Bret Johnson, El Toro High School's gifted quarterback, learned to live with the teasing he received from his teammates last season as the son of the head coach. Westminster cornerback Brian O'Hara thought some would think he made the varsity team this season because of father.
Johnson and O'Hara, both juniors, start for two of Orange County's top-ranked teams. They are honor students with grade-point averages above 3.5. They also share the same last name as their teams' head coaches.
And when dad's the coach, there are certain assumptions. First, his son must be pretty good, right? After all, he's been watching game films and going to games since he was old enough to walk. Dad wore out three footballs playing catch with him in the backyard.
Second, no matter how good the kid is, there's always somebody who can think of only one reason why a coach's son is starting. Dad is in charge.
Finally, it's assumed the kid gets preferential treatment. The coach will discipline any member of the team at any time, except his own son.
Dad, or in this case El Toro's Bob Johnson and Westminster's Jim O'Hara, say it isn't so. Neither pushed his son into the sport, and both readily admit they are harder on their sons than they are on any other member of the team.
"My wife (Debbie) and I totally supported Bret in whatever he chose to do," Johnson said. "When I say support, one of us was there for every one of his games. We were always there to encourage him. But we never pushed him into anything."
O'Hara said he learned a valuable lesson 15 years ago about youngsters and athletics.
"When I first came to Westminster, I was the athletic director," he said. "I used to contact the feeder junior highs and have the coaches rate the top kids in all sports that would be attending Westminster High.
"Every year, there seemed to be five or six top kids who didn't come out for sports once they got here. When I would ask them why, almost every one of them said they had been pushed so hard in sports that they were burned out. I wasn't going to do that to Brian."
So Brian O'Hara never played a down of organized football until he enrolled at Westminster. He played baseball and soccer as a youngster.
"I was a ball boy one year for my dad at Santa Ana Valley and I liked watching football on TV, but I was never really interested in playing football, " he said.
Bret Johnson began playing quarterback as a 9-year-old in a Junior All-American program, but he stopped playing when he reached the seventh grade. Johnson was too busy playing about 80 games a year for the South Coast traveling all-star basketball team.
Johnson, 6-feet 1-inch and 170 pounds, is among the county's top quarterbacks with 357 yards passing and 4 touchdowns. Last year as a sophomore, he passed for more than 2,000 yards.
O'Hara is a cornerback and backup quarterback for the Lions. The 5-11, 184-pounder showed plenty of speed when he broke for a 57-yard touchdown run against Irvine last week.
Tonight, O'Hara will be one of 11 Lion defenders trying to contain Johnson and the Chargers' passing attack when the Lions play host to El Toro at Westminster High.
Initially, Bret Johnson had a communication problem with his father when football drills began last season. He didn't know what to call him.
"I tried calling him coach for a couple of weeks and it didn't feel right," Bret said. "He's my dad first and then a coach. I felt uncomfortable calling him coach, so it's dad.
"A couple of the seniors used to tease me about it. They made up songs and got on me. I think that ended after we beat Capo and Mission."
Brian O'Hara, who earned a varsity letter as a sophomore on the wrestling team and won the Sunset League's junior varsity 330-meter intermediate hurdles title in track, wondered about playing for his father.
"It's a little hard playing for your dad," he said. "Before the season, I thought if I made the team, some people would think I made the team because of my dad."
If anything, Jim O'Hara disciplines his son more than any other member of the team. He's the first one to admit it.
"I probably bark at him more than the others," he said. "The other day, one of the players was complaining that he was being picked on. I asked him to name the one player on the team who gets picked on the most. He said, 'Brian.'
"Sometimes, I catch myself trying not to be so tough on him. It's a Jekyll and Hyde situation. On the field, I'm his coach. When we get home, I'm his dad."
Johnson also wonders if he's too strict with his son.
"Emotionally, I sometimes go overboard too quick," he said. "I might be too strict sometimes. I'm tougher on him than anyone else on the team. I also ask more of him than any other quarterback we've had, and we've had some good ones."
Despite their uncertainity about handling their sons on the football field, Bob Johnson and Jim O'Hara enjoy their dual roles.
"This is the most fun I've ever had coaching," Johnson said. "It's been great. I know I put a lot of pressure on Bret, so sometimes I wonder if he knows that I feel that way. But I couldn't be happier."
Said O'Hara: "I think it is a very positive experience being in the same football program together. But I don't think it's healthy that I'm the defensive back coach and that's the position that Brian plays.
"I find myself moving to the other side of the field sometimes when I get down on him, but then I realize that I'm supposed to be coaching."