Receivers coach behind magic at Serra

GARDENA, Calif. -- The thrill hasn’t gotten old for Chuck Kimbell.

When former USC wide receiver Marqise Lee walked across the Radio City Music Hall stage last month after being selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second round of the NFL draft, his high school position coach cracked a wide smile from across the country, knowing yet another of his pupils had accomplished a lifelong goal.

Kimbell hardly had any time to bask in the moment, though. Just six picks after Lee came off the board, the Seattle Seahawks took former Colorado receiver Paul Richardson, another graduate of Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra, where Kimbell has coached for a dozen years.

Those moments, along with former Trojans star Robert Woods getting drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 2013, have been an added bonus for Kimbell.

His work had been accomplished long ago.

“My job here is to get these kids scholarships,” Kimbell says. “If they go farther than that, then they go farther than that. But getting them a free education is the only thing on my mind.”

A main focus is getting a usually loaded stable of receiver prospects to play on Saturdays, which Kimbell did for Western Kentucky in the mid-1980s. Once they’re doing that, they can set their sights on Sundays. Serra football players not only prepare for the bright Friday night lights, but also have tangible examples to follow with the recent lineage of college stars who have come through the program.

Kimbell has proven to be a key component of that development process.

“He's been a great asset to our program,” Serra head coach Scott Altenberg said. “He develops great relationships with the players and really pushes them to get better than even they know they can be. He makes good receivers get to that great level.”

Jordan Lasley, who signed with UCLA in February, noticed improvement shortly after transferring to Serra from nearby Carson.

“He’s a great coach,” Lasley says. “He keeps it real, raw and uncut. He challenges us to be the best we can be at all times. He made me a more physical receiver instead of all finesse and emphasized how important blocking is.”

Kimbell says this vision began when he first took the job, but it hasn’t always been easy to evenly distribute playing time at a position that often has overflowed with talent.

“I couldn’t really use Marqise in the 11th grade because I didn’t really need him. I had six kids that were already going to Division I colleges,” Kimbell says. “Marqise would have started, and he actually did the previous year in the playoffs, but as an 11th grader, I didn’t need him. I needed Marqise to play safety, knowing he was going to play his senior year and do amazing things. Most of the time it’s about making sure all these kids get their due.”

The 2009 roster featured six receivers that went on to college, including USC redshirt junior George Farmer and Bene Benwikere, who last month was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the fifth round. Benwikere had a productive career at San Jose State as a cornerback, though Kimbell believes he could have easily been a receiver, too.

Lee set the bar high of course, collecting numerous USC records and winning the 2012 Biletnikoff Award on his way to Jacksonville. Kimbell has similar expectations for the next wave -- Farmer, if healthy, could be a force for the Trojans, while Darrell Fuery enters his redshirt freshman season at pass-happy Fresno State and USC incoming freshman Adoree’ Jackson has two-way potential.

Says Kimbell: “Woods was a total football player. Farmer was like an Andre Johnson-type. Lee was a freak, kind of like Michael Jordan on the football field. And Richardson probably had the best hands and ran the best routes out of all of them. Adoree’ definitely has pieces of all them.”

Serra’s current roster carries plenty of intrigue, too: Class of 2015 receiver Deontay Burnett raised his stock with a productive spring in the passing league circuit, and Serra also features ESPN 300 cornerback Stanley Norman, Isaac Cox and 2016 standout Brandon Burton.

“It’s been going strong,” Kimbell says. “Hopefully these kids can keep the run going.”

The thrill, after all, doesn’t get old.