Long Beach Poly opened its doors in 1895, and started a football team in 1908. Almost immediately, the school became known nationwide for its powerhouse team, which has produced more NFL players (64) than any other high school in American history. Poly has also won 19 CIF championships, a record, while being named the best program in America by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and others.
The team was founded by a lanky student named Fred Trude, the first baseman for the baseball team at Poly. Trude started a football team in 1908, with the ragtag group of 15 wearing borrowed rugby uniforms. Poly was 5-3 that year, and the school quickly hired a head coach and began putting resources into the team. The Jackrabbits were actually founded five years before the CIF was, which mean that after winning league titles in 1910, 1911 and 1912, there was no more competition to face.
In 1919, though, the Jackrabbits had what may still go down as their best season in school history. Poly went 12-0, won their first CIF championship, and won the American Southwest Championship against Phoenix High School by the astounding score of 102-0. In all, Poly won their 12 games by a combined score of 549-21.
The Jackrabbits so dominated the rest of the SoCal competition in the following year that they attempted to schedule an out-of-state game against Everett, a school from Washington. The CIF was incensed that Poly felt the local teams didn’t have enough to offer, and actually threw the school out of the CIF for the net year.
Once reinstated to the CIF the Jackrabbis roll continued, as they won another four CIF titles over the next 15 years under coach Orian Landreth.
After a 21-0 win over Glendale in the CIF final in 1936, it would be more than two decades before the Jackrabbits climbed the ladder again, the longest championship drought in school history. When Dave Levy took the reigns as coach in 1957, he had a talented backfield with multiple All-American running backs. Jackrabbits like Lonzo Irvin, Harvey Crow, Willie Brown, Willie Martin and Dee Andrews helped put Poly back on top with back-to-back titles in 1958 and 1959. But after that, Levy left for a coaching job at USC and it would be another two decades before the Jackrabbits won another CIF crown.
With Jim Barnett coaching, the “modern” Poly era began in 1980, as Poly ran their way to a CIF title that season, and then another in 1985 under coaches Jerry Jaso and Thomas Whiting. That year’s Poly team had one of the all-time great defenses, and is the only high school team in American history to feature two future NFL Rookies of the Year, with Mark Carrier and Leonard Russell both starring.
In 1994, Jaso took over as head coach by himself, and kicked off the most dominant stretch in team history. From 1997-2000, Poly went 54-1-1, won three CIF championships, only losing to Mater Dei. The Jackrabbits and Monarchs played each other in three straight CIF Finals, the only time that’s ever happened, making them the CIF’s best rivals. Poly QB Chris Lewis rewrote the record books in those years with great targets like Samie Parker and Kareem Kelly, while defenders like Darrell Rideaux helped smother opposing teams.
In 2001, Jaso departed Poly for LBCC, and one of his defensive coaches took over the program. Raul Lara would go on to do something no other coach has ever done in Poly history, winning five CIF rings. The first came in a special year in 2001, when Poly became the first school ever to have five PARADE All-Americans on one team (Hershel Dennis, Marcedes Lewis, Darnell Bing, Winston Justice and Manuel Wright).
Poly lost a 2001 national championship game against De La Salle in front of 17,000 fans at Vets, but still went on to win a CIF ring. NFL star DeSean Jackson led the team to another in 2004, and then a stifling Poly defense keyed back-to-back title wins in 2007 and 2008, led by State Defensive Player of the Year George Daily-Lyles. In 2007, Poly defeated Orange Lutheran in the CIF semifinals in a thrilling game that ended with a score of 2-0.
The Jackrabbits won their most recent championship in 2012, after the team turned around a 1-3 start to their season with an historic title run, the 19th in Poly history, keyed by senior leadership from Jayon Brown, Gerard Wicks and Manusamoa Lu’uga, but also talented underclassmen like John “JuJu” Smith and Iman “Biggie” Marshall.
Lara stepped away after the 2013 season, making way for former NFL Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion Antonio Pierce, who was hired as head coach in January of 2014.
The Nation’s Best
Poly has won more games in California history than any other, and produced NFL stars in every era of football. There were three white Poly players on the first Green Bay Packers championship team in 1929, and players like Gene Washington and Tony Hill helped redefine the role of black athletes in the sports world decades later.
Poly players have been named to 15 Pro Bowls and been a part of 9 NFL titles. Four have been named Rookie of the Year. Jackrabbits have scored more than 340 touchdowns, gained over 40,000 yards receiving, and sacked 113 quarterbacks. Between the 65 Poly NFLers, they’ve played 239 seasons of NFL football.
Whether it’s starring at Vets or shining at the next level, there’s no question: there isn’t another high school football team with the history of Long Beach Poly.
Excerpted from Football in Long Beach