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Eagles becoming Diablos? Just a sign of the times

OCVARSITY.COM

"Hey, Santa Margarita Eagles! You're CIF state champions! What are you going to do now?"

"We're going to Mission Viejo!"

OK, not all of them. But three key contributors to last year's CIF section and state football championships at Santa Margarita left the school recently and enrolled at Mission Viejo.

Erik Bunte is the latest of three student-athletes who were counted upon to be important contributors to this year's Santa Margarita football team who have transferred to Mission Viejo. Bunte, a 6-foot-7, 323-pound offensive tackle who committed to UCLA, transferred to Mission Viejo this week. As of Thursday mid-afternoon, transfer paperwork that could make him athletically eligible at Mission Viejo had not been processed by the CIF-Southern Section office.

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In early August, receiver Sean Modster and running back Alex Suchesk, both All-Trinity League last year at Santa Margarita, transferred to Mission Viejo. Readers might remember that several years ago quarterback Mark Sanchez – that's right, the USC-New York Jets guy -- transferred from Santa Margarita to Mission Viejo. This year's Mission Viejo quarterback, Ian Fieber, transferred from Orange Lutheran.

Bunte, Fieber, Modster and Suchesk, like every other transferred student-athlete, only had to make a change of residence to become eligible at their new school. Even when a season is underway, a student-athlete can transfer and gain eligibility at the new school. In recent years, a transfer that could be evaluated as athletically motivated, in whole or in part, would deny eligibility to the student-athlete, but that language has been eliminated from the rules.

The CIF is very much a self-policing organization, relying upon its member schools when it comes to eligibility issues or reporting infractions that could lead to forfeitures. Once the new school verifies that the change of residence is valid and the old school confirms that the new school adhered to rules prohibiting any inducements to transfer, then the CIF grants athletic eligibility to the student-athlete.

It is difficult to get an on-the-record cause as to why these talented players moved from Santa Margarita to Mission Viejo, just as it is for other transfers in other sports at other schools. Each transfer has his or her own story.

Two things we do know ...

1. The amount of commitment required of football players, in practice time and film study, in the Trinity League is close to crazy.

It's a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses world. One school's athletic program and the coach have high level of demands, so the other coaches and programs often feel they must have the same in order to compete.

Thus it is almost commonplace that Trinity League football kids get home well after dark, even before days shorten as winter approaches. They then must take on the plentiful study and homework that are part of the private-school experience. That can burn kids out on the private-school football experience.

Because of that, it has happened that when a Trinity League team is eliminated in the playoffs, players are as much relieved as they are disappointed. That's not good.

2. Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch is demanding.

Yes, all coaches are demanding. Some are more demanding than others, and Welch falls firmly into this category. Welch ironically enough, will be at Mission Viejo High today -- Santa Margarita plays Trabuco Hills there in what will be Welch's 300th game as a high school football head coach.

3. Public school is more affordable than private school. But that likely is a very minor angle here.

So we have an unusual number of football transfers going from one specific school to another specific school.

Of course, a sad part of the transfer of any top athlete from one school to another is that athlete likely will take over the starting position of a student who has been at the school and in the athletic program since the freshman year. That student has done everything required to earn that starting position. Suddenly, there's a new kid in town.

The transfers of the three Santa Margarita players put Mission Viejo and its football coach Bob Johnson in an awkward position. A public school cannot deny admission to a qualified student in its attendance area. And if Johnson said, sorry, you can't be on the team, well, there are not enough visitor parking spaces at Mission Viejo High for all of the lawyers who would love to represent the student-athlete in the ensuing lawsuit.

Johnson? He misses the old days.

"Things were different in the '60s, the '70s, the '80s and even into some of the '90s," Johnson said. "But this stuff has taken off, it's happening more and more and we have no control over it. You have no choice but to flow with it."

And there is a flow of football players, from Santa Margarita to Mission Viejo.

Mission Viejo can't claim to be "the happiest place on Earth." But for some football players and their families, it is a more pleasant place than others.


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