- Blair Angulo, Reporter, WeAreSC.com
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LOS ANGELES -- There won't be many surprises when Los Angeles Crenshaw takes the field Friday night for its season opener.
Coach Robert Garrett will try to give star playmaker De'Anthony Thomas, a USC commit, as many touches as possible. That's a given.
Highly touted lineman Marcus Martin, another USC commit, will work both sides of the ball. Senior quarterback Marquis Thompson will start under center for the third straight year.
That much we know of last year's state championship runner-up.
But what remains to be seen is how Crenshaw responds to unfamiliar circumstances. The Cougars will roam uncharted territory Friday in Atlanta when they face off against North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Ga.), one of the nation's top teams. The game will be televised by ESPNU.
Crenshaw broke the norm last year, becoming the first Los Angeles City Section team to nab a state bowl bid. But a city school traveling across the country to open the season?
"I'm really excited, I've never been around a big crowd in another state," Thompson said. "When we go out there, we're coming to win."
In many ways, Thompson is the glue that keeps Crenshaw together. Thomas and Martin get the praise. They are known commodities. They will suit up on Saturdays for a big-time program a few miles away.
But unlike his peers, the 5-foot-9 Thompson does not project as an elite prospect at the next level. According to the evaluation on his ESPNU recruiting profile, he is "undersized" and "needs to make a transition to wide receiver or cornerback at the next level."
But Crenshaw has its quarterback. Thompson has experience and that's something very valuable when you're more than 2,000 miles from home.
"Coming in as a third-year starter, I'm used to everything," Thompson said. "There's no need to get used to the plays, go through the motions and all of that. It helps with staying focused."
Less thinking means more playing. More playing means more doing, and so forth.
Last year's disheartening 28-14 loss to De La Salle in the Division I state title game left much for thought. The questions that will forever go unanswered: What if Thomas, also known as "The Black Mamba" for his lethal abilities, plays the entire game? What if he doesn't go down with an ankle injury and Crenshaw keeps building on a 14-7 advantage?
Rather than think back, Thompson points to the positives. The Cougars return five starters on each side of the ball from a team that went 14-1 last season. That may not be much, but there is experience in key areas.
"We don't have as many seniors, but we're stepping up to the plate and showing leadership," Thompson said. "We keep everybody focused, get all the young guys together and keep them from hanging around the wrong people who have nothing to do with the team. Hanging with the wrong people will get you in the wrong trap. You have to try to keep [the young players] out of the hole."
That's the type of leadership Thompson brings. He won't be fazed by the change in scenery this weekend. Thompson led Crenshaw to Atlanta in 2008 for a seven-on-seven passing tournament.
He admits that it's different this time, but acknowledges that expectations are greater. People expect Crenshaw to compete for the state title again.
Thompson knows Los Angeles is watching.
"We just put all that stuff to the side," he said. "We let what we do in the games show what type of team we are."
We'll get a good indication of what that is on Friday night.
Blair Angulo is a contributor to the high schools blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com, concentrating on southern Los Angeles County and surrounding areas.