Video: Recap - La Jolla Country Day vs. Arroyo 2016
See the Torreys in postseason action.
It's Dec. 17, 2016 and it's state championship game day in California.
On a beautiful, crisp, clear and sunny San Diego afternoon, I arrived at La Jolla Country Day (Calif.)
just before 2 p.m. to meet head football coach Tyler Hales, who is also an eighth-grade history teacher. He graciously allowed for me to shadow him as the Torreys played in their first state championship game.
After starting the season 0-1 with a loss to Iolani (Honolulu), the Torreys won the CIF San Diego Section Division 4 title on Dec. 2 with a 38-24 win over Santana (Santee, Calif.). The following week they beat Arroyo (El Monte, Calif.) 63-42 to earn the right to play for a state championship.They faced off against McClymonds (Oakland, Calif.) on Dec. 17.
I had an idea to follow a head coach around on the day of a major championship game like this. What a great way for fans, parents, alumni, and people from all walks of life to see what goes on "under the headset" for an entire day in the life of a head coach.
I send a big "Thank you" to coach Hales and the entire staff at La Jolla Country Day for allowing MaxPreps behind the scenes.2:02 p.m. -
Coach Hales walks me to a shaded table area in the heart of campus to meet the team for its pre-game meal. Like many teams around the nation, the booster club is there to feed the boys. On the menu is Italian fare from a local restaurant. Everything is set up and ready to go. Pasta, salad, breadsticks, cookies, bananas, Gatorade and water. "We feed the boys every single Friday; this year we've just had to organize a few more," Ana Reyes, a booster mom, explained. They didn't set a menu that included the two extra state playoff games. Hales said later that "Our booster club is a machine!"2:35 p.m. -
Part of the gig of working at a small school, LJCD has just 450 students, is that the coaches are asked to do many things and wear many hats. Partway through the team meal, the athletic director explains to Hales that some bleachers need to be moved on the field to accommodate the visiting team. Five assistant coaches jump up to make it happen. Hales doesn't even need to ask. Right away, I recognize this as a tremendous staff. Coaches without egos, willing to pitch in, no matter the job.
2:40 p.m. -
The players look like they are loose, like it is just another game today. I ask, and find out that their demeanor today is just like the last 15 weeks. They are focused, yet smiling. Determined, yet regular teenagers eating a meal with each other. Cracking some jokes, some students looking down at their phones, some more quiet than others. Coaches are talking about the San Diego State University bowl game victory. One of the coaches also serves as a JV basketball coach, and they played a game earlier in the day; he shares the results. 2:50 p.m. -
After the meal we walk to coach Hale's classroom. The campus is pristine. It serves children from Kindergarten through 12th grade. In fact, his Arizona-bound starting quarterback, Braxton Burmeister
, started at the school as a kindergartner. In Torrey language, he's considered a "lifer," a student who has only gone to one school their entire life. There are four of them on this team. Coach Hales used to teach at the elementary level, and first met some of these seniors in the third grade; then taught them again in the fifth grade, and eighth grade. He knows them well. 3:02 p.m. –
Thirty-nine kids dressed out, and they all packed into the classroom. Some in desks, some sitting on a counter, some sitting on the floor. Defensive Coordinator Tyler Roach passed out wristband cards to those who didn't get them previously. "We've been playing since Aug. 1, nothing is changing tonight." He reminded the kids of their keys and reminders, and of the running back alignment and how that dictates defensive alignment. He reviewed third-and-long assignments and keys. "Lock on to guys if the QB scrambles, they keep the play alive."3:08 p.m. -
Next, Offensive Coordinator Carmy Cesaire reminded players to check with officials, and to move fast. "I want to run these guys off the field. I want to be fast, be ready to go, line up in the same formation every time, and look for the call, quickly." Cesaire is a motivating individual. He is a passionate coach who cares far more about the student part of "student-athlete." He gave a quote that I loved as he concluded his remarks: "When you are between the lines, this game doesn't care who you are. The only thing that matters is that you block and tackle." The kids were silent.3:15 p.m. -
Robert Grasso is in his 11th year on the staff, he is the special teams coordinator. He gave a short talk. He reminded the kickoff team to stay in control as they sprint down the field. (About five hours later, they ended up giving up a return for a touchdown, their first one in six years.) "Guys, if they choose to kick PATs, we are going to block them, I promise you! Take those points off the board. Have the time of your life. I love you guys." 3: 21 p.m. -
Coach Hales showed a video from an Oakland newspaper's website of their opponent at practice. "They are ready to go back to Oakland with a state championship, that's their goal in coming down here." The classroom got quiet, and serious. Next, he showed a 12- minute video of highlights from the season. He made the video himself, finished it at 5:30 a.m.; it took 3 hours. Again, the joys of being in the small school environment. The kids loved the video, and it brought a lot of energy to the room. There were loud oohs and ahhs on big hits and touchdowns. "We are not asking you to do anything tonight that you haven't been doing since Aug 1. Go out and have a great night with your friends. Let's go get that big old trophy," Hales said. The kids wanted to watch a few videos on YouTube, one from Friday Night Lights about being perfect. Then they brought up a classic scene from "Any Given Sunday," a speech by Al Pacino. "Inch by inch, play by play until we finish." The teenagers leave the room filled with energy and bravado. They go to the locker room to get ready.
3:40 p.m. -
Some assistant coaches go to get a quick 30 minute workout in. The three coordinators and Hales remain in the classroom. They spoke about team chemistry. "This group has been solidified since before their ninth-grade year," Hales said. They discussed overtime possibility, what their strategy will be, and they talked about the other state bowl game results from the previous night and the current day. "SoCal seems to be cleaning up," one coach said.4:10 p.m. -
A player calls Coach Hales from the locker room. He has a different color of tights than the rest of the team has. Hales doesn't like it, but concedes, "Only because it is the last game." 4: 20 p.m. -
Coach Hales locked up his classroom, and we went to the coach's office. I asked how he landed at La Jolla Country Day. He tells me about moving to Southern California without a job in hand, his wife a medical student. Neither one of them had a job upon their move. He ended up substitute teaching all over San Diego County, and coaching the junior high flag football "B" team in 2006. Fast forward 10 years, and he's the head coach of this state championship qualifier. "I hope to never leave," he said.4:30 p.m. -
The opponent arrives, and Coach Hales shakes some of the hands of the coaches. The team walks by and a few of LJCD's assistants measure them up and down, giving them the "eyeball test," as some coaches call it.4:40 p.m. -
The walls of the coach's office are overflowing with pictures and plaques of a tradition filled with athletic excellence. Coaches are in all different stages of dress. They are hydrating with water and Gatorade. Some are on their phones, one reads a newspaper, a few are studying their play cards, and one is watching a bowl game on his computer. The music from the locker room next door is thumping. Hales unpacks his bag, and goes to get dressed.5:05 p.m. -
Hales goes to the athletic training room and finds that there are still two kids getting taped. The rest of the kids are dressed and waiting in the locker room. Hales appears nervous for the first time all day as he paces outside, waiting for the last two kids to finish with the trainer.5:15 p.m. -
After some last-minute words of encouragement from the three coordinators and Hales, as well as a few team captains, the Torreys leave their locker room to make the five-minute walk across their campus to the field. They go in two lines.5:18 p.m. -
Coach Hales tells me the team is ready. "I would be scared if they weren't yelling and hollering like this, that's who they are." He said that the one game they weren't acting like that beforehand, they came out flat, and ended up losing to Bishops. That team is also playing for a state championship tonight. They are also in La Jolla. Yes, that's how tough their league is. Two teams from the same league, but in different playoff divisions, made it to state championship games.5:24 p.m. -
Hales hugs some moms and dads, high-fives some little kids, and shakes the hands of snack bar workers through the windows. It is obvious that he is a well-respected man on campus.
5:31 p.m. -
Before each game, the head coach meets with the officiating crew. It is no different tonight. The officials go through their regular litany of questions and Hales explains some trick plays that they have in their back pocket. He explains that their offense likes to move quickly, and asks them to work with him on that. "Our kids will wait for you to signal ready, they will hand you the ball after every play." He tells the officials that they want the ball if they win the coin toss.
5:48 p.m. -
Hales watches the offense fine-tune. "They are ready," he claimed. "Be ready at the run-through in two minutes, go get water." The team heads to the sidelines to get water before heading to the end zone. Hales shares some last-minute thoughts with the coaching staff.6:16 p.m. -
The first score comes after a costly fumble by LCJD. McClymonds takes the early lead, 8-0 at 5:41 in the first quarter. Hales expresses frustration, but also claps his defense to the sidelines, and encourages them to "finish plays." They are having a hard time stopping a strong running game already. Thus his encouragement to finish. 6:27 p.m. -
Hales jumps high when the Torreys recover a bad snap on the 35-yard line of their opponent. A short field will surely yield some points soon. Sure enough, just three minutes later they score. And one of the first big in-game decisions arises.The Torreys are down 8-6 with 52 seconds on the clock in the first quarter. Do they go for two to tie the game, or just kick the extra point? Hales explains, "We won't chase pats (point after touchdown) early. Our special teams coordinator always has that 2-point chart, but we expect to score more than one touchdown. So, we aren't going to go for two early in the game like that. If it was later in the game, and it's a two-point game, you bet we are going to go for it."6:42 p.m. -
Hales checks in with his special teams coordinator (Coach Grasso) about the length of the field goal kicker tonight. They discuss what yard line they need to get to, as the offense is hiccuping near the 40-yard line. They come to an agreement of where they need to get to. There is 8:44 left on the clock in the second quarter.6:51 p.m. -
Sometimes, the head coach needs to get the attention of the officiating crew. Coach Hales stands right behind the side judge, and shares some thoughts with him about what is and what is not holding, and why it is not being called more tonight. 6:52 p.m. -
McClymonds scores to go up 14-7 but there is an unsportsmanlike flag on the offense. An assistant yells for Hales' attention because the athletic trainer is describing a finger injury of one of the players. "Coach, coach, coach, Hales, Hales, Hales." He's being pulled in two directions, but the yelling coach gets his immediate attention. Another choice for Hales. "Put them on the 18 or take the penalty on the kickoff?" That's the question at hand. The opponent doesn't have a very good kicker, they are going for two. So, Hales puts them back. It proves too many yards to overcome, and the 2-point conversion fails. McClymonds 14, LJCD 7. That made it a one possession game instead of two, a key decision by Hales to take the penalty on the try. It's a choice he had per NFHS rules, to take it on the try or the kickoff. Hales told me "We liked making them go for that 2-point play to keep the game within seven, especially since they weren't kicking deep on kickoffs."7:02 p.m. -
Another McClymonds fumble brings jubilation to the Torreys' sideline and Hales high-fives the defense and specifically looks for the kid who recovered the pigskin. 7:05 p.m. -
The Torreys make quick work of the fumble recovery, and score to tie the game at 14 with 21 seconds left in the half. Hales throws two fists to the air, arms extended. He is excited. It's a new game. He congratulates every player coming off the field with words and high-fives. 7:07 p.m. -
The joy doesn't last long on the LJCD sideline. On the ensuing kickoff, McClymonds returns the ball about 80 yards for a touchdown. They take a 20-14 lead into the locker room. The Torreys get flat quick, a direct 180 of the jubilation just two minutes ago when they tied up the game. That's the game of football, it's a roller coaster. The exact thing that coach Grasso, the special teams coordinator, told the kids four hours ago in the meeting room "Stay under control," did not happen. 7:13 p.m. -
Hales gets his coaching staff together. They stay in the end zone. The buildings are too far away to walk to. I'm very impressed with the communication. Coach Roach, the defensive coordinator, speaks first. He talks about making an adjustment, and the fact that a few kids are going to have step up to stop the offense. Next is coach Cesaire, the offensive coordinator. He discusses the flow of the offense, the speed of the defensive line, and what they need to do. After a few minutes of the coordinators, and a few assistants talking, Hales sums it up, and tells the coaches what he is going to tell the kids. They all agree. Hales asks his assistants for a lot of input throughout the year, it is the same on game night. They are one heartbeat, a very cohesive unit.7:18 p.m. -
Hales walks to the team, but his son wants a hug first. He is not even knee-high. He has zero clue of the magnitude of this game. He just wants some love from dad. The son gets picked up and then he gets a big bear hug and a kiss on the cheek. Son doesn't want to let go, so coach Hales carries him to the meeting with the team. Hales takes fatherhood seriously. Somebody approaches Hales and tells him that "They can't find the ball used for the PAT." His response: "Find it!"7:21 p.m. -
