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Tonight’s Prep Football Games : In Its Third Season, Trabuco Hills Is Coming of Age Under Barnett

Times Staff Writer

When he accepted a job to coach football at newly built Trabuco Hills High School in September 1985, Jim Barnett didn’t know quite what to expect.

Barnett had left Long Beach Poly, then the state’s top-ranked team, to start anew at Trabuco Hills. But with a new school came new problems.

Unlike Long Beach Poly, a 77-year-old school with years of a strong football tradition, Trabuco Hills had very little.

Because there was no football field--there wasn’t even any grass on campus--players had to walk a half-mile down the road to Del Lago Elementary School for practices.

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But not having a field wasn’t as difficult as having to field a team.

“When I first came here, all I heard about was how big the players were down here from El Toro and Mission Viejo,” Barnett said.

“But here I was, looking at all these scrawny little surfer-type guys riding up on skateboards and saying, ‘Hey, we’d like to be on the football team.

“We had our problems, that’s for sure.”

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Today, six of those original players are now among the Mustangs’ best athletes.

They are: defensive back Danon Gibson, linebackers Matt Davis and Todd Norman, center Alex Kim, guard Dennis Pratt and quarterback David Lowery. Lowery is the second-rated quarterback in Orange County, having thrown for 1,455 yards and 13 touchdowns.

All six players have helped Trabuco Hills develop from Day 1.

“They’re the class that has risen from the beginning,” Barnett said.

Trabuco Hills (5-1 overall, 1-0 in the Pacific Coast League) will play Costa Mesa (2-3-1, 0-1) at Mission Viejo High School tonight at 7:30.

Two years ago, in its first season of varsity football, Trabuco Hills gained its first Pacific Coast League victory by defeating Costa Mesa, 52-12. Last year, Trabuco Hills beat Costa Mesa, 30-10, and finished third in the league behind Laguna Beach and Woodbridge.

This season, Trabuco Hills looks even stronger.

Along with Lowery, the Mustangs are led by two juniors: Rick Sparks, a defensive back/wide receiver who leads the county with 7 interceptions; and Tim Manning, another defensive back/wide receiver who has 6 interceptions, 8 touchdowns and 22 receptions for 493 yards, a 22.4-yard average.

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Costa Mesa is led by Manny Bonilla, who has rushed for 561 yards and 6 touchdowns; and Pat Meyers, a 6-foot 5-inch 275-pound offensive tackle who’s ready to play after missing the past two weeks with a knee injury.

Trabuco Hills has outscored its opponents, 183-32, in its 6 games this season. But Costa Mesa Coach Tom Baldwin, who’s team has outscored its opponents, 95-90, said he feels Costa Mesa’s much stronger than it looks.

Baldwin pointed out that Costa Mesa’s opponents, which have included Estancia (5-0-1), Corona del Mar (5-0-1) and Woodbridge (6-0), have combined records of 21-12-3.

Trabuco Hills’ opponents, three of which are 1-5, have a combined record of 12-24.

In another featured game:

University (2-3-1, 0-0-1) at Newport Harbor (1-5, 0-1)--University Coach Mark Cunningham is optimistic after his team tied defending Sea View League champion Corona del Mar, 14-14, last Thursday. He just hopes the victory will help his team’s confidence.

“Now that they’ve played with the best, they have to think they’re a better football team,” Cunningham said.

The Trojans are led by quarterback Junior Oliver, and running backs Jim Roberson (412 yards in 72 carries) and Gary Smarr (401 yards in 88).

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Newport Harbor hasn’t had much luck this season. The Sailors, who have been outscored, 98-55, lost its Sea View League opener to Saddleback last Thursday, 28-14. They are led by running back Tom Walker and quarterback Tim Newberry.


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