Quarterbacks threw passes and receivers caught them. And Tim Ellis, after a turbulent off-season during which he was a human yo-yo, is finally doing what he wants to do: coach football.
As wide receivers coach at El Toro, he is finally at peace. Players catching the ball, pulling it in, protecting it.
All around Orange County on Monday, the best-laid plans of coaching staffs everywhere were taking shape. And players, optimistic that this is their year, began preparing for the playoffs--or at least that annual rite of autumn, the homecoming game.
Two area teams got a head start on the rest of the county; they began practicing last week in anticipation of unseasonably early games.
San Clemente, which reached the Southern Section Division I quarterfinals in 1993 but fell to fifth place in the South Coast League last season, meets Honolulu Punahou on Aug. 31 at Aloha Stadium.
Servite, which lost to Newport Harbor in the Division V title game last season, will head in the opposite direction for its Sept. 1 game against De La Salle High in Chicago.
The season begins for the rest of the county a week later.
El Toro--5-4-1 during the regular season--was the surprising team of the playoffs last year, reaching the Division V semifinals before losing to Servite. The Chargers have 14 starters returning, are among the favorites in the Sea View League this year, and began the 1995 season like a lot of other teams on Monday.
Teams can’t begin full contact until Thursday. Until then, it’s drills, drills, drills.
“The first day of practice provides some first impressions,” El Toro Coach Mike Milner said. “Those impressions stick with a coach. . . . Who has been working on his own? Who has been lifting weights? Who’s in shape and who’s out of shape?”
For Ellis, the first day of practice represents much more. After being Tustin’s head coach for two years, he accepted the plum position at Trabuco Hills, only to have that offer rescinded after boosters squawked. Meanwhile, Tustin went about hiring Ellis’ replacement.
Ellis found himself a coach in exile.
“At this point, I’m just happy to have a place I can call home, where I fit in and can contribute,” Ellis said. “It puts some closure to a real ugly time in my life.
"[Milner] has given me some of my self-worth back; you have a tendency to start doubting your abilities. I have a real appreciation of that.
“For me, this is as good as it gets under the circumstances; I couldn’t have asked for much more.”
Milner was happy to oblige. Like most veteran coaches, he tries not to make too much of the first day, though it’s filled with great hopes and anticipation.
Three girls, driving past practice in a Jeep, whoop, holler and honk as they scream their enthusiasm for the team all the way down the street.
They have the right idea.
Other teams that should have plenty of enthusiastic fans this season are Los Alamitos, Mater Dei and Newport Harbor.
Mater Dei and Newport Harbor are vying for second consecutive section championships, and Los Alamitos begins the season where Mater Dei left off.
Los Alamitos will be the No. 1 team in the nation in the USA Today preseason rankings expected to be released this week. Mater Dei was the mythical national champion of 1994.
The Monarchs, 14-0 last year, beat then-No. 1 La Puente Bishop Amat for the Division I title, 28-21, a week after ending Los Alamitos’ section-record 47-game unbeaten streak, 28-24.
On a national basis, reputation is everything, Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes admitted.
But so is a little talent.
“We have worked to this spot because for 10 years we have played great football, we’ve built our program up and because we have 14 to 18 starters back,” Barnes said. “And because we gave Mater Dei a hell of a game.”
Newport Harbor also finished 14-0 last season, beating Servite in the Division V championship game, 20-15, capping the greatest season in the Sailors’ 64-year football history.
On the first day of practice, everyone is looking forward to its greatest season.