* * *Talia Crichton and his oldest brother Sam were close—as a lanky middle school football player at Hughes, Talia would spend hours in the weight room with Sam. Not lifting: watching, mesmerized by his brother. “I just sat there, like, ‘Wow.’”
When Talia was nine, he, Sam, their parents Tupe and Niu, and four other siblings made a move, from American Samoa all the way to the north side of Long Beach, to Atlantic Avenue. It was there that football became a daily part of Sam’s life, and thus, a daily part of Talia’s.
When Meyer took over the Jordan program, Sam was already a three-year varsity starter. “Sam was just a great kid, who knew right from wrong. He was always walking around with [his] ukulele.” Meyer was trying to bring a new philosophy to the Jordan Panthers, preaching positivity and respect. He needed leaders on the team to buy in, and help him spread the message. During school one day, Sam stepped forward to defend a teacher who was being hassled by a student, and Meyer found his leader.
Talia began attending school, and playing football, at Lakewood High. While his brother had succeeded at Jordan, Talia’s mother thought it wasn’t the best environment for her younger, more impressionable son. His grades at Hughes earned him admittance to Lakewood’s Merit Scholars program, and his mother drove him to school across town every day. But even in fresh surroundings, Talia says he was, “Influenced by the wrong things.” Overwhelmed, Talia left the Merit Scholar program. He was searching for an identity.