The LookOut sports

Sam Anno: Santa Monica's Football Ambassador

By Mitch Chortkoff

I would like it very much if Sam Anno were my next-door neighbor.

He's a guy you can count on. He's a wonderful friend. He's a former Santa Monica High School football star who now coaches at St. Monica but still visits the Samohi campus to lend encouragement to the coaching staff and players.

Santa Monica has fallen on hard times, while St. Monica is a powerhouse at its level in the CIF. But Anno still has feelings for his alma mater.

I visited Samohi with Anno this summer. As we strolled through the campus, he was touched by memories.

``What a special place,'' he said. ``It was so great to play football here because of all the players who had preceded us.

Dennis Smith was a great prospect who went on to be a Pro Bowl player. But at that time he knew he his standard was Dennis Thurman, who had been such an outstanding defensive back at Samohi. It was the same for all of us at our positions.''

Anno and I visited the weight room, where he was greeted by Samohi first-year head coach Donald Paysinger. As they chatted it was obvious that Anno wanted Paysinger to do well.

Anno went from Samohi to USC. Then he played seven years as a center in the NFL with the Rams, Chargers and Minnesota Vikings. Once he was voted the NFL's Special Teams Player of the Year.

And now he's home. He's working in sales and he's an aspiring actor, and he's usually smiling.

A lot of other Santa Monica athletes have done well. Who can forget the heroics of ex-Samohi baseball star Rick Monday, who saved the U.S. flag from being burned by two protestors at Dodger Stadium in 1976? Or Dennis Thurman's years in the NFL, leading to his present job as defensive backs coach at USC? Or Tim Leary's major league years or Glyn Milburn's kick returns at Stanford and in the NFL?

Any of them would qualify as the model of a star athlete who goes into the world and doesn't forget where he came from.

But I think Anno does it best. He's got a lot to do but wasn't too busy to help out former Santa Monica High assistant coach Norm Lacy, now head coach at St. Monica.

Anno knows what he's talking about, which the young players appreciate. And he's just on the other side of 30 and can relate to them very well.

``We have a wonderful group of young men at St. Monica,'' Anno says. ``They want to learn, and it's a good experience for me to be here.''

Last year St. Monica reached the championship game of Division 10. This year it has a chance to reach the finals again. The team now plays in Division 11 and was ranked No. 2 prior to the season. It has played a tough schedule and lost a couple of games but is still ranked No. 8.

In some cities, the coach of one high school would never set foot on the campus of a rival.

But it's an unusual situation in Santa Monica. Lacy, you see, teaches at Santa Monica High during the day, then goes to St. Monica to coach the team.

His assistant, Anno, is guiding one team toward a championship run while closely following the progress of his alma mater.

It's unusual, all right. And it's nice.

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