In an era when teams that win championships usually have a transfer or two on their roster, Lake Forest El Toro is trying to succeed the old-fashioned way — with kids who played together at the same park, the same cul-de-sac, even the same middle school.
"It's a true family atmosphere," Coach Rob Frith said. "We are not a select all-star team. We are El Toro kids who grew up together, and it's satisfying."
Passing records are being obliterated by teenagers who've known each other since fourth grade.
It's no wonder quarterback Conner Manning can close his eyes and know where receivers Dominic Collins and Cody White might be.
"We have that type of chemistry going on," Manning said.
Imagine the fun of sharing victories and record performances with kids and families who've known each other since the days they ate cupcakes and Ding Dongs together.
"It's kind of sad how high school is developing," Manning said.
Yes, the neighborhood team is mostly gone. Some high school rosters list the players' hometowns, just like a college team.
The state's governing body, the California Interscholastic Federation, has made it easier than ever for one parent to convince another to move their kid for the chance to win a championship.
On Monday, a new wave of transfers will become eligible. In previous years, if a family didn't move, a student had to sit out one year as a penalty. But under new CIF transfer rules, athletes in fall sports gain immediate eligibility after a one-month sit-out period.
More than 100 athletes throughout the state have been cleared to put on uniforms beginning Monday, including at least 50 in the Southern Section, so next weekend there's going to be a cavalry charge of new players.
There aren't any transfers at El Toro (5-0), which is doing just fine.
Last week, Manning passed for an Orange County-record 613 yards and seven touchdowns against El Cajon Valhalla. He has passed for 2,255 yards and 24 touchdowns with one interception in five games. He's completing 70% of his passes.
"I was sitting at my house, 'You know what, Rob? You better take a picture of this because you won't see this again,'" Frith said. "It's a combination of good decision-making, strength of arm and accuracy. He's just in a zone. He's a great kid and a great leader."
The games are about to become a lot tougher, with Tesoro and Mission Viejo awaiting El Toro in the South Coast League.
No school has benefited more from transfers than Mission Viejo (5-0). Three top players checked in from Santa Margarita. Others came from Orange Lutheran and Tustin. Suddenly, a team that was rebuilding on offense was able to score 84 points last week in a victory.
Yes, transfers matter.
It's already clear that teams can't win a state championship in basketball without a top transfer student. The question is whether football has also reached that point.
"We have to find a way to beat those teams," Frith said.
Added Manning: "I feel we'll have the most heart and most chemistry of any of the teams. As long as we play hard, execute and don't make mistakes, we'll definitely be in games."
And the cupcakes will taste better too.