Santa Monica High football team creates buzz with 3-0 start

Santa Monica is a tourist town known for its pier, beaches, Third Street Promenade mall, bike paths, parks and the stand with hot dogs on a stick.

Now there’s a new attraction creating excitement — the local high school football team.

Led by left-handed sophomore quarterback Wyatt Brown and junior safety Charles Cravings, Santa Monica High improved to 3-0 on Friday night with a 28-9 victory over West Torrance. The Vikings are in the midst of a big turnaround under former Beverly Hills coach Carter Paysinger. The pandemic helped send the program crashing with seasons of 0-3 in the spring of 2021 and 1-9 the following fall. Paysinger took over last season and the team went 2-8.

Santa Monica, which also beat Calabasas and El Segundo, is off to its best start since 2011 when the Vikings went 11-2.

Brown passed for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Cravings had three interceptions, forced a fumble at the West Torrance one-yard line and also caught a touchdown pass. He deserves the award for most dedication, having watched 14 hours of Hudl video to prepare and figure out where he might make an impact. Another major contributor was running back Caden McCullum, who rushed for 183 yards in 22 carries and scored a touchdown.

West Torrance received a huge game from junior receiver Reef Sharman, who made 14 catches for 158 yards and a touchdown, plus he had an interception.

The 6-foot-2 Brown received extensive playing time as a freshman, going through the expected ups and downs. He was clearly listening and learning, because look what he’s doing as a 15-year-old sophomore. He has seven touchdown passes in three games.

Caden McCullum of Santa Monica takes off on a run against West Torrance.

Caden McCullum of Santa Monica takes off on a run against West Torrance.

(Craig Weston)

“There was definitely frustrating times during the year,” Brown said of last season. “I just had to keep my head up and be positive. The only way to get better is work harder. I focused on staying calm, cool and collected. We all hate losing, but it’s part of the game. At the end of the day, it helped us become who we are today.”

Paysinger is a story himself. He has unretired at least three times. He went into administration, becoming an athletic director then principal after stepping down as coach at Beverly Hills in 2008. He was once president of the Southern Section and president at St. Bernard.

“Staying at home was not for me,” he said.

He shows up at Santa Monica in the afternoon and coaches football. “I’m not having to work as a teacher or administrator,” he said. ”Just having fun.”

Receiver is one of the Vikings’ strongest positions.

Griffin Seals, a 6-3 senior, caught eight passes for 113 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown. Cravings also made some clutch catches while tight ends Jayden Montanez and Paco Vandenbrook can be an intimidating duo blocking.

Even with its great start, Santa Monica isn’t the favorite to win the Bay League. That would be 3-0 Palos Verdes. Yet the Vikings have learned lessons from playing underclassmen last season and have a strong offensive line, led by senior Mason Oliva.

“It’s a motivated group,” Paysinger said.

Brown has grown up in Santa Monica and looks very comfortable in the pocket even when pressure is applied. That kind of poise and instincts will come in handy, and he’s staying put no matter how good he might get.

“One of my most important values is loyalty,” Brown said. “I wanted to come to SaMo and turn it round.”

There could be some parties at the pier if the team keeps winning.