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Mater Dei's Rollinson is football coach of the year
SANTA ANA – An exasperated Bruce Rollinson sat in his Mater Dei office for four to five hours on a Saturday morning last fall, the football coach needing quiet in the absence of peace. The night before, the Monarchs' 2011 season had come to an end, on the last day of the regular season, before the playoffs had even started.
It was a first for Rollinson since being hired in 1989.
"I immediately went into a self-evaluation, I went into a program evaluation," Rollinson said. "Just myself, nobody else."
Some were saying the game had passed him by, even calling for his job. Never mind that Rollinson, 63, had turned Mater Dei into one of the most decorated programs in the nation over the past two decades, winning more than 200 games, 14 league titles and five CIF-SS titles.
The Monarchs' 4-6 mark in 2011 was their first losing campaign in 30 years, and only their fifth overall since the program commenced in 1951.
Twelve months after missing the postseason, the Monarchs went 11-3 and reached the Pac-5 Division championship game. Rollinson, who has been selected the Orange County Register's 2012 coach of the year, said he got the Monarchs there the only way he knew how.
"I went to work," Rollinson said.
All-County football: First team
All-County football: Second team
All-County football: Third team
All-County football: Mater Dei's Duarte is offensive player of the year
All-County football: Mission Viejo's Redfield is defensive player of the year
All-County football: Photos from the All-County football awards show
Rollinson started by restructuring everything, from how the team trained to what the players ate. He devised a system that called on the players to police themselves through offseason workouts, in hopes of mitigating the absence of full-time teachers on the football staff, a stark change from Rollinson's first decade at Mater Dei.
"He really put a lot of responsibility on the captains," senior receiver/defensive end Thomas Duarte said. "He gave us the reins of the team. If there was a problem, he'd say, 'You guys figure it out. This is your team. I want you guys to fix it.'"
Rollinson said the X's and O's were "the one thing that didn't change," the Monarchs committing to their traditional "30" defense and balance on offense. Rollinson instead saw a greater need to rebuild the team's confidence, noticing the residual effects of doubt given the program's struggles.
Trinity League foes Santa Margarita, Servite and Orange Lutheran had all won CIF-SS and state titles in the past few seasons. Mater Dei hadn't won so much as an outright league title.
Rollinson, ever the motivator, harked back on his time as a Monarch (Class of '67) and ingrained it in his team that this was the beginning of a "new era."
"He told us Mater Dei football belongs at the top," Duarte said. "There was no game where you felt like he wasn't 100 percent backing you. Every game he'd tell us he wishes he was going in with us.
"To have an ex-player as a coach and see the emotions that run through him, and how bad he wants to wear the stripes again, it really motivates you."
The Monarchs went on to beat Edison, the eventual Southwest Division champion, Santa Margarita, and archrival Servite for the first time in four years, while finishing second in the Trinity League.
The week of Mater Dei's first-round playoff game, Rollinson made what he described as "one of the most difficult decisions" in 24 years of coaching, switching starting quarterbacks, from senior incumbent Ryan McMahon to junior Chase Forrest.
In the second round, Mater Dei rallied from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun Alemany of Mission Hills. The following week, the Monarchs upset top-seeded St. Bonaventure of Ventura, 21-0. It was the first time the Seraphs had been shut out since 1994.
The Monarchs' 2012 comeback tour officially ended Dec. 1 in a loss to Long Beach Poly in the Pac-5 finals.
A "reinvigorated" Rollinson promised the three-striped reign is far from over.
"Because of what this senior class did, we now have the framework and groundwork for years to come," Rollinson said. "The kids now know what it takes to get to December, they know the commitment, they know the physical, emotional and mental toll. They got a taste. It was fun to be back in the show. There's no reason why, with a lot of hard work, we can't make a run at it again."
Rollinson has already started on that.