Arrive at Veterans Stadium early enough and you'll hear rapper Snoop Dogg's ode to Long Beach Poly, his alma mater, loud and clear. It blares through the speakers as players, wearing brand-new uniforms provided by Snoop, bounce around the field in pregame warmups. The chorus is simple and catchy, to say the least:
Green and gold, together,
Lose to y'all? Never.
This eastside forever,
Long Beach Poly.
Some Poly players have the nearly five-minute-long track memorized, the others bob their heads as the beat builds between whistles and drills. Take one look around and you notice these Jackrabbits don't lack confidence. A pair of poor seasons in Long Beach -- a combined 15-8 record the last two years -- have done little to diminish their swagger.
"There's always something we've got to prove," senior receiver Richard Smith said.
Poly (3-0), the No. 2 team in the ESPN Los Angeles prep football Top 25 rankings, can make a loud statement Friday against powerhouse Mission Viejo, ranked No. 4. The Jackrabbits were dominated at home by the Diablos last season, 37-7, and coach Raul Lara hasn't let them forget it. He gathered his players after last week's 19-16 victory over visiting Narbonne, reminding them of last year's debacle.
This squad's psyche isn't damaged, though, largely because its strong defense gives them a chance against anyone, anytime, anywhere.
"This is Poly High School," Lara said. "Poly's all about defense ... until our offense gets really clicking."
Balance makes Poly's unit difficult to scheme against. Looking to run between the tackles? You'll have to consider double-teaming senior defensive lineman Alonzo Williams, who is a handful up front. Planning to attack the edges? Physical linebackers Salamo Fiso and Matthew Rowe, both committed to Arizona State, are relentless in pursuit. Thinking about throwing the ball? Good luck against ASU-bound Randall Goforth, who has the speed and quickness to match up against the other team's best receiver.
Yet, in team sports especially, talent isn't enough.
Doubts about the Jackrabbits -- and whether or not they're truly back to elite status -- stem from their offensive struggles. And it isn't because of a shortage of weapons. Senior quarterback Chaiyse Hales had 18 touchdown passes last season and the ASU-bound tandem of Smith and Josiah Blandin are more-than-capable options at receiver. The ground attack has shown promise, too, with junior running backs Manusamoa Luuga and Gerard Wicks combining for more than 160 yards rushing per game so far.
For Lara, the challenge is getting the most from all facets in time for the Pac-5 Division playoffs. The defense appears be ready, the offense is a bit behind.
"Our defense goes really hard in practice," Smith said. "I expect them to stop teams all the time."
Friday night deep in Orange County, Lara and his 'Rabbits will get a better idea of how much they've improved. This much we do know: Poly has no troubles in the confidence department.
It's still green and gold, together.
Blair Angulo covers preps for ESPN Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter.