It’s 5:29 a.m. Thursday in La Mesa and a snap-you-awake forty eight levels. A crescent moon hangs in the dead of night sky. Helix Excessive’s soccer gamers, fifty seven complete, sure for a thirteen-hour bus experience to Sacramento to play a state championship soccer recreation at this time, arrive in numerous states of early-morning daze.
Carson Baker, sporting TOMS slippers, pajama pants and a skinny sweatshirt, demonstrates a quarterback’s preparedness. One backpack, which could exceed an airline’s most weight restrict, is reserved strictly for snacks.
“That factor is loaded!” cries defensive finish Jonathan Roots.
“Received my fluids in there,” explains Baker.
Lopaka Rojas, a Hawaiian who goes 6-ft-2, 305 kilos, opts for consolation, lugging a stuffed purple sheep greater than something you’ll see at a state truthful.
“I like stuffed animals,” says Rojas. “They’re extra snug to sleep with. My mother purchased me the sheep. I used to have a teddy bear.”
The Highlanders (thirteen-1), winners of 12 straight, face the Folsom Bulldogs (15-zero) at eight tonight at Sacramento State within the Division I-AA state championship. Atop a pedestal as soon as occupied by Oceanside, Helix is the present gold, silver and platinum commonplace of highschool soccer excellence within the San Diego Part.
Because the Open Division was established in 2013, the Scotties have performed within the final 4 championship video games, profitable two of them. By knocking off Mission Hills on this yr’s title recreation, Helix gained its ninth part title.
Remarkably, the soccer program has suffered one dropping season within the final forty two years.
Helix, the house of Reggie Bush and Alex Smith, owes its 4-decade dominance to a number of elements, the obvious being expertise, tradition, custom and the sheer, athletic-conceited perception that the workforce is meant to win soccer video games.
Says 6-foot-1, 250-pound middle Mathew Avi’i from the again of the bus carrying offensive gamers, “We’ve got a saying right here: Custom by no means graduates.”
Nestled in a hardscrabble part of La Mesa off College Avenue, Helix advantages from a various scholar enrollment. The 2016-17 scholar demographic was made up of forty eight % Hispanics, 20 % whites, sixteen % blacks and sixteen % labeled “different.”
That melting pot is right in soccer, the place a mix of ethnicities and expertise is useful in a sport unfold throughout 22 positions requiring numerous expertise.
A part of that sixteen % “different” in Helix’s enrollment are sturdy, muscular, soccer-mad Samoans, like Avi’i , center linebacker Tyreece Tarrant-Patane and sophomore operating again Elelyon “Fatto” Noa, who has rushed for 889 yards in 4 playoff video games.
“Samoans love bodily contact,” says Avi’i. “Most of us are humble and quiet and God-fearing. One factor about soccer, you get to actually present one other aspect of you. God blessed us with this recreation. We get to make use of this platform to do one thing larger in life.”
Two hours, forty minutes after the Helix buses edge out of the again parking zone, they pull in entrance of a Montebello lodge. The drivers change buses. Gamers step out, goofing off. Others dart to the toilet.
Baker, in socks with no footwear, begins operating in a zig-zag sample throughout the blacktop. He’s the quarterback CEO, all enterprise.
“We’ve simply been laying round a lot,” says Baker, who has thrown for two,410 yards and 33 TDs this season. “I assumed I’d as nicely run slightly bit, tire myself so I can sleep tonight.”
Again on the bus, “Struggle for the Planet of the Apes” performs on TV screens. The apes aren’t keen on Woody Harrelson.
Few soccer packages embrace traditions greater than the Highlanders. The Scotties stroll onto the sector behind their kilt-sporting, bagpipe-enjoying band, which is making the journey to Sacramento. The scene and sound are distinct.
“Each time I hear these bagpipes, one thing in my mind simply flips,” says Avi’i. “It’s recreation time. It provides me chills each time.”
Minutes earlier than kickoff, the group huddles tight and following the lead of its Samoan gamers, executes a Haka conflict cry just like New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby group.
“It’s a chant, calling our ancestors to return with us,” says Avi’i. “We’re getting ready our minds, physique and souls for coming to warfare, let the opposite staff know we’re coming for them.”
