A New Outlook for Newcomb


When life delivered an on-side kick to Brent Newcomb nearly three months ago, he was caught looking--in the wrong direction.

The veteran football coach at Antelope Valley High readily acknowledges that his reluctance to seek immediate medical help on the morning of April 3 was a near-fatal mistake.

Newcomb thought he had heartburn. Instead, he was suffering a heart attack.

“I was kind of in denial,” said Newcomb, who was stricken at 1:30 a.m. but didn’t go to nearby Antelope Valley Hospital until 2 1/2 hours later. “I didn’t think a heart attack was going to happen to me. That was stupid on my part.”


After the emergency-room doctor delivered the stunning news that the heart attack was “massive,” Newcomb asked if he could say goodbye to his wife.

Instead of checking out, though, he dug in for a fight. The battle has been waged in slow and steady fashion, punctuated with encouraging victories, and has turned Newcomb’s life into the ultimate coach’s cliche--everything is measured day to day.

That’s not to say Newcomb, 55, doesn’t have plans. He intends to return for his 20th season as the Antelopes’ coach, and tonight he’ll take a low-profile approach to coaching the North in the inaugural High Desert Football Coaches Assn. all-star game. Kickoff is 7:30 at Palmdale High.

But Newcomb realizes his future in coaching is tenuous because of the toll his pressure-packed profession can have on a damaged heart. He missed the last 45 days of school following his coronary.

“I’m still not out of the woods,” he said. “Believe me, I could take [a treadmill] test in July and my doctor could say, ‘Hey, I don’t want you coaching.’ There is some stress in the coaching field.”

For someone who has hinted at retirement in the past, this would seem a perfect time for Newcomb to step down. With three Southern Section titles and six championship game appearances under his belt, there is little left for him to accomplish at Antelope Valley.


But he has no intentions of letting a younger man take over the football program, at least for now.

“It would have been the easy way for me to say the hell with everything, but I feel like I’m still pretty young and have a few years of coaching left in me,” he said. “I have all this knowledge. I want to relate it to the young kids.”

And then there is the matter of his survival. While never actually saying divine intervention played a role, Newcomb can’t help but think he was spared for a reason. Given a second chance to live a more healthy, stress-free life, he wants to be more than a spectator.

Those close to him have little doubt he’ll make a complete comeback.

“He’s a little bit different, but everyone knows he’s still there and he’ll get on you,” said Aaron Yost of Antelope Valley, who will play guard and defensive end for the North tonight. “He’s taking it a little bit easy and everyone respects that. . . . I didn’t think he would be out there.”

When Newcomb says he is lucky to be alive, he means it from the bottom of his, well, heart.

A spokeswoman for Dr. Anil Kumar, Newcomb’s cardiologist, said the coach’s left anterior defending--a branch of the left coronary artery--was severely blocked at the time of the heart attack.


“The LAD is the widow-maker, the artery of sudden death,” Newcomb said. “Something helped me get through it. If it was blocked as bad as it could be blocked, why didn’t I die?

“I don’t even have a scar. I’ve seen ex-coaches in the hospital after they’ve had heart attacks and how they were broken open and had staples put in their chests. Now that’s trauma. Even though my heart attack was life or death, I didn’t have my chest pulled open and my heart pulled out [for bypass surgery]. I was lucky.”

Two days after his attack, Newcomb underwent an angioplasty to help clear the clogged artery and a stent procedure that helps support the artery. Still, the weakened left ventricle of his heart now pumps 15% less blood than normal.

Newcomb’s heart condition has caused him to make drastic changes in his lifestyle:

* He is on a strict low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, instead of eating anything he likes, which he did before with great regularity. “Now if it tastes good, you don’t eat it,” he said.

* He walks an hour a day but is restricted from more strenuous activities such as running and weight lifting. He regrets giving up running 10 years ago, when he would log three to five miles a day.

* He must avoid stressful situations. Toward that end, Newcomb plans to delegate more responsibility to his assistant coaches and he will stop teaching physical education and move into the classroom to teach health.


Newcomb’s new regimen has produced encouraging results. He has dropped more than 25 pounds--from 217 to 190--on his 5-foot-9 1/2 frame and he has lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol to acceptable levels.

