August 20, 2019
By Mike Guardabascio
Long Beach Poly’s football program is long on traditions. Diehard Jackrabbit fans will be excited to see that several of them are coming back this year: Poly re-signed with Nike, the uniform provider they had when they were on their dominant tear through the late 1990s, for one. The Nike uniforms have a much more classic green-and-gold look than the more experimental looks adidas had put together recently.
On-field traditions are back as well, including an influx of Polynesian players into the program and coaching staff, with senior captain James “Chubba” Maae estimating there are more Polynesian players in Poly’s freshman class than the previous three graduating classes combined. That influx means the return of another beloved tradition, the pregame patia (“clap”) chant that was heard by Poly fans and opponents alike for decades.
There’s been more tradition than there has been on-field success at 1600 Atlantic Ave recently, however. While the Jackrabbits haven’t lost a Moore League game since 2009, that’s never been the program’s motivation–Poly hasn’t won a CIF-SS championship since 2012, the longest drought since the team went more than a decade between its 1985 and 1997 titles.
This year, those around the Poly program express a quiet confidence in the young talent making up their roster, pointing to a pair of excellent freshman classes the last two years as evidence the program is resurgent.
“There aren’t a lot of kids on this team who are household names, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be household names,” said Poly coach Stephen Barbee.
“We know what we have right now,” said Maae. “We’re all very excited for the season, we feel like we’ll surprise people–it’s because of our line.”
Yes, another Poly tradition that’s returning is the deep and potentially dominant front unit. The Jackrabbits had been forced over the last few years to play several players both ways, praying for health and working for endurance. They’re still doing that, of course, but the offensive and defensive line groups are both deep enough that no one will be required to play both ways, and there are several talented rotation subs on both units.
Maae leads the way for the offense, with Michael Fesili, Aaron Zaragosa, Justin Blount, and Mase Suaava all standing at at least 6’2” and 270 pounds apiece, making it Poly’s biggest line in years.
Defensively, the team is emphasizing speed and strength over size up front with Bryun Parham, Jacob Tutui, Donovan Poe, James Jaster, and Hunter Lestelle.
Barbee and new offensive coordinator Rene Medina are handing the reigns of the offense to sophomore quarterback Shea Kuykendall, who led Poly’s freshman team to its first undefeated season in a decade last year. Kiykendall has a cannon and will have plenty of options including Pac-12 recruit Keyontae Lanier and Jordan Riles, both of whom are 6’3”. Michael Sanford and Malachi Rice lead a deep backfield on offense.
Defensively, linebackers Jonathan Scott, Anthony Parker, and Marcel Logan are early standouts, with DBs like Kam Blanton, Jaden Bridges, Mehki Jordan, Amajay Gravelly, and others looking to put themselves on the map this year.
“We lost a lot of seniors, and we have a lot of guys who are excited to step in,” said Barbee, who is excited about his team’s new-look offense under Medina. “It’s a whole system, not a hodgepodge like last year. We’ve been putting it in since January and it’s night and day so far.”
Poly’s spring performances were certainly encouraging, as they fought into the semifinals at the prestigious Battle of the Beach at Edison.
Behind Kuykendall, Lanier is a legit thrower and freshman Nico Iamaleava is a ninth grade stud at 6’3”.
All of that unproven talent will have a chance to prove itself quickly. Poly faces Punahou (the No. 2 team in Hawaii) August 31 at Moorpark, then hosts Los Al, visits Serra, and hosts Corona Centennial before league play begins. Depending on how the regular season goes, Poly could be one of the eight teams taken for Division 1, or one of the 16 teams in the Division 2 bracket–either way, they’re trying to win their last game of the season.
“We have no control over where we get put, wherever we go we’re trying to run the table and win the thing,” said Barbee. That’s another Jackrabbit tradition that Poly fans would love to see return in 2019.