There is belief, bonding and brotherhood deep in the trenches of the Trinity League, widely considered the most competitive high school football league in America.
The league has rightfully earned a reputation for producing NFL and Division 1 college players, but the characters and coaches are what truly make it fascinating. For the players, merely being a part of the Friday night lights can be a life-changing experience.
“We learn from our captains and coaches, such as learning how to overcome adversity,” Servite junior wide receiver and defensive back Terrell Bynum says. “Like tonight (Sept. 18), we won after being down, but we didn’t give up. It was fun to experience what it’s like to come back in that game.”
Amid the Xs and Os, however, are lightheartedness and a sense of playfulness, which sheds new light on the term “team spirit,” since the players spend most of their time as a team either practicing football or conditioning year-round in preparation for it.
After Servite rallied to defeat host Edison at Orange Coast College, 21-14, the Friars stood in respect as Edison played its postgame fight song, then the Friars lined up to perform their traditional Hut Drill, leading to a huge ovation from the visiting crowd. Servite players walked over to greet their fellow students from the edge of the stands, shaking hands and thanking them for their support and attending the game. The players then gathered in a huddle, took a knee and prayed. They followed that up with a solemn, Latin-based hymn, and the pack of brothers in the audience cheered again.
Finally, the players united again on the sideline and sang the theme song of “Gilligan’s Island.”
That’s right. The Servite players performed a rather impressive two-way variety show featuring the likes of Gilligan, Ginger, Mary Ann, the professor, the skipper, Thurston Howell III and his wife, “Lovey.” While none of the current Friars were around when the popular sitcom appeared on prime-time television from 1964-67, the song helps create teamwork for the players, and comes across as if the boys are ready for Broadway. (Servite has a large theatre auditorium on campus, so the drama students better watch out!)
“Coach (Glenn) Killingsworth says it would bond us together and it definitely has, and now it’s one of our fight songs,” Servite senior offensive lineman Nicholas Ramirez says. “At first, it was just a defensive linemen tradition to sing it, then the offensive linemen joined in, and then we decided to let the whole team in.”
Ramirez (6-foot-4, 241 pounds) was not one of the eight elected captains, but serves as a “lieutenant” on the team, a second tier of eight leaders.
One of the Servite captains, senior offensive lineman Alex Fernandez (6-1, 245), says it is important for the captains and lieutenants to show the way for the younger players.
“The younger players look to us for leadership,” Fernandez says. “Somewhere you want to be able to follow someone and have someone to look up to.”
Servite’s Hut Drill is mirrored by Mater Dei’s postgame team collaboration of timely body and helmet slaps and orchestrated movements and exercises, but the Friars started the tradition in 1972 under former coach George Dena.
“It is very important to get [the Hut Drill] right,” Ramirez says. “We do it because of tradition and to show our discipline. It’s an old tradition, and if you weren’t able to do the Hut Drill under [former] coach [Larry] Toner (in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s), then you wouldn’t be able to play football.”
Mater Dei’s football-rich tradition began in the 1950s, but since Bruce Rollinson took over as coach in 1989, the Monarchs have enjoyed national prominence.
“There’s no substitute for hard work, commitment and strength and development,” Rollinson says. “You create the effort. God controls the outcome.”
The Monarchs have rolled under Rollinson’s guidance to five CIF Southern Section championships, one state title and two USA Today national championships (1994 and ’96). Entering this year, Rollinson has compiled a 229-72-2 record at Mater Dei.
The Mater Dei program has been recognized with countless individual honors and players advancing to college and professional football, and Student Sports Magazine ranked the Monarchs among the Top 10 football programs in the nation.
But other Trinity League schools are on the rise, including JSerra, which defeated Mater Dei last season for the first time. JSerra coach Jim Hartigan was named Orange County Coach of the Year in 2014 after the Lions qualified for the CIF playoffs for the first time, won their first playoff game and reached 10 wins for the first time in school history.
Santa Margarita also qualified for the CIF playoffs last season under coach Rick Curtis, who is hoping to return the Eagles to national distinction.