Steve Howard had heard all the rumors, so he wanted to clear up one thing before he pursued the head coaching job at Bolsa Grande. Was record-setting quarterback Doug Baughman going to play his senior season with the Matadors?
Once Howard was assured Baughman was staying, he decided he would be delighted to coach the Matadors.
Since when does one player make that much difference to a high school team? And since when does a high school player become a free agent during the off-season?
Well, when you pass for 4,729 yards and 57 touchdowns in two seasons and the team has only been to the playoffs once in 11 years, people start thinking your services might be more valuable at a school with a winning tradition.
Baughman is flattered people think that highly of him, but he was upset by talk that he would abandon his friends and school to play for a winner.
"It's only high school football," said Baughman, whose 569-yard effort against La Quinta in 1996 is the highest total in state history. "You don't recruit. I've liked my school. They gave me a start as a sophomore. It's a good school. It might not be great for football, but it has a lot of other things to offer. Plus, my brothers went here and it wouldn't be right to leave."
Although he wouldn't say who called to inquire about his availability, Baughman admitted he fielded "some interesting calls." Howard said it would be interesting to see how Baughman would fare at a traditional power, but he's glad he won't find out.
"Given the same supporting cast Carson Palmer had at Santa Margarita, Doug would do as good or better," Howard said. "His skills are as good as any kid I've seen in 22 years of coaching. He's got a good live arm for the long ball and he can throw with some touch. It's also nice to know he's got some loyalty to his school."
Another important quality Howard forgot to mention is durability. Baughman might have thrown for nearly 5,000 yards in two seasons, but he has paid for it dearly. Opponents quickly figured out Bolsa Grande was not going to run the ball, so they flushed Baughman out of the pocket with blitzes on almost every play.
Los Amigos Coach Roger Takahashi called Baughman a "courageous" player.
"He took some tremendous hits against us and he kept popping up," Takahashi said. "He never got up any slower and he never complained. The way he has to throw sometimes is probably not fundamentally sound, off his back foot and in the opposite direction, but it shows how strong his arm is."
It also shows how strong his will is.
"You see yourself on the ground and you know you have to get up," Baughman said. "You don't want to let down your team. That's also my sign to my mom that I'm OK. I have to pop up quickly. She worries about me."
In an effort to keep Baughman and his mom happy, Howard vows to do a better job of protecting his valuable commodity.
"There are two ways to stop people from blitzing on every down: Put some questions in their mind by developing a running game and have the offensive line protect him better when he does pass," Howard said.
That won't be easy because Baughman lost his favorite target, tight end Sam Baeder (52 receptions), and his three other top receivers to graduation. But after working out this summer with receivers Steve Jenks, Tam Huynh and Chris Chesmore, Baughman is confident he can continue to pile up the yards and the touchdown passes.
College scouts and historians will be watching. Baughman is being recruited by several Pacific 10 teams. His 57 touchdown passes are only 17 short of Todd Marinovich's career record for Orange County.