While South Torrance High Coach Joe Austin was calling plays in a game a dozen years ago, his 6-year-old son, Brett, was being carted off the sideline to an ambulance.
As it turned out, the youngster was not ill. He was just taking his usual half-time nap. This time, however, he had failed to reach the grandstand and his mother's arms.
The team doctor, seeing the boy lying on the sideline, feared the worst. Brett recalls awakening as he was being loaded into the ambulance and saying: "I'm OK. I'm OK." But, he says now, "Everybody was too frantic about getting me to the hospital to listen."
These days Brett, a senior tight end/defensive end at South, is never asleep on the football field. He's far too alert to suit opponents.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 6, 1987 South Bay Edition Sports Part 3 Page 17 Column 5 Zones Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Some of the information on South Torrance's football team and tight end Brett Austin was incorrect in Thursday's sports section. The correct Spartans' records are 6-2 overall and 2-1 in the Bay League. They face Rolling Hills at 7:30 tonight at South. Austin has 23 receptions for 581 yards and 9 touchdowns.
He has 20 receptions for 485 yards and 7 touchdowns, is one of the Spartans' top tacklers and has helped South to a record of 5-1 overall and 2-0 and tied with North Torrance for first place in the Bay League going into Thursday's 2:45 game at Palos Verdes. Last season, Brett's 25 catches helped advance South to the semifinals of the CIF playoffs, the furthest a Joe Austin team has progressed.
One other thing has changed from his childhood: He's no longer called "Little Austin," a hated nicknamed bestowed upon him as the coach's son that followed him to his freshman year in high school.
Brett stands 6-5 and a lean 195 pounds, two inches taller than dad and not the kind of guy you'd want to call a name he didn't like.
Obviously, Brett has benefited from the coaching of his father, an intimidating player as a Spartan in the late '50s who later played at USC. At South, Joe holds the career scoring record in basketball, and that wasn't his best sport. Baseball was. A two-sport athlete at USC, Joe played two years in the Dodgers minor league system before deciding to coach football.
Brett's mother, a former song leader at South, helps her son in another way. She is just a fan and less critical of her son's performance than dad. "My mom," Brett says, "is so loud that I can hear her on the field with my helmet on."
And then there's Brett's uncle, Jeff, a Spartan who was