No sporting event splits the city of Los Angeles in two quite like the USC-UCLA college football game. And perhaps no one can relate to the inner turmoil the city endures when the two perennial powerhouses clash each season more than Scott Altenberg, a UCLA graduate and season ticket holder — and the head football coach of nationally ranked Serra High School in Gardena — who has seen several of his best former players go on to play for USC.

This season’s installation of the classic backyard rivalry, which took place at the Coliseum on Nov. 28, was no exception: of the 10 former Serra Cavaliers on the field, eight were wearing Trojan red and yellow.

A handful of his Cavaliers-turned-Trojans even played major roles in helping USC secure a convincing 40-21 victory over the rival Bruins, resulting in a rollercoaster of emotions for Altenberg — not to mention a slew of friendly barbs via text messages from his friends.

“It’s tormenting watching UCLA lose to USC by the hands of my former players!” confesses Altenberg, whose father Kurt left his own mark on the storied rivalry by catching a game-winning touchdown to help UCLA beat USC in 1965.

“Especially this last game: Adoree Jackson scores a touchdown. Rasheem Green scores a touchdown. Olajuwon Tucker is the leading tackler. I’m just sitting there thinking, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ It’s brutal! You’re really happy for your kids, but you kind of wish they did it another week.”

Don’t misunderstand Altenberg: being at the helm of a program that regularly features players talented enough to be recruited by a prestigious college football program like USC is a problem he’s more than happy to have. Serra certainly wasn’t always the high school football juggernaut that it is today.

When Altenberg first inherited the program in 2000, Serra was placed in Division 12, the roster featured only 50 players, and the team only won two games. But the program’s humble beginnings didn’t deter Altenberg or the Serra administration from pursuing their grand vision.

“We had a great administration come in that was really dedicated to trying to improve the school; I had an idea of what I wanted, and I got a lot of help,” recalls Altenberg. “I got a lot of support from [Serra Principal] Msgr. Pilato, and he really wanted football to become a positive for the school. We really wanted to emphasize to the kids that if you perform well in the classroom and play well on the field, you have a chance to go to the next level playing football. And eventually we started to get the right kind of kids in and started winning some games.”

And just as quickly, local Division 1 college programs like UCLA and USC started noticing, putting Altenberg in the unenviable position of sending annual blue chip recruits off to one of his alma mater’s biggest rivals. But according to Altenberg, being a fan doesn’t even enter the picture when it comes to his most important role: being a mentor for the young men he coaches.

“I want the kids to go where they want to go,” says Altenberg. “And I don’t pressure them, even though I’m a UCLA guy. It’s four to five years of their lives. I want them to feel comfortable. I don’t want them to go for me. I want them to go for them and their families.

“The first thing I say is, ‘You need to look at this school minus the coaching staff,’” continues Altenberg. “The coaches change a lot, so you’ve got to love the school. You also need to make your family a part of it, because they know you better than anybody. And the final thing I ask them is, ‘When you go to bed at night and you dream about being on the field, what jersey are you wearing? What uniform do you have on?’ That’s a good indicator of where you want to be. And selfishly, you hope that helmet is gold.”

Meet the Serra alumni on the field during the 2015 USC-UCLA game

Coach Altenberg shares highlights about these 10 former Serra Cavaliers:


Adoree’ Jackson (‘13)42-yard punt return for TD, 6 tackles

“Absolutely one of my favorite players I’ve ever coached. He brought so much energy to every practice. Such a great kid, and obviously a fantastic football player.”

Jalen Greene (‘14)

“I probably spent more time with him than anyone since I also coach quarterbacks. Really super smart, really competitive, and can do just about anything on the field.”

John Houston Jr. (‘14)

“Just a ... really a great kid from a great family. I think he could end up being better than all of them. He has that ability.”

Caleb Wilson (‘14)

“I only had him for a year, but he was a really adaptive kid. He went from playing quarterback to tight end for me.”

Olajuwon Tucker (‘13); 4 tackles, 1 sack

“We called him Buddha! He represents us as well as anybody because he wasn’t as hyped as a recruit, but he was just a fantastic performer and competitor. And sure enough, the last three games, he’s led them in tackles. The way he flew under the radar really represents how we are here at Serra: we really work hard, and when the lights come on, we respond.”

Jalen Jones (‘13)

“We called him JBo. What a great personality kid. He’s Adoree’s best friend. One of those guys who’s probably undervalued at this point, but has a big future.”

Deontay Burnett (‘14)

“Deontay’s an interesting case, because I was sure that he was going to redshirt this year, but he’s one of those guys — used to play quarterback, understands football, plays a lot, and has a lot of catches as a true freshman. Another one of those kids who serves as a great symbol for our program: he’s ready to play right now.”

Rasheem Green (‘14)Fumble recovery for TD

“He grew so much in his four years here. He came in as a big, goofy kid and turned himself into this specimen, most likely an NFL draft pick. Amazing football player who has grown leaps and bounds. I’m really proud of him.”


Jordan Lasley (‘13)

“Confident kid. His upside is enormous. We asked him to do a lot here and he really stepped up. I think he’s going to be a guy who will be a go-to guy next year.”

Dwight Williams (‘13)

“He had a great career for us, and it’s a matter of figuring out what he’s going to play for them. He’s moved around a lot. I’m hoping they’ll settle on something with him, because he’s got a lot of skill and talent.”