Week 3 of the reconstruction era for the Charter Oak High School football program begins with a feeling of atonement, a very good start under the circumstances. Complete redemption may not be far behind.
This is a team that is giving new meaning to the term rebuilding year . Since winning the Southeastern Conference title with a 13-0 record two years ago, scoring the third-most points in Southern Section history, the Chargers have lost more than just games. They've lost their history.
At least the on-the-field losses are explainable--nearly all the starters from the championship team graduated, sending Charter Oak to a 1-9 record in 1986. The Covina school had the chance to feel what it was like to be routed instead of doing the routing.
But what happened in the early morning of July 28 was, and still is, incomprehensible to coaches and players.
On that morning, a former Charter Oak student allegedly broke into the office of Coach Lou Farrar and took two sodas from the refrigerator, two video tapes and two bandages--then set the place afire. Farrar said the suspect, who is scheduled to face trial later this month, apparently had no motive.
The fire caused $40,000 damage, including $9,000 of the coach's property, such as a microwave oven, a typewriter, a VCR and a color TV set.
But the damage goes far beyond the monetary loss. Tapes of the championship season, including the title game against Diamond Bar; clippings, trophies and plaques, team photos, play books, game plans and scouting reports that Farrar had meticulously saved since his days as a player at Charter Oak were destroyed.
"Those kids from the teams a couple years ago call and say, 'Coach, you mean we're not going to see ourselves play again?' " Farrar said. "I feel like a creep having to tell them no."
Out of the rubble and ashes, literally and figuratively, came some positives.
One was the help offered by coaches at other schools. Bob Baiz at Claremont offered the use of his office as a temporary base of operations for the Charter Oak staff, and Richard Shelbourne at San Dimas and Dewayne DeSpain at Los Altos made copies of tapes and other memorabilia from games past.
The other was a renewed spirit among the players, which paid off in a big way last Friday with an upset victory over 13th-ranked Colton, 26-24, pushing the Chargers' record to 2-0 and giving them a big measure of revenge. When the teams met last year, Charter Oak lost the game and six starters to injuries, five of whom missed the rest of the year, prompting Farrar to try to drop the Yellowjackets from the 1987 schedule. The players talked him out of it.
"We had the prairie dog syndrome," Farrar said. "Every time you came out and took a step, someone would roll a wagon wheel over you."
Added offensive coordinator Mark Birnbaum, Farrar's longtime assistant: "What else could people in life have done to step on this program? These kids dedicated themselves to say, 'We're not losers. (The fire) was the rock bottom. . . . I think we rallied around it."
Charter Oak came back from a 16-0 second-quarter deficit to win last Friday. The Chargers were down, 24-20, with 6 minutes 37 seconds left in the game when quarterback John Strycula, a three-year starter, engineered a 79-yard, 17-play drive, three times converting on fourth down.
On fourth and three from the Colton 21 with no timeouts remaining, Strycula rolled out to the right and threw to wide receiver Scott McLean in the left side of the end zone for the game winner with 26 seconds left.
Strycula, who passed for 315 yards in the season opener against Bonita, had 163 yards against Colton.
So, as Farrar runs the program out of a briefcase and his classroom, the prairie dogs are roaming with pride again. The fire in July apparently will keep the fire of September, October, November and December burning bright.
"It seems that out of all the rubble and the harassment, the kids are pointed in the right direction," Farrar said. "That has been the saving grace."
The City football season will begin Friday, two weeks after the Southern Section's start, which could make for some interesting intersectional openers.
For example, Carson would likely be a solid favorite over Lynwood and Banning over Muir, but the two-week head start could make a difference. On top of that, Lynwood (2-0) has played well in its games and Banning is something of an unknown quantity with a new coach, John Hazelton, taking over for Chris Ferragamo.
"It would take a lot of negatives things to knock Banning off track," said Hazelton, the former Montclair Prep coach who spent last season as a volunteer assistant at USC. "And in my regime, that's not going to happen. . . . Banning's Banning, and I'm going to keep it going."
Times' Top 15
No. School, League Record 1. Fontana, Citrus Belt 2-0-0 2. Crespi, Del Rey 1-0-1 3. Eisenhower, Citrus Belt 2-0-0 4. Bishop Amat, Angelus 2-0-0 5. Capistrano Valley, South Coast 2-0-0 6. El Toro, South Coast 2-0-0 7. Loyola, Del Rey 2-0-0 8. Antelope Valley, Golden 2-0-0 9. Redlands, Citrus Belt 1-0-1 10. Beverly Hills, Ocean 2-0-0 11. Palmdale, Golden 1-1-0 12. Hart, Foothill 1-1-0 13. Burbank Burroughs, Foothill 2-0-0 14. Thousand Oaks, Marmonte 2-0-0 15. Santa Ana, Century 1-1-0