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Football Long Beach Poly

Long Beach Poly Gets New Weight Room Courtesy of Ekeler Foundation, Casey, Smith-Schuster

Any first-time visitor to the Long Beach Poly weight room over the last few decades has had the same basic reaction: “All those athletes came out of *here*?”

Indeed, despite having produced more NFL players than any other high school in the nation, Poly’s weight room was a dump, with outdated equipment that prevented even middle-sized teams on campus from lifting as a group. The football program would lift in four to six different shifts to try and get everyone in there.

Last weekend the Jackrabbits unveiled their brand new weight room, with a new concrete floor, modern equipment that will accommodate up to 80 athletes at a time, and several other long-needed facelifts including a paint job. The upgrade is courtesy of Chargers running back Austin Ekeler and his Ekeler Foundation, with a big assist from Poly NFL alums Jurrell Casey and JuJu Smith-Schuster, as well as a donation from the Chargers team.

Ekeler’s foundation specializes in upgrading high school weight rooms, a project he feels passionately about because of how important the weight room was to him during his high school years.

“I might not have a personal connection with the school, but I do with the kids that are going through it,” he said. “I have a connection with young people looking for opportunities to level themselves up in their own life. And the weight room was one of my tools for that. So we saw a place that was worn down, probably hazardous in a lot of ways, and we had an opportunity to uplift it.”

It was hard to say who was more excited to tour the weight room for the first time: the current Poly athletes, the school’s coaches, or Casey and Smith-Schuster, who were amazed at the transformation. 

“I was training back here in 2013 during my Pro Bowl year with coach Gregg, and there’s photos of me where I’m getting off the ground just covered in dirt,” said Casey with a laugh. “Since that time I’ve been trying to figure out how to get it done, and we couldn’t get it done with the school district. So it was a blessing to get Austin to come around and get the ball rolling.”

Casey, Smith-Schuster, Willie McGinest, DeSean Jackson, and Marcedes Lewis are among the Poly NFL alums who’ve looked at upgrading the school’s weight room over the years, with some of them expressing frustration at what they felt was a lack of help from the Long Beach Unified School District to get it done.

“It was just red tape everywhere,” said Casey. “I know a lot of us have been frustrated about that. But partnership is everything, and with the right partnership with Austin’s people we got it done.”

Ekeler said that navigating those logistics is one of the things his Foundation is equipped to handle.

“I think that’s a blessing for people because we can say, we’re taking care of that, I just need you to donate and show up and let us handle the rest,” he said. 

Smith-Schuster had a great time touring the facility and reminiscing about picking out his “9” jersey in the weight room in its dingier days.

“I have definitely never seen the weight room this white,” he said. “In those years though it taught us a lot about humility, to compete against other schools who have a lot better facilities. It’s not about what facility you have, it’s about how you work in it, and I know Poly won’t lose that. It’s nice to be able to compete in the weight room and not only on the field.”

Current Poly football players Darius Curry and Dylan Williams were among the first in the weight room, and looked like kids on Christmas.

“It all starts in here for us,” said Curry, the team’s QB who recently committed to Colorado State. “I’m excited to see what we can produce in here and get it going.”

Williams, a hard-hitting linebacker committed to Oregon, looked ready to start lifting.

“I’m trying to get everyone out of here so we can get to work,” he said with a smile. “This is a blessing. It’s nice to have the equipment but it’s also nice just go have floors that aren’t beat up. This place is beautiful now.”

PHOTOS: New Long Beach Poly Weight Room
Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.