Manuel Douglas is listed as the head football coach of City Section Division I champion Harbor City Narbonne, but his assistants tease him about "checking in with the real head coach."
That would be his wife, Jelerine, the mother of his three young children. She's a teacher and has been in the U.S. Army Reserve for 19 years as a combat medic instructor.
What Douglas does for Narbonne's football players, Jelerine provides at home, keeping everyone on schedule and offering plenty of support.
"She's the epitome of [an understanding] coach's wife," Douglas said. "I tell my assistant coaches, 'You have to have one if you're going to be in this game.'"
The summer began with Douglas and his wife celebrating the birth of their third child, a boy, in June — just weeks before the first practice of what would be, if all went well, the longest high school football season in California history.
And everything has gone well for Narbonne, which is 14-0 and playing Corona Centennial (13-1) on Saturday night at Cerritos College in the inaugural CIF state regional Open Division championship bowl game.
With only minutes left in last week's 25-0 victory over Crenshaw in the City championship game, Douglas became emotional. He had tears in his eyes. He thought about his players and the journey they've traveled to help transform Narbonne into one of the best teams in the state.
"I was thinking about those kids when they were 10th graders and Crenshaw blew us out," he said. "14-0 is an incredible thing. I was thinking about my family. Everything at once hit me. I don't get sentimental. I try to stay low-key and even keel. But that's the time to let it go because those moments don't come very often. Those two minutes were lots of years in the making."
Douglas was not ready to be a head coach when he took over the Narbonne program in 2002. He had so much more to learn. And then there was his offense. He was a Bloomington wing-T guy — run, run, run. It got the Gauchos close but never to the championship game.
After losing to Lake Balboa Birmingham in a 2004 semifinal, Douglas began to abandon his wing-T philosophy. He started to study what Urban Meyer was doing at Florida. He changed to a spread option attack with his quarterback in shotgun formation.
"I've been converted to the dark side," he said in 2008 before winning the first of his three City titles.
The ability to pass and run made all the difference in getting the Gauchos over the hump. He studied the no-huddle formation at Corona Centennial. He traveled to Oregon to learn how the Ducks ran their fast-break offense.
Douglas said he doesn't even remember half of the wing-T offense.
"I don't even know why I ran it for so long," he said. "This is so fun."
Narbonne had 10 starters returning on defense from last season's City title team, plus the reigning City player of the year, Washington-bound quarterback Troy Williams, so the pieces were present for a season to remember.
Official practice for Narbonne began July 22. Even then, Douglas was planning for an exhausting 16-week season, having his team tackle less while trying to save legs and bodies for the long haul.
Now comes the mental challenge. Douglas has directed his players' motivation toward a possible state championship bowl game next week against one of the nation's most respected programs, Concord De La Salle, which is favored in its regional game against Folsom. That's what the reward could be if they beat Centennial.
"I talked to them about not being satisfied," Douglas said.
Challenges on and off the field come almost daily for Douglas, who is the one assigned to track more than 130 players in the Narbonne program while working as a special education teacher.
"We always ask each other, 'Why, after 11 years, do we still do it?'" he said. "It is not easy. Our district continues to place barriers. Their focus is on advanced test scores and attendance rates, which are all important. Guys like us understand all those things intertwine with athletics."