Hales shares a few thoughts with the team and concludes with "Seniors, you have 24 minutes of football left ever on this field." Walking back to the sidelines, I ask for Hales thoughts so far. "We have to play our game. We just didn't execute and weren't making plays offensively. Plays we usually make. I told our guys, we have to do our thing. It wasn't our best half of football this year. We gotta play the way we are able to, and we will be alright. The kickoff definitely hurt. We gotta get a stop right now, and then let the offense do their thing. They are trying to be tough on the receivers, bringing some heat with their linebackers. Definitely makes it harder, we need some guys to step up and make some plays, we just haven't done that consistently enough yet."7:37 p.m. -
The Torreys take over after stopping McClymonds on the first drive of the second half. They get the ball on their own 48-yard line. However, their drive stalls. 7:42 p.m. -
Coach Hales seeks out his offensive coordinator. They powwow about the next series. Hales gives him a few thoughts about moving the ball as McClymonds drives the ball all the way to the 2-yard line. Hales now moves toward that end zone, and yells for his defense to make a play, just one stop here. They do, and the Torreys take over on their own 1-yard line.7:52 p.m. -
It's another tough decision here for the head coach. Third quarter, just 1:15 on the clock. Neither team has scored. It remains 20-14 in favor of McClymonds. Facing a crucial fourth-and-goal on the 14-yard line, after a quick discussion with his staff, Hales opts for a 31-yard field goal. "The field goal was a tough decision. We would love a touchdown there. But two straight negative plays making it fourth-and-goal from 14, I felt like we needed to take the three points, and cut it to -three point game. Had we been inside the 9, probably would have gone for the touchdown," Hales explained after the game. "Getting us within three made me feel good there. I also felt confident that we'd have more chances to get in the in their zone."7:59 p.m. -
I've been with Coach Hales for six hours. He is still as jubilant as he was when I first met him as he throws four fingers in the air, and his players follow. "Fourth quarter, this is it, let's go!"8:06 p.m. -
The Torreys take over on their own 20, there is 8:28 on the clock remaining on the season, and the score is still 20-17 in McClymonds' favor. 8:11 p.m. -
After turning over the ball, and sensing a bit of a let down by his team, Hales brings the whole group together. "Let's finish! Let's finish this thing boys!" There is 7:35 on the clock, and McClymonds has the ball on the Torreys' 35-yard line.8:19 p.m. -
The defense holds again. They have played very, very tough tonight. They don't allow any points after halftime. They get the ball back for the offense, there is 2:57 on the clock. This might be their last chance. Hales paces. The first play is a 17-yard loss. 8:26 p.m. -
The Torreys' season comes to an end with an interception. Hales bends over, puts both hands on his knees, his head down. He's completely still for about five seconds. The air is out of the balloon. Then he realizes that he has teenagers to console. He figuratively takes off his coaching hat, and puts on his counseling hat, something all great high school coaches have to do. He gives a big hug to that Division 1-bound quarterback whom he has known since third grade. The two embrace. There are tears.8:35 p.m. -
After a short presentation, coach Hales holds the smaller of the two wooden California-shaped trophies. Not the one they wanted. He is very proud of this team nonetheless. "You've done something no other team in La Jolla Country Day Football history has ever done." His son wants a hug again, so he picks him up in the middle of the post-game pep talk. 8:42 p.m. -
Players embrace coaches, coaches embraces spouses, players embrace players, administrators embrace players and coaches. There is nothing but love and support for these kids. Hales spends time with every single kid on the field. He gives two interviews to crews with TV cameras, all while holding his child. Forty-five minutes later, coach Hales and coach Cesaire are the last two on the field. Their pace leaving the field is much slower than their pace coming onto the field four hours ago. They meet the rest of the staff just a few blocks away at a local eatery. Win or lose, they always end up here. They spend time debriefing about the year. Laughing, thinking, rejoicing, wondering what might have been, talking about the woulda, coulda and shouldas. The discussion then turns toward the new Torreys team, the 2017 edition. 11:32 p.m. -
It's a rare night that Mrs. Hales gets to join her husband with the rest of the staff. On this night though, it's most definitely appreciated that they have a sitter. After a tough loss like this, only a spouse knows the perfect thing to say. And she says it. She reminds him about the big picture, brings perspective to the situation like only a coach's wife knows how to do.
And just like that, the clock strikes midnight, and the 2016 La Jolla Country Day football season is in the books - the history books. Chris Fore is a veteran Head Football Coach and Athletic Director from Southern California. He consults coaches and programs nationwide through his business Eight Laces Consulting.