone and Smith may be the team’s leading pass catchers, its senior Luke Zelon that Mincy has his eye on. Zelon is known to play a little of every offensive position. Clark deploys Zelon all over the field. He’s been a running back, a tight end and has even lined up on the wing as a wide receiver.

Clark agrees that the key to a Samohi victory will come through the air.

When asked what would be important against Inglewood (5-3 overall, 2-1 in league), he simply said, “Garret Safron, he’s the best quarter back in the league.”

Football may be the order of business during tonight’s homecoming game, but it comes with a bit of sadness for Samohi’s 16 seniors.

It will be their last game in front of a regular season home crowd and Clark knows that will motivate them to come out firing after last week’s late comeback that fell short against Culver City.

“We have to be aggressive,” Clark said. “We’ve been working on that all week.”

Also giving tonight’s game a tinge of sadness is the news that a friend of many on campus was killed recently.

Richard Juarez, a graduate of Olympic High School whose family has lived in Santa Monica for four generations, was gunned down Tuesday night at Virginia Avenue Park.

Clark said a number of his players knew Juarez personally. He added that it has been said that Juarez was staying with the family of junior lineman Tim Lozano, making this week’s game all the more personal.

“This is a tragic situation,” Clark said. “We’ve been going through a lot. They are resilient.”

With the news weighing heavily on Lozano, Clark said that ironically, Lozano had his best practice all season on Wednesday.

“It was good for him to go out there and get away from it all for a few hours,” Clark said. “Sometimes, that’s all it takes.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first bit of tragedy that has hit the Samohi football team this season. Earlier this year, junior linebacker Cody Williams injured his cervical spine and has been hospitalized since.

Williams’ injury has been a rallying point for the team this season. Clark said he’s been amazed at how his players have reacted to such serious circumstances.

“They have really grown as men this year,” he said. “I’m proud of them.”

daniela@smdp.com

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