DOUBTERS AND WOULD-BE TACKLERS: BEWARE OF RONALD JONES, USC’S ‘TEXAS TESLA’

Even as one would-be tackler grabs him at the knees, Jones grinds his way out of the pile and into the end zone for his second touchdown and what turns out to be the winning score.

“You can’t just hit him or knock him down, because he’ll just bounce up and go through you,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre, whose team fell victim to a 25-yard Jones burst the previous week. On the play, Jones escaped not one, not two, but three defenders and even carried one on his back for five yards before shedding him for another 15, as if to scream, “WEIGHT ROOM!”

So who is Rojo, the tackle-breaking back from McKinney, Texas, who is suddenly rising on NFL draft boards, and whose 16 touchdowns rank seventh nationally and tie for first in the Pac-12? A player who has so much North-South explosion, bringing him to top speed after his first cut, that his teammates call him the Texas Tesla?

“A nightmare for defensive coordinators to prepare for,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “A special player who is right up there with the best running backs in the nation.”

“He’s got horse legs,” said Stephen Carr, another Trojans back. “It’s going to take a couple of body shots to take him down.”

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CALIFORNIA’S CRISIS WITH ATHLETIC TRAINERS

California has more than 800,000 high-schoolers playing sports, yet the state does not require schools to have athletic trainers at practices or games—and very few do. Just 25 percent of public high schools employ a full-time athletic trainer, according to CIF data from 2016-17 (athletic directors from 1,406 schools self-reported—an 88.6 percent rate).

Even more troubling? California is the only state that does not regulate the profession of athletic training. That means that anyone can call themselves an athletic trainer, regardless of whether they are certified; regardless of whether they possess the educational qualifications, clinical experience or medical knowledge to practice.

This puts student-athletes at enormous risk. Among those working as athletic trainers in California high schools, 16.2 percent are not certified, according to CIF data.

“It’s a level of fraud,” said Brian Gallagher, director of sports medicine/certified athletic trainer at Harvard Westlake.

We’ve reached a tipping point. Or something worse.

“It’s a crisis,” said Trenton Cornelius, coordinator for L.A. Unified School District’s Interscholastic Athletics Department.

THE REAL FIRST FAMILY OF HOOPS

The Ogwumikes are the type to play next-after-next-after-next-after-next-after-next in pickup, looking bewildered when everyone else in the gym starts taking off their kicks to call it quits. All four Ogwumike women, whose last name means “warrior” in Igbo, one of the national languages of Nigeria, are relentless. “No matter how we feel when we walk on the basketball court, we all have this sense of pride, so we always work hard,” Erica says.

Last season, Chiney took a nasty elbow to the mouth. She felt her tooth shake—it fell out the next day—but she kept playing. Only now has she set up an appointment for an implant. Nneka has a three-inch scar on the right side of her body from diving into the scorer’s table while playing for the Polish team CCC Polkowice in the Final Eight of Euroleague in Russia. She hopped right back in the game. Olivia has been whacked in the head as an undersized forward more times than she’d like to remember. Erica is the only Ogwumike to wear a mouth guard, as she boxes out players a head or two taller than she in the paint.

“We’ve all had our battle scars,” says Chiney, who is sitting out this season to rehab a left Achilles injury.

LACROSSE CLEARS PATH TO GREENER–AND SHORTER–PASTURES FOR TWO STRAWBERRY MANSION TEENS

Going one-on-one, McRae slips, her legs nearly scissoring into splits, but recovers to score. She dances in front of the net while El-Amin Gateward snaps each pose with an imaginary camera. “Give ’em face, Sis!” El-Amin Gateward screams in delight. “Give ’em face!”

That two black girls are celebrating their lacrosse skills — honed enough to take them to college — is something of a rarity. Lacrosse is played in predominantly white, affluent areas. At the NCAA level, 86.4 percent of Division I women’s lacrosse players in 2015-16 were white, while just 2.8 percent were black. US Lacrosse doesn’t even track participation rates for girls of color at the youth and high school levels.

“Every time you walk on that field, I want you to understand that people are always going to show you what you can’t do. You have to prove them wrong. Don’t let people get in your way,” coach Jazmine A. Smith reminds them. “Only you can stop you.”

FRESHMAN SAHID VALENZUELA EMERGING AS X-FACTOR FOR NO. 17 CAL STATE FULLERTON BASEBALL

Before every game, Cal State Fullerton infielder Sahid Valenzuela tells himself, “ponte perro,” the same words his father, Hector, whispered to him before his games growing up.
Be tough, be a grinder. Let’s go, get after it. Valenzuela, a 5-foot-9 rookie for the playoff-bound Titans, has been named to the initial watch list for the Brooks Wallace Award, awarded to the country’s best shortstop.

And this week he was named Big West Conference Freshman Field Player of the Year for 2017. He is the second Titan to earn the honor since Michael Lorenzen in 2011. Maybe it’s because he’s batting .344, ranking fourth in the Big West Conference. Maybe it’s because he’s racked up a team-leading 21 multi-hit games. Maybe it’s because he’s collected knocks in 33 of his last 39 games — 18 of those being multi-hit outings. Or maybe it’s because he scratched and clawed for most of his life just to get to this point.

“He’s got the heart of a lion, that kid,” said Alejandro Rivera, his uncle. “He’s the most humble person in the world, but he’s also going to let you know, ‘You gotta respect me.’” “You play hard,” Rivera said, “but he’s going to play harder.”

AT HOME ON THE COURT

There is a hoop, tall and sturdy. A net, white-grey, with two holes stretched out. Above that, a backboard, grey-black, with trails of original white poking through. Hovering above a driveway, with a slight dip on one side, an advantage or disadvantage depending on who’s on offense and who’s on defense.

“We’ve had some good battles on this court,” said Ken Kikkawa, 52, wearing navy Air Jordans. He grew up here, in Pasadena, California, playing in local Japanese-American leagues. He now plays in a Master’s division for players over 40 years old.

“I can still outshoot him,” Ken said, pointing to his 18-year-old son Kendall, who plays in the leagues and aspires to play college ball.

“I don’t know about that,” said Kendall, who, in addition to his basketball prowess, is also a football player and once scored eight touchdowns in a game for Flintridge Prep.

The one who can out-shoot them both walks over: Robert Kikkawa, 85, a founding member of the Pasadena Bruins organization in 1972. The hoop community calls him Lefty: “I used to shoot marbles left-handed,” he said, clutching a ball next to his son and grandson.

Hoops has bound the Kikkawas and countless other SoCal Japanese-American families together. Unwelcome in mainstream leagues, Japanese Americans sustained their own through internment during World War II and discrimination faced in its aftermath.

OREGON STATE VOLLEYBALL STAR A BRAVE VOICE TO COMBAT MENTAL ILLNESS

Madison Holleran. All Lanesha Reagan could think about was Madison Holleran, the University of Pennsylvania track athlete.

Reagan, Oregon State volleyball’s 5-foot-10 starting outside hitter, known for her power and pogo-stick bounce, lay in her bed in her freshman dorm and combed through Holleran’s story. Madison seemed to be gifted, kind, competitive. A budding track star, a daughter, a friend. Even a banana-and-peanut-butter aficionado. Few knew she struggled with depression and the pressures of social media.

On Jan. 17, 2014, Holleran leaped off the ninth level of a parking garage in Philadelphia. She died at 19.

Reagan shivered. Images of her own life swirled around her head: years of masking her pain, years of blocking out her shame, years of wishing she inhabited a body other than her own.

“That honestly could have been me,” Reagan said. “If things would have been different … I have no doubt in my mind that that could have been me.”