Dave Holland said that he never looked at his second stint as the head coach of the Corona del Mar High football program as a second chance.
In a way, though, the 1988 season was just that.
The previous year had ended in the quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs, with an 18-7 loss to eventual champion Valencia.
In 1988, an experienced Sea Kings roster returned to the gridiron, motivated to go further than any CdM team had gone before.
CdM posted a record of 12-0-2 during the 1988 season, bringing home the first CIF title in program history. The Sea Kings defeated defending champion Valencia 17-7 in the final at Orange Coast College.
Holland served as head coach at CdM for 20 years. He held the position from 1967 to 1975 and from 1983 to 1993.
This season marks the 30th anniversary of CdM’s first section football championship. The 1988 team will return for CdM’s home opener on Thursday, which will see the Sea Kings host Palos Verdes at 7 p.m. at Newport Harbor High. Coaches and players from the 1988 team will be honored at halftime.
“I got emotional,” Holland said upon being informed of the team reunion. “It’s been 30 years, and it’s still a big deal to me.”
Bill Rauth, a free safety from that team, broke the news to Holland, who won 106 games with the Sea Kings.
“I had a pretty a strong bond with my head coach, and when I first called him and told him what was going on, it was pretty emotional,” Rauth said. “It’s just neat getting reactions. It was a real special deal for them, that one season. A lot of stars aligned. A lot of things happened. There was a lot of raw emotion.”
The 1988 championship team had a suffocating defense. Rauth said that the Sea Kings allowed an average of six points per game that season.
A number of defensive school records were set that year. Middle linebacker John Katovsich, who went on to play for the University of Colorado, had the single-game record for tackles with 19.
Chris Deuchar, another middle linebacker, played at Colorado State.
Jerrott Willard played for Cal, and he made it to the NFL as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. He was inducted into the Cal Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.
The Sea Kings also had twin brothers Warren and Weston Johnson, who shut down the opposing passing game at cornerback. Warren Johnson set CdM’s single-season record for interceptions with 11, while Weston Johnson returned three interceptions for touchdowns that year.
“We loved when other teams would throw the ball,” said Jeff Clark, who played wide receiver and cornerback for the Sea Kings, and went on to play at UCLA. “It was fun to play back there, and it was nice to know that basically every guy you were playing there alongside, every one of them could make a play on the ball. We had a good unit.”
Pat Kelly, a guard on the 1988 team, felt strong about his time at CdM. When he completed his service in the army, he returned to the program as its offensive line coach from 1992 to 1995.
Defense certainly set the stage for CdM to claim its first championship, but it was an offensive play in the semifinals against Pacifica that defined the playoff run for Kelly.
Quarterback Ty Price rolled out to his left and threw the ball 45 yards to Clark in the corner of the end zone. Clark jumped to make the grab, landing in bounds for the go-ahead score.
“Our defense was amazing,” Kelly said. “We didn’t give up very many points at all, but that was the defining moment of that season, for sure.”
Many are looking forward to the reunion of the 1988 team, none more so than their old coach.