The Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits have already faced great highs and crushing lows so far this season. Poly came out strong for the first game back, but the team did a complete 180 in its matchup against St. Bonaventure High School last week. Coach Raul Lara tried to warn the Jackrabbits, telling them not to let their first win get to their heads because they still had a long way to go to regain their place as champions. The Jackrabbits nonetheless got a rude awakening when St. Bonaventure high school beat them on the field, 32-7.
By the end of the game, Coach Lara had reached his breaking point. Now no one's position on the team is guaranteed. If the Jackrabbits want to keep representing Poly on the field, each player must prove he's really ready to work.
It starts with an attitude check. Strength and conditioning coach Gregg Washington rounds up the team to let the players know what they need to fix:
2. Work ethic
All of this can be improved with an attitude change. Since the start of the season, Washington says, he's felt the Jackrabbits lacked a real urgency or true team spirit. They're not hungry. If they are, the coaches aren't feeling it, and perfecting technique won't matter if the Jackrabbits aren't really dedicated to winning.
Team captain Dabness Atkins gets a personalized wake-up call when he seeks Coach Lara's advice about getting onto a Division I football team in college.
Lara believes in Dabness, but if Dabness really wants to get recruited by a Division I team and stand out in college, he'll need to check his attitude. Last week, he was ready to let his temper get the best of him too easily.
Starting quarterback Chaiyse Hales also needs to recover from the second-game slump. His arm carried the Jackrabbits to victory in their first game against Bakersfield, but now he's throwing bad pass after bad pass and can't get out of his rut. He forgets to make calls and tries to blame his teammates for his own mistakes.
Coach Lara sits him down for a one-on-one before the third game. He tells Chaiyse that he wants to trust him on the field, but Chaiyse falling off track so quickly sounds the alarm bells in Coach Lara's head. Chaiyse promises he'll focus more. Coach Lara assures Chaiyse that he could be the number one quarterback, but when he doesn't play hard, he opens up an opportunity for other guys to shine. Coach Lara needs Chaiyse to prove he really deserves it.
Backup quarterback Emmanuel Lara isn't stepping up either, and at home Coach Lara has a hard time accepting how poorly Poly played against Bonaventure. He also can't seem to figure out how to get through to his team.
Running back Jeremiah tries to take his mind off the stress of balancing football, fatherhood, and academia by spending some time with his girlfriend.
But it's right back to the grind at the next practice, and Coach Lara throws him for a loop when he announces he wants to try Jeremiah on defense. Though he played defense in his freshman year, Jeremiah thinks it's a bad call to switch after training as the running back all summer.
The defensive line coaches help him prepare, but Jeremiah worries that playing catch-up will wash him out on the field. He doesn't think he'll ever be noticed by scouts this way.
He's put to the test when Poly plays Nathaniel Narbonne Senior High School.
They're playing on the Narbonne Gauchos' turf, and the Gauchos would love nothing more than to embarrass Poly on their home field. At first, it seems like they just might get the chance. Despite his best efforts, Jeremiah fails to maintain coverage and Narbonne scores the first touchdown of the game.
Poly recovers on the next play thanks to running back Keltain Malveux carrying the ball all the way to the end zone, but it may not be enough. Jeremiah doesn't feel strong on defense, and confusion about how to line up opens the door for another Gauchos touchdown.
The Poly Jackrabbits can't lose again. That fear more than anything seems to motivate them to at least add to the scoreboard if they can't manage a huge lead. Plays are crippled by disorganization among the players, but as the game continues, the team gets into a rhythm wide receiver Randall Godforth outruns every Narbonne player that comes at him to score another touchdown for Poly and help the Jackrabbits match Narbonne again.
Jeremiah keeps struggling, but Chaiyse pulls it together and passes to Keltain for another touchdown. The third game seesaws back and forth all night, each team struggling to best the other. After Poly scores, Narbonne scores.
It's impossible to predict a winner right down to the last field goal set-up. Narbonne tries to tie the score and send the game into overtime, and Dabness steps in and saves the day. He blocks the kick just enough to make the ball fall short of the goal posts, and Poly maintains its short lead as the clock runs down, winning 23-20.
This close-call win isn't enough to claim they're back on top, but now they have the confidence boost to continuing turning things around. Coach Lara's determined to build his team up again. He has to. Next week, Poly's playing a team it has never beaten.
Tune in next week when the Long Beach Poly Jackrabbits go up against Mission Viejo. Can they break a history of losing? An all new episode of "4th and Forever" airs Thursday at 9/8c.
For more info, visit http://current.com/4thandForever.
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