Mission Viejo High fans get back to football when the Diablos open their season against Santa Margarita and its boisterous student section.

Excitement builds for the best show in town


High school football again will create a sense of community across Orange County as the season begins in earnest this week.

The players’ family members will get to the games before pregame stretching. They will have those cell-phone cameras ready to record, as will the families of band members and cheerleaders. Students will show up, looking to re-connect with other students.

And there will be people at the stadiums who find that there is no better way to spend a Friday night than supporting the local high school football team.

Perhaps no Orange County community supports its local high school football team like San Clemente supports the San Clemente High football team.

It’s the only high school in the city. “One town, one team” is the mantra invoked by San Clemente football coach Jaime Ortiz whenever he has the opportunity. Every Twitter post from San Clemente High football has “#onetownoneteam” attached to it. Ortiz had been an assistant coach at Capistrano Valley and Aliso Niguel before he joined the coaching staff at San Clemente in 2000.

“I realized right away how special this football team and this school is from a community standpoint,” said Ortiz, who became the Tritons’ coach in 2012. “Not too many cities shut down Main Street for a high school homecoming parade, or even have a homecoming parade.”

San Clemente’s on-campus Thalassa Stadium – in Greek mythology, Thalassa is the goddess of the sea – usually is full to its capacity of 5,000 on game nights as it might be Friday when the Tritons play Oceanside in the season opener for both.

Ortiz said, “People who’ve never had a kid in our football program are at the games because they love supporting the team. At our scrimmage last week against El Toro, we had three parents there whose kids graduated from San Clemente 12 years ago.”

Student sections will be lively at high school football games this week. Student sections, where students stand (and occasionally sit), have become a huge social scene at Orange County high schools. The cheers are loud and organized, often humorous and generally positive.

Santa Margarita has a student section – “The Eagles Nest” – that is one of the most passionate in the county. Santa Margarita’s students will probably fill up a good portion of the visitor’s half of the stadium Friday when the Eagles play at Mission Viejo.

That’s an unusually high-quality matchup for opening week. Coaches sometimes prefer a less-challenging first game, given that these are high school kids and coaches are never certain what they’re going to get.

On one side of the field at Mission Viejo will be Bob Johnson, who has coached county football since the 1970s and has 315 career wins. He coached the Diablos to CIF-Southern Section and state championships last year as the team finished 16-0. On the other side of the field will be Rich Fisher, making his Santa Margarita coaching debut after many years as a college football assistant coach.

Mission Viejo is No. 2 in the Register’s Orange County preseason rankings. Santa Margarita is No. 4. (Those rankings will be part of a 16-page high school football preview section, “Kickoff 2016,” that will be included in the Register on Thursday.)

Mission Viejo is one of four O.C. teams that won CIF-SS football titles in 2015. Canyon, La Habra and Saddleback Valley Christian are the others.

Those teams’ championships made their communities proud. For communities that hope to experience that in 2016, the drama begins this week.

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