About six hours into the Sacramento haul, the Scotties pull off the freeway for a protection stroll-by way of at Bakersfield School. Donned in shorts and sweats, defenders assessment a number of alignments and stunts they’ve honed for Folsom.
Leaving the sector, head coach Robbie Owens breaks the information to defensive coordinator Damaja Jones that he’s been stealing 5 additional minutes of apply all week for the offense.
Says Jones, laughing, “What do you anticipate from the man who calls the offensive performs?”
Owens, forty four, in his second season as Helix’s coach, is the antithesis of the cliché, militant soccer coach. He smiles simply and sometimes. Music blares earlier than 7-on-7 passing league video games. He carries pursuits aside from soccer, together with writing a ebook on poker.
“I actually do take pleasure in enjoying for Robbie,” says cornerback/vast receiver Rashad Scott. “He makes it extra than simply soccer. He makes it a household. He pertains to everybody on the workforce.”
“The entire cause I’m a soccer coach is due to the influences coaches had on me,” says Owens, who was a highschool quarterback and small-school large receiver. “This recreation permits you a chance to show individuals issues about life.”
A former Highlander who performed underneath the architect of the Helix dynasty, Jim Arnaiz, visited Owens this yr and shared considered one of Arnaiz’s legacies. Arnaiz, who coached at Helix from 1973 to ’ninety nine, issued gamers canine tags that got here engraved with a selected theme for that season.
Owens heard of the custom final season, let it slip his thoughts however this yr, through the bye week earlier than the playoffs, he pounced. The tags are white. On one aspect it reads “Helix” with an image of the Scottie canine. On the opposite aspect it reads “Respect the Identify #win9.”
Beating Mission Hills earned the Highlanders that ninth part title. The gamers additionally took an oath, striving not solely to realize the aim, however to honor the Helix gamers who got here earlier than them.
“I really like the canine tags,” stated Scott, who has dedicated to San Diego State. “It actually opened my thoughts to the gamers who made the identical sacrifices means, approach earlier than us.”
Throughout lunch at a Bakersfield all-you-can-eat buffet, cornerback Isaac Taylor-Stuart steps to the entrance of the room and pretends to be answering press-convention questions. On a staff that landed 9 gamers on the All-CIF San Diego Part squads, Taylor-Stuart, a St. Augustine switch, shouldn’t be the Scotties’ greatest participant.
Scott was chosen the part’s Defensive Participant of the Yr. Taylor-Stuart, although, carries the group’s highest profile, together with greater than fifty seven,000 Twitter followers. He turned a little bit of an prompt highschool superstar final summer time when he gained forty-yard dash contests at two nationwide camps. At 6-ft-2, one hundred ninety kilos, he’s freakishly athletic.
He wlll be examined by Folsom, which averages forty eight factors and whose quarterback, junior Kaiden Bennett, has thrown fifty three landing passes.
“It’s going to be a problem,” says Taylor-Stuart, “nevertheless it’s nothing new to me.”
One of many nation’s most extremely recruited gamers, Taylor-Stuart has narrowed his school selection to 6 faculties: USC, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
He scoffs on the rumor he’s leaning towards USC.
“That’s simply Twitter speak,” he says. “I’ve obtained to do what’s greatest for me.”
Twelve hours after departing Helix at midnight, the Scotties have been nonetheless chugging alongside in the dead of night on state Route ninety nine. The temper was mild, laughter emanating from the again of the bus. A Sacramento barbecue restaurant hosted the Scotties for dinner.
There can be a evaluation in a lodge assembly room, sleep, a morning stroll-by means of at Sacramento State, then one remaining recreation.
A number of Web websites are choosing Folsom.
“They picked Mission Hills. They picked Oaks Christian,” says Owens.
He didn’t sound intimidated. Nor do his gamers. They hail from Helix. They put on canine tags. They didn’t sit on a bus greater than half a day to lose.
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS
Division 1-AA: Helix (thirteen-1) vs. Folsom (15-zero) at Sacramento State, eight p.m.
Division three-A: Half Moon Bay (14-zero) vs. Steele Canyon (eleven-four) at Southwestern School, 6 p.m.
Division four-A: Milpitas (thirteen-1) at EC Southwest (14-zero), 6 p.m.
Division 6-A: San Francisco Galileo (10-2) vs. Vincent Memorial (12-2) at Calexico Excessive, 6 p.m.
Norcross is a contract author.