Highly touted high school football team prepares for fall

STAND TOGETHER, SIX FEET APART — Team photos look much different in the times of COVID-19, as friends who would normally stand shoulder to shoulder are now separated by six feet of social distance. In spite of that, the team is energized and ready to put their monumental talent on display this season. Back row (left to right): Offensive lineman Dylan Nichols, Defensive back/Wide Receiver Emari Pait, Strong Safety/Cornerback Quinton Chapman, Wide Receiver Makai Cope, and Outside Linebacker Antonio Moten. Front row (left to right): Wide Receiver/Defensive back Legend Waring, Quarterback Zevi Eckhaus, Running back/Defensive back Ayinde Bankole, and Defensive lineman Adrian Simon. All of the players are seniors. (George Laase)

For the past three years, Culver City High School has had one of the best football programs in the state. Now, the Centaurs have arrived on a bigger stage. They are ranked 24th in the state and 16th in Southern California.  “I believed this is the first time we have been ranked that high in the state,” said Culver City Athletic Director Tom Salter this week. 

Usually, those type of high rankings are reserved for Division 1 schools, but the Centaurs have reached that elite level with outstanding players and coaches. In the last three years they, are 35-6. They were 12-1 last year, 12-3 in 2018 and 11-2 in 2017.

When the Centaurs take the field this season, they will be led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country, Zevi Eckhaus. 

This will be his third year as a starter, and he will be the first one to tell one he has had some great receivers and running backs to throw the ball to. 

This season is no different than the last few years. Makai Cope and Emari Pait are twin tower receivers that look like they are ready to play in the NFL.  They are big, strong and fast. 

Last year, Cope caught 46 passes for 802 yards and nine touchdowns. Pait, who also plays defensive back has caught 18 passes for 377 yards and five touchdowns. He also made 58 tackles and recovered two fumbles and intercepted three passes as a defensive back.

Another wide receiver that is returning this year is Legend Waring. Waring caught 13 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns, and he was also a standout defensive back. 

Running back and defensive back Ayide Bankole is expected to take over the running back duties full time this year. He gained 394 yards on 40 carries and scored six touchdowns last year, and he caught 10 passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns. As a defensive back, he made 46 tackles and recovered two fumbles. 

Another offensive player who figures to have great season is offensive tackle Dylan Nichols. Nichols is 6’6 and 300 pounds, and will play college football next year at Arizona State for legendary coach Herman Edwards.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Centaurs will be led by corner back Quinton Chapman, linebacker Antonio Moten and defensive lineman Adrian Simon. Chapman recorded 62 tackles, Moten had 46 stops and Simon had 76 tackles.

The conductor of the Centaur train is quarterback Eckhaus. The most under rated quarterback in the nation threw for 4456 yards and 59 touchdowns last year. He also showed his speed, running for 322 yards and six touchdowns.

All the players mentioned are seniors. They are hoping, along with their teammates and coaches, to get through the season without any major setbacks.

Culver City, under the direction of longtime coach Jahmal Wright who also starred at Culver City as a player, started working out last week. Their season, like all the other sports seasons all over the world is being affected by the coronavirus. Instead of starting in last August, their season will start in December.

The first day that CIF teams are allowed to begin official practices is Dec. 14, with the first game set for Jan. 8. The season is scheduled to last until March 12, with CIF playoffs extending into April.

There is no current schedule set for Culver City.