CORONA DEL MAR — At the end of the first day in helmet and pads, Coach Jason Hitchens brought up concussions to his Corona del Mar High football team. He mentioned the new CIF Southern Section rule dealing with head injuries.
Referees can now take players out of games if they believe they have concussion symptoms.
"If you get dizzy, feel nauseous and if you get headaches during the game, you've got to tell us," Hitchens told his players. "You're coming out of the game if you have these symptoms."
Hitchens felt similar symptoms in the second half of last season. Nothing alleviated the pain the way CdM closed out the season.
The Sea Kings lost five straight Pacific Coast League games, suffering their first winless league season in 12 years. CdM struggled scoring points and preventing teams from scoring.
Both of these areas must change for the Sea Kings to compete for a league title and return to the CIF Southern Section Southern Division playoffs.
The last league crown CdM won came in 1999. This might be the Sea Kings' best year to end the drought with perennial champion Laguna Hills no longer in the league.
Hitchens is not complaining about the departure of the Hawks, winners of league the past four seasons.
"I don't feel too bad," said Hitchens, whose team in the summer threw against Laguna Hills, which moved to the Sea View League. "They don't look too down to me."
Hitchens hopes the Sea Kings have lifted themselves up off the ground after last season.
Six starters return on offense and five on defense, but Hitchens truly believes team chemistry is the key to CdM's success.
CdM has 26 seniors this year, compared to nine the year before. Hitchens has noticed a difference with the team's morale with more experienced players.
The lack of team unity played a role in the Sea Kings' disappointing record of 4-6, 0-5 in league.
In his 22 years coaching on the high school level, Hitchens said he never experienced a season like the last one. After starting the season at 4-1, Hitchens called the finish to his second year at CdM depressing.
Hitchens did not expect the Sea Kings to finish last in league, not after leading CdM in his first year to a 10-3 record, a runner-up finish in league and a semifinal playoff berth. At worst, he thought last season's team was a third-place team, a playoff team.
"I don't know if it was like an entitlement thing," Hitchens said, "but I thought [in 2008], the kids didn't have any of that, and they actually earned it. They worked their way into the position where they were, the second-ranked team in the division, the No. 2 seed [in the playoffs]. The kids last year kind of just fell into that. I think they were kind of like on the coattails.
"We didn't have the same type of guys. Some of the things that we needed to do, and some of the leadership that we needed, we weren't really getting from the guys up top."
Hitchens said the players who were juniors last year are also to blame for the collapse.
Senior linebacker David Detrick does not want to see it happen again. The returning starter said the division between the upper and lower classes does not exist as it did last year.
Detrick got Hitchens' message.
"I told the juniors that are seniors now … 'You kind of let that happen. You guys could've taken more initiative and become more proactive than that,' " Hitchens said. "They kind of look back at that and they don't want to have that happen again. It's kind of like what we talked about, 'What do you want to put in your scrapbook in your senior year, 4-6?' "
That kind of record again can only give Hitchens a migraine.