As a reward for winning the CIF San Diego Section 3-A football championship two seasons ago, Sweetwater High School Coach Gene Alim decided to give his players a one-week vacation.
And that payoff was renewed last week, as the two-time defending champion Red Devils played their season opener against Baldwin High in Maui, Hawaii for the second straight season.
“After we won the first championship, we decided we needed something special to do,” Alim said. “We got a hold of a travel agent that arranged the game for us. We lined up the second game ourselves. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
The team raised $30,000 to send 60 people to Hawaii.
The Red Devils arrived in Maui on Saturday, Sept. 7 and practiced Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They played Thursday night and returned to San Diego on Saturday.
And while other San Diego area teams practiced on their home fields after school and traveled to places as far away as Fallbrook and Southwestern College for their games, Sweetwater practiced from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Monday through Wednesday in the Hawaiian sun.
“It was 80 degrees at eight in the morning,” Alim said. “The practices were really tough. We took water breaks every 15 to 20 minutes.”
Still, the 2 1/2-hour practices allowed the players plenty of time to enjoy the trip.
“We took snorkeling trips, went canoeing and surfing,” Alim said. “We did just about everything there was to do.”
But what Sweetwater did best was play football. The Red Devils beat Baldwin, 32-7.
“I’m very happy with the way we played,” Alim said. “Baldwin is as physical as any team in San Diego. This year, they were much quicker. And they were very, very physical.”
Alim was especially happy with his team considering the distractions.
“It was the things we did besides football that worried me,” he said. “We were in the water every day and walking and touristing. We were a little sluggish in the game.”
Alim was quick to exclude running backs Terry Rodgers and Martell Black from that appraisal. Rodgers rushed for 204 yards on 17 carries and had touchdown runs of 12, 9, 2 and 75 yards. Black, the fullback, added 158 yards on 14 carries and 1 touchdown.
“Terry looked as strong as I’ve ever seen him,” Alim said. “Martell ran real hard too.”
The two are the strength of the team that has not been outscored over the past two seasons.
Despite winning, Alim said it might be Sweetwater’s last to trip to Hawaii.
“Not unless somebody drops off $34,000,” he said.
Add Sweetwater: Despite being ranked third in San Diego County in The Times’ Top 10, the Red Devils are the No. 2 team in the 3-A Division in the state by Cal-Hi Sports.
Vista, No. 2 in San Diego, is No. 8 in the 4-A Division. Vista, which lost to Sweetwater in last season’s San Diego Section 3-A title game, 28-13, beat Oceanside in its season opener Friday, 31-7.