Greg Townsend Jr. makes own name

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Greg Townsend, the name sound familiar?

For Los Angeles natives, it should. He did, after all, star on the defensive line for the Raiders from 1983 to '93, back when the Silver and Black called the Coliseum home. Townsend then played for Philadelphia in 1994 before retiring as an Oakland Raider after the 1997 season.

Nearly three decades later, the name has resurfaced. Only this time, it's his son, Greg Townsend Jr., who's making headlines.

Given his pedigree, it's not surprising the senior and three-year starter at Beverly Hills High School has emerged as one of the nation's top football prospects. And with continued improvement, Townsend Jr. could emerge from the shadows cast by his father and 13-year NFL veteran.

"When I was a kid, me and my dad watched a lot of football together. I grew up around the game and all of the players," Townsend Jr. said. "I wanted to go to most of his games, but the Raiders fans we're crazy in Los Angeles, so I didn't get to go to as many as I would've liked.

"I never had any pressure from my dad, or mom, to be a football player. It just kind of happened that way. Now, I feel like it's my destiny. I can tell you this, having my father involved has been great. He taught me just about everything I know. I get my football IQ from him."

Apparently, the gift of gridiron smarts wasn't the only thing Townsend Jr. received from his dad. He inherited his athletic genes too -- size, strength and speed.

At 6 feet 4, 260-plus pounds, Townsend Jr. is a matchup nightmare for opponents regardless of where he's positioned on the defensive line. Throwing up 330 pounds on the bench press, squatting 405 pounds and running the 40-yard dash in 4.8 seconds certainly helps Townsend's ability to make an impact. It's also worth noting Townsend has a vertical jump of 36 inches.

"A lot of people don't know this, but Gregory was actually a basketball player first, although he ended up gravitating to football, it was inevitable," Townsend Sr. said. "He's a chip off the old block and has always been strong. I remember when he was 7 years old and I was playing in Los Angeles, I'd be lifting weights and he'd want to join in. I'd take all the weight off and he'd bench press the bar, it had to weigh 45 pounds. It was amazing. I knew then that he'd be a defensive lineman.

"As a father, you always want your kids to succeed. With Greg, I can see him surpassing all of the things that I did during my career, quadrupling my numbers, I truly believe that. As a former NFL player, you can get a sense of who's got it and who doesn't. He's got it and I'm not saying that because he's my kid. He has that fire, the passion, and that's something you can't teach."

Townsend Jr.'s measurables have attracted the interest from a number of NCAA Division I colleges. He's ranked No. 11 in the country at his position by ESPNU and has scholarship offers from several different powerhouse programs, most notably Alabama and Miami (Fla.). UCLA and USC are in the mix as well. Louisiana State and Texas Christian have been in contact with him recently.

Making the all-important decision about his future is the furthest thing from his mind right now. Improving on a junior season in which he finished with 73 tackles, 7.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, three blocked kicks and a fumble recovery is his sole focus.

"From the day Greg set foot on campus here as a ninth-grader, once I saw him in person, you could tell that he was going to be something special," Beverly Hills coach Don Paysinger said. "I had to have him on my team, we had to get him on board, it was a must.

"In my 29 years of coaching, I've never had someone like him. I've had other coaches come up to me and tell me that they can't wait until he graduates so they don't have to design a game plan around stopping him. Teams see where he lines up and then they call a play.

"Greg has a tremendous work ethic and a tremendous family tree. He's got that 'it' factor and I'm not sure if he understands that, but I can tell you this much, he was born with it. If he keeps his head on straight, which he will, sky's the limit. He's a future professional."

First things first, and that's finishing his senior season on a high note.

Leading the Normans to an Ocean League championship and a postseason run in CIF Southern Section Western Division play are Townsend Jr.'s top priorities at the moment. Things appear to be heading in the right direction, too, after Friday's 29-7 season-opening victory over visiting Santa Barbara in which Townsend Jr. had eight tackles, including a safety, and two sacks. The next test is this Friday, in another nonleague game, against host Santa Barbara San Marcos.

"Watch, I'm going to go out there and get 15 sacks and more than 80 tackles this season, and I know some people might think those numbers sound crazy, but not me," Townsend Jr. said. "If for some reason I don't get my stats, and we make the playoffs, I'll be completely fine with that too. I have big goals, that's all, and I'm ready to do big things. My name is out there, I have a target on my back, I'm ready for anything that comes my way. Football is my life, it's my future."

It appears as if playing big-time college ball on Saturdays is the next step for the youngster. Beyond that, perhaps a career in the NFL awaits, although it would be somewhat unreasonable to expect him to have the same kind of success the elder Townsend enjoyed.

During his time with the Los Angeles Raiders, Townsend was a terror, a pass-rushing specialist off the end who harassed opposing quarterbacks for years. As a result, the former Compton Dominguez High was a two-time Pro Bowl selection (1990 and '91) and a four-time All-Pro (1988-1991).

One of his more memorable highlights came as a member of the 1984 Super Bowl champions, a group that defeated Washington, 38-9, to give the city of Los Angeles its first NFL title since 1951. Ranking No. 16 on the all-time sacks list rounds out his rather impressive resume.

It will be interesting to see if this story ends up as one of those classic like father, like son tales. And far be it from anyone to put any added pressure on Townsend Jr., who continues to forge his own identity right down the road from where the legacy began for his father.

"I've been blessed with a lot of tools, if I can be half as good as my dad was, I'd be lucky," Townsend Jr. said. "I feel fortunate to have him around and I plan on taking advantage of his knowledge of the NFL and doing him proud. I'm going to let my skills take me as far as they can go. My goal is to make it to the League, you know, follow in my father's footsteps and make a name for myself."

Sean Ceglinsky is a contributor to the High Schools page for ESPNLosAngeles.com.