The562’s coverage of Lakewood Athletics is sponsored by J.P. Crawford, Class of 2013.
It was a special morning for the Lakewood football team as they kicked off Championship Week at the Rose Bowl for the 2022 press luncheon in Pasadena.
Head coach Justin Utupo along with senior captains Kaleb Foster and Rahkeen Moore represented the team as one of the final 28 teams standing in 11-man football.
“It makes me want to compete a lot more,” Moore said. “Seeing all of the other talent around me and see how I stack up against other guys and stuff.”
Moore has been a big part of Lakewood’s second-half resurgence as the Lancers defense has been stifling and key to their success as they prepare for the CIF Southern Section Division 8 title game.
Along with Lakewood’s Red Swarm, the Lancers’ focus on establishing the run early has opened things for everything the offense wants to do, and Foster has been a big part of that – including scoring the game-winning touchdown last week against Rancho Verde.
Foster admitted being in this position isn’t something he envisioned when he transferred back to Lakewood for his senior season.
“I didn't see us [being here],” Foster said. “But, of course, that's the mission. But did I think we make it just wasn't on my mind, I say to actually be here is great. You know, we made it.”
Each week has had a different storyline for the Lancers as they punched their ticket to the title game. Utupo was part of Lakewood’s last semifinal appearance and before taking the job at his Alma Mater, he was set to take the head coaching job at Northwood – the team the Lancers will take on at John Ford Stadium on Saturday.
“They're doing a great job over there. And we wish them nothing but the best,” Utupo said. “But being able to come back home and coach at my alma mater and now leading them to CIF championship game. This is what it's all about. When I came back to Lakewood, it's because I wanted to give back to a place that set me up for success after my high school career was over and so I'm proud to be here. I'm proud to lead this program. And now we just got to finish the job.”
Northwood might be a familiar school for Long Beach fans as the Timberwolves defeated Long Beach Jordan last season for the Division 11 title.
Along with a similar opponent, Northwood’s head coach JC Clarke has Long Beach roots as the head coach for the Long Beach Wilson football team in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Clarke was also in conversations with Utupo become his defensive coordinator when he was set to become the Northwood coach.
“I know (Utupo) is a defensive guy at Notre Dame, and I'm a defensive guy,” Clarke said. “So, I was kind of bummed because I’d like to be the defensive coordinator when he came in. I think it was good to have good young coaches.”
It hasn’t been an easy ride for Lakewood who started the season 1-3 but have since gone 7-2 on their way to the title game.
“It's exciting too for our team to be able to etch our names into the history books,” Utupo said. “We want to win so bad, not just for our team and everything that we've had to overcome to get here, but for the entire Lakewood community. They deserve a title for the entire city.”