The chances are somewhat better you know that, up the coast just below Los Angeles International Airport, the city of Manhattan Beach refers to its Manhattan Beach Open as the "granddaddy" of beach volleyball events and that the "Volleyball Walk of Fame" stretches through the length of the Manhattan Beach Pier.
But what with American football the foremost national religion (for now, anyway), the chances are better still of knowing that this looks like one boffo autumn for Los Angeles-based college quarterbacks.
Southern California has San Clemente-raised Sam Darnold, who steered the Trojans on a merry U-turn toward 10-3 starting with the fourth game last season and whose fifth touchdown pass in the most recent Rose Bowl ranked among the most gorgeous things football intellectuals ever saw. UCLA has Manhattan Beach-raised Josh Rosen, the former prep must-have recruit whose sophomore season in 2016 stalled at six games for throwing-shoulder surgery and whose rebound from same will stir curiosity.
Yet even with the two-pronged hype, two 20-year-olds born four months apart — Rosen arrived first, in February 1997 — go beyond that. They're emblems of how sports fans seem to prefer the future to the present, with the commotion of "Darnold" and "Rosen" perched way up NFL 2018 mock-draft boards and with "Suck for Sam" a half-mantra among some New York Jets fans, an oddity given their team has never needed a reason to suck.
And in a far more everlasting sense, they're emblems of that rarefied way of being on the back shelf of the vast country: They're not only from California but from Southern California, and they're not only from Southern California but from the beach. While Darnold grew up blue collar and Rosen grew up blue blood — he surmounted affluence to excel at football — both grew up within 10 minutes of the Pacific. Both belie the global anti-beach prejudice about work ethic. Neither surfs routinely. Both have surfed before. Both respect the hard, hard craft of it.
On the beach Darnold long has frequented, that Pacific doesn't explode into view until you find a small sign in a fine neighborhood, descend a path tucked between trees and houses and cross train tracks at the shore, promising a sight to see: a train rumbling past the beach crowds on their towels. Even beneath the poshness of the houses above, the beach sustains some earthiness. "And it's hard to walk [back] up it," Darnold said of the trail. "But it's kind of nice, you know, having to almost work to go to, like, paradise."
As he has begun to travel in life, he has begun to comprehend the uniqueness of his childhood. He visited his sister at college in Rhode Island and went to Northwestern University on a recruiting trip, and he found the cold . . . instructive. He loved observing the life in Michigan City, Ind., when the Trojans stayed there on their Notre Dame trip. Seeing "what people are going through and how people live, where they live, the circumstances in which they live" has made him realize, "Okay, I lived in a place that was ideal, an ideal situation to live in," he said. The rhythms of the beach have been rhythms of his life.
For example, the beach has its own social progression. With his middle school chums, Darnold would go to "Rivi," or Riviera Beach, the beach farther to the left once emerging from the path. "It was kind of interesting," he said, "because Rivi, for people in San Clemente, is known as the middle school beach. That's where the middle school kids go. And then once you move into high school, you go to Lasuens. And so it was really interesting because, when I go back, me and my friends, we still like to go to Lasuens all the time because that's the spot. But when we go sometimes we run into the younger kids who are now in high school.
"Now they run it because we're not there all the time."
He didn't surf mostly because his time went to other sports, but he grew up amid the surfing dynamic absent to most American childhoods. Of the Shorecliffs Middle surf team — you know, those tail-kicking national champions — he said: "Those are the cool kids on campus. They're awesome, too. I'm friends with a lot of them. Really great kids, like totally surfer kids, they're literally just like that, exactly what you imagine."
By high school years, he said: "We would go to the beach and hang out with the surfers, and I had my friend group that really didn't surf that much, and you know, while they all went and surfed, I'd kind of hang on the shore with all my friends that didn't and play beach volleyball or hang out, throw the football around a little bit, or just go in the water and hang out with them while they surfed.
"So it was pretty fun, but there was never really an issue of, 'You don't surf. You don't belong.' "
To hear Jack Sears tell it, Darnold belonged everywhere in high school. As a sophomore at San Clemente, Sears received passes from the senior Darnold. As a senior last December, Sears quarterbacked San Clemente to its first state title. One month after that, he arrived at USC to begin as a quarterback who can tell of a beach town that flocks to see its San Clemente High Tritons on game nights, of thousands turning up to greet the bus returning from the state title, of people honking during games from Interstate 5 just above the field, even of people parking up there and looking down.
Darnold, Sears said, was "a loved guy" by all the high school groups and subgroups, and that's plausible in Darnold's company. He's low-pulse, authentic, molting from his natural shyness.
In fact, in the eternal oddness of big-time college sports, Los Angeles has a shy college quarterback who does a lot of interviews these days (Darnold) and a loquacious one who doesn't (Rosen). It's unclear whether Rosen is unavailable so that UCLA can avoid the distractions of his turns of blunt eloquence — as with his springtime treatise on the student-athlete phenomenon, with Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report — but he did brighten at one question about Manhattan Beach.
"Manhattan Beach has actually changed a lot in the last 10, 15, 20 years" — true: It has gotten shinier, more glammed-up — "but it was awesome growing up," he said. "It was a great community. We had beach nights on Fifth Street. . . . Still lots of friends from back there, and they come out to practice and games, support me, and they're off around the country doing some incredible things, so it was awesome growing up there."
That kind of awe, the kind that visited the childhoods of the two big Los Angeles quarterbacks, got a descriptive endorsement from a third, Sears, still just 19 but aware of his great luck.
"The beach was always there," he said. "It's the best thing to wake up to in the morning, the best thing to see at night. It's kind of this thing that keeps you humble and grounded and really appreciative of everything around you. . . . When I would drive to school in the morning, I would be on the freeway, the sun's rising, and there's the ocean, and when I'm driving home, after football practice, the sun's setting and the sky's changing colors, and it just kind of makes you smile, just happy to be where you are."
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