Southern California prep football teams are in for the long haul

To play high school football in Southern California, players have to fulfill some basic requirements, such as getting a physical and making sure they are academically eligible.

There is an added element if you want to play for Sherman Oaks Notre Dame this season. You’ll need a passport, because the Knights are headed to Ireland to play Hamilton High of Chandler, Ariz., on Aug. 31 in a journey that will rank as the longest trip any Southern Section school has traveled for a regular-season football game.

Don’t be surprised if China or Japan becomes the next destination for a high school team, because trips are becoming common.

Football teams from Southern California have traveled to New Jersey, Washington, Louisiana, Utah, Hawaii and Arizona in recent years for games. Coaches view trips as an opportunity for players to have a bonding experience.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Mission Viejo Coach Bob Johnson, whose team played in New Jersey last season.

Notre Dame has been fundraising for more than a year, and it’s still costing players $2,500 apiece for a five-day trip to Dublin that will feature some sightseeing along with attending the college game between Navy and Notre Dame.

“This was a unique opportunity to go to Europe,” Knights Coach Kevin Rooney said.

The biggest challenge will be making sure players don’t forget to bring everything they’ll need to play in a high school game. Each player will be responsible for packing his equipment.

“Everybody has a list what they’re supposed to pack and what you carry in a backpack,” Rooney said.

Rooney is also trying to figure out the best way to deal with jet lag. Players leave on a Tuesday afternoon and arrive Wednesday morning. “We hope they get some sleep on the way,” Rooney said.

There will be 70 players making the trip, along with 120 band members and 15 cheerleaders. Players will have a curfew and be expected to follow rules.

“It’s essentially giving the college experience in high school,” Rooney said.

One of the first teams to make an out-of-state trip this season will be Encino Crespi, which opens its season Aug. 18 against host Tucson Salpointe Catholic. The team will send its equipment the day before via a truck and trailer and fly the morning of the game.

The Celts have one important person in charge. Equipment manager Mike Odman spent nine years in the Army working logistics, so he’s well prepared.

“This is simple deployment,” he said. “We’re going on maneuvers.”

He’s calling it, “Operation Dove Tail.”

“Everything is going to come together in Arizona,” he said. “Piece of cake.”

Santa Margarita will open its season in Phoenix on Aug. 24 against Brophy College Prep on national TV.

Long Beach Poly and Gardena Serra will be traveling to games in Utah on Sept. 1. Organizers are paying for everything. Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village Westlake and Westlake Village Oaks Christian are traveling to Sacramento for games on Aug. 24-25.

Westlake will be taking a bus and staying two nights. The Warriors are taking 170 players, so Coach Jim Benkert’s main concern is figuring how many hotel rooms he needs and where he’s going to feed his players.

At least he doesn’t have to worry about his players needing a passport.