Family and friends have rallied around Newcomb, with wife Pam lending a supportive hand at home and his oldest son, Brandon, 26, returning to the area to join the Antelope Valley coaching staff and take over some of the offensive responsibilities from his father.

Wayne Ekimoto, who has coached with Newcomb for 16 years, the last three as defensive coordinator, said the heart attack served as a wake-up call for himself and other colleagues.

Ekimoto said that the routine of Antelope Valley coaches getting together on Thursday to have a few drinks the night before a game probably is a thing of the past.

“Maybe we’ll just have iced tea and ice water,” Ekimoto said. “I think everyone understands they have to start taking care of themselves.”

Ekimoto and the other Antelope assistants have two jobs in tonight’s High Desert all-star game--to run the show on the field for the North and to make sure Newcomb doesn’t get too emotionally involved on the sideline.


“I think he’s going to coach a little differently and try not to let things get to him,” Ekimoto said. “And if he does, there are enough of us around to remind him to take it easy.”

Which, Newcomb says, is exactly what he plans to do.

“I’m a cheerleader now and I’m not going to cheer very loud,” he said.


High Desert All-Star Football Game

* When: 7:30 tonight.

* Where: Palmdale High.

* Tickets: $3 in advance, $4 at gate. Available at Sheriff’s substation at Antelope Valley Mall (805-947-0558) and at Palmdale Playhouse (805-267-5685).

* Directions: Take 5 freeway north to 14 freeway east. Exit on Palmdale Boulevard and turn right. Travel to 20th Street and turn right. Travel to Avenue R and turn left. School is located at 2137 East Avenue R.



Quarterbacks: Jeremy Coleman (Palmdale), Mario Varela (Rosamond), Joel Robertson (Vasquez).

Receivers: Ken Grieco (Rosamond), Gabriel Reyes (Highland), Pat Opperman (Palmdale).

Running backs: Will Demps (Highland), Marcuss Fisher (Highland), Chris Smyres (Highland), Jan Brown (Palmdale), Shaun Griffin (Palmdale), Eric Nash (Rosamond), Gabe De La Rosa (Rosamond), Sean Maloney (Vasquez), Shannon Byrne (Antelope Valley Christian).

Offensive line: Corey King (Highland), Russell Hickey (Highland), Gerald Stowers (Highland), Drew Bledsoe (Palmdale), Vincent Sandoval (Palmdale), Steve Maher (Palmdale), David Jordan (Rosamond), Raymond Candelaria (Rosamond), Curtis Anderson (Vasquez).


Defensive line: Ashor Valibaba (Palmdale), Jacob Waasdorp (Quartz Hill), Tim Schank (Rosamond), Brandon Duzick (Vasquez).

Linebackers: Barron Gardner (Highland), Malachi Keddington (Highland), Malosi Leonard (Palmdale), Manny Flores (Palmdale), Mike Kott (Quartz Hill), Dan Mahoney (Vasquez).

Defensive backs: Marcus Prevost (Highland), Brent Nicholas (Quartz Hill), Carl Ligons (Antelope Valley Christian).

Head coach: Lin Parker (Highland).


Receivers: Tony Walker (Antelope Valley), Dan Marino (Littlerock), Frank Landano (Littlerock), Jesse Loa (Paraclete).

Running backs: Eric Mobley (Antelope Valley), K.C. Young (Mojave), Casey Jacoby (Bethel Christian), Jason Yi (Bethel Christian).

Linebackers: Gary Hardy (Antelope Valley), Aaron Yost (Antelope Valley), Ken Thomas (Antelope Valley), Doug Lewis (Littlerock), Matt Horner (Paraclete), Tim Klosterman (Paraclete).


Offensive line: James Deagon (Antelope Valley), Bryant Perez (Littlerock), Wes Pennsy (Littlerock), Chris Bones (Littlerock), Jason Hahne (Paraclete), Mike Funaki (Bethel Christian).

Defensive line: Brandon Bashem (Antelope Valley), Raffi Kaloosian (Littlerock), Jon Arellano (Paraclete).

Quarterback: Devon Reese (Littlerock).

Head coach: Brent Newcomb (Antelope Valley).