By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
They have gotten to share many milestones together in their football careers and last Saturday night Max Palees, Noah Ghodooshim and Tommy Meek added one more: their first collegiate victory. What made the occasion so special for the three Santa Monica College freshmen was that they got to celebrate it together.
“It was a group decision to play here, it wasn’t one person it was as a group” said Palees, who plays linebacker alongside Ghodooshim and had four tackles and one sack in the Corsairs’ 46-18 nonconference win at Compton College.
“Any move we make is together and we thought it was the best opportunity for us to show off our academic and athletic skills and it’s going the right way right now,” added Ghodooshim, who returned a fumble for a touchdown late in the game only to see it nullified by a penalty.
“We stay together,” chimed in Meek, the team’s starting kicker who booted a 29-yard field goal to cap a 10-play drive in the second quarter.
All three were All-City players at Palisades High under Coach Tim Hyde, who after eight winning seasons stepped down over the summer to become the head coach at Winnisquam Regional High School in Tilton, New Hampshire.
The SMC 2020 football season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, so its Palisades trio was chomping at the bit to see some action, although the home opener against El Camino College did not quite go as planned.
“Losing big that first game only fired us up more to take this one,” Ghodooshim said. “We know that we can play way better than we did that day and tonight we proved it.”
Asked the biggest difference between playing on Fridays (in high school) and playing on Saturdays (in college), Meek was quick to answer:
“Mindset!” he said.
“Definitely that,” Ghodooshim agreed. “When you go home and have that whole day to prepare and hours and hours to think about it without all the school distractions it helps you get ready for the game.”
“I always felt like we shouldn’t have school on game days at Pali,” Palees added with typical enthusiasm. “We’ve got travel uniforms, we have three buses… we’re by the beach, good academics—that’s why we came here!”
Palees and Ghodooshim were captains their senior season at Pali High in 2019 when the Dolphins won nine games in a row for the first time since the 1970s and captured the outright league crown for the first time in 32 years. At the team banquet, Meek got the Impact Award after booming 36 kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks and averaging 44.6 yards per punt. Ghodooshim was voted Defensive MVP with 78 tackles and a pair of interception returns for touchdowns. Palees, meanwhile, received the Joe Spector Award as Player of the Year, an honor he shared with Sy Riley (who now plays at the University of New Mexico).
Palees is the only Dolphin to earn All-City honors three times at three different positions. As a sophomore in 2017 he was a Division I second team pick at linebacker. As a junior in 2018 he made the Open Division first team at running back after rushing 175 times for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns. As a senior, he made the offensive second team as a wide receiver after a team-best 50 catches for 533 yards and three touchdowns and leading the team with 1,084 all-purpose yards. Now, at SMC, he is playing only one side of the ball and he is thriving.
“I like defense more,” Palees confessed. “Offense was a little boring when you don’t get the ball but on defense your in there every single play. Also, Noah’s middle backer so I have the opportunity to be outside. So I get to play with my brother. And I’m on all of Tommy’s special teams.”
“I played side by side with Sy at Pali and he was a role model for us,” Ghodooshim adds. “Now I got my guy Max with me and I see the same intensity and killer instinct in both of them and it brings out the best in me also. Max was everywhere tonight!”
Comebacks are nothing new for the trio and they had to rally from an 18-17 deficit on Saturday, shutting out the Tartars in the second half.
“We were actually down at halftime so being able to shut them down completely in the second half makes me feel good,” Palees said.
“Two of their three scores came on broken plays so that was a chip on our shoulder to show them in the second half that they can’t compete with us,” added Ghodooshim, whose younger brother Eli watched from the sideline after catching a touchdown pass in Palisades’ 33-14 win at Reseda the night before. Watching from the stands was former Pali High safety Waka White, who hugged and congratulated them afterwards.
“The coaching staff as a whole is better in college—I’m able to learn a lot more,” Palees said. Added Ghodooshim: “It’s way more professional, it’s way more serious, they really take care of you in Juco. We all want to play Division I and this is preparing us for that level.”
The biggest adjustment for Meek is having to kick off from the 35-yard line instead of the 40. Five yards may seem insignificant, but he has found out it is not. On Saturday he also made a touchdown-saving tackle on a return to earn high fives from his teammates and coaches.
“My kickoffs are five yards deeper,” said Meek, who received a pat on the back from Palees and Ghodooshim after missing a field goal try in the first half. “It shouldn’t affect me how it is but I’ve got to get used to it, work hard in practice and get my balls a little deeper so they can’t run them back. I focus more on angling my kicks, so wherever I line up my tee we’re going right or left and I’m going to pin them in that corner every single time. And it’s awesome knowing these are my boys and they have my back no matter what.”
The Palisades alums see a lot of familiar faces in their own huddle, as a dozen names on the Corsairs’ roster are of players Palees, Ghodooshim and Meek competed against in the Western League. SMC’s quarterback is Sam Vaulton, who played for Venice against the Dolphins in the spring. Venice Coach Angelo Gasca is also one of SMC’s offensive coaches.
“We have three or four guys from Venice, another three or four from Westchester and a few more from Hamilton,” Palees said. “So quite a lot of us know each other from high school.”
All three are following their alma mater closely and encourage the Dolphins to take it one game at a time, practice hard, play stout defense and most importantly, they shout in unison: “Beat Venice!”
After all… once a Dolphin, always a Dolphin.
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