According to popular belief, one of the more difficult feats in sports is to repeat as champion. Dan Pride realizes that now.
The football coach at tiny Coast Christian School in Redondo Beach says his team’s 1987 CIF Eight-Man Small Conference title sometimes is more detrimental than inspirational.
Once a team expects to win, he says, it loses its hunger to win.
“The kids are starting to believe they can’t get beat,” Pride said. “And I’m trying to tell them they can.”
It’s easy to understand how the Saints could have that attitude. They are unbeaten in five games this season, ranked No. 1 in the CIF Eight-Man Small Division and have one of the section’s top eight-man players in running back Earl Rhodes, a 6-2, 200-pound junior who leads the South Bay in rushing with 742 yards on 85 carries.
Coast Christian’s 17 consecutive victories, including a 12-0 record last year, represents the second-longest winning streak in the entire Southern Section. Only Fontana, with 19 wins in a row, has a longer streak.
Another contributing factor to the Saints’ apparent overconfidence is the fact that they are rarely tested by opponents. Their last close call came two weeks ago in a 22-21 win over Chadwick, a game which Pride said revealed a lot about his team’s character.
Trailing 6-0 at half time, Coast Christian gathered in its regular spot in the end zone at Mira Costa High. But Pride offered no Rockne-like speech.
“I just walked down and told them, ‘What I see is a group of guys who don’t have a desire to win.’ Then I turned to the assistant coaches and said, ‘Let’s go.’ I just left (the players) there.”
Pride’s intent was to force his players to motivate themselves. After the Saints fell behind 21-6 in the third quarter, it appeared the strategy might backfire. But Coast Christian rallied for 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, capped by a 29-yard scoring pass from quarterback Steve Luce to wide receiver Jerry Stephens and a 2-point conversion run by Stephens with 1:37 left, to keep the winning streak intact.
Pride believes the Saints are capable of playing all of their games the way they played the fourth quarter against Chadwick. So far, though, the former linebacker for the Chicago Bears has not been satisfied.
“The Chadwick game really shouldn’t have been as close as it was,” he said. “We haven’t put it all together yet. I just hope by the end (of the season) we have it together. We’re gearing for the playoffs.
“I could see last year’s team building up every week and getting better. This year’s team looks like it’s ready to explode and get good, but then they play a mediocre game. Last year’s team was a little more hungry. Most of these guys were on last year’s team, so they think they can kick back and (winning) will happen for them.”
Pride doesn’t expect Coast Christian to be tested in its three Heritage League games in the coming weeks. The Saints open against L.A. Lutheran at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mira Costa.
Four weeks down the road, however, Coast Christian has a date with Camp Kilpatrick, the top-ranked team in the CIF Eight-Man Large Division. If the Saints continue to win, their streak would be at 20 games for that meeting.
If the streak should end, Pride will not be disappointed as long as Coast Christian plays well.
“Maybe someone will have to knock us down to wake us up,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I scheduled Camp Kilpatrick. I think if we have a good game against them, it might get us going in the right direction for the playoffs.”
Coast Christian fields a team of 17 players from a student body that has between 35 and 40 boys in grades nine through 12. That in itself makes coaching at the school a challenge.
“It’s extremely tough to field a team,” Pride said. “We’re losing a lot of seniors and I don’t have a JV program. I’m just hoping some kids come into the school to keep the program going.”
Pride says most of the players live in the South Bay. One of the exceptions is Rhodes, who lives in Pasadena.
“Their parents send them here to be in a Christian environment,” Pride said. “Most kids stay because we have good academics and a good athletic program.”
Aside from football, Pride also coaches girls basketballl and softball. He coached at Los Feliz Hills until the school dropped athletics in 1986. In his three seasons at Coast Christian, Pride’s football teams have a combined mark of 24-4.
Stew Roper, co-coach and offensive coordinator of North Torrance’s football team, resigned last week. Reportedly, there were differences between Roper and Coach Don Bohannon.
“I think (Roper) just felt frustrated,” said a school spokesman. “Things weren’t clicking.”
North improved to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in Ocean League play last Friday with a 22-0 win over Culver City. The Saxons play host to Redondo (1-4, 1-1) Friday night.
Mira Costa’s football team is 0-5 under first-year Coach Dave Brown, who guided Bellflower to a 6-14-1 record the two previous seasons.
How is Bellflower doing without Brown?
Under new Coach Mike Harrington, the Buccaneers are 5-0 and ranked No. 6 in the CIF Division VI poll.
PREP NOTES--Santa Monica, ranked No. 1 in the CIF Division II football poll last week, dropped out of the top 10 following its 36-24 loss to Palos Verdes. Three other Bay League teams are ranked--Leuzinger (No. 7), Beverly Hills (No. 9) and Hawthorne (No. 10) . . . Palos Verdes, the top-ranked girls cross-country team in the state, had no problem winning its invitational last Saturday. The Sea Kings posted a 1:03.37 team time and placed the top three individual finishers: Ashley Black (14:02), freshman Maya Muneno (14:03) and Tracy Goodrich (14:26). Palos Verdes will run in the Los Angelus County Invitational on Saturday at College of the Canyons.
South Bay’s Top 10
Selected by Times Sportswriters
Rank, School, League Record
1 Leuzinger (Bay) 5-0
2 Carson (Conf. 2, League 1) 4-1
3 Banning (Conf. 2, League 1) 4-1
4 Hawthorne (Bay) 4-1
5 Palos Verdes (Bay) 4-1
6 El Segundo (Santa Fe) 5-0
7 Morningside (Ocean) 2-2
8 Bishop Montgomery (Angelus) 4-1
9 West Torrance (Ocean) 3-2
10 Serra (Camino Real) 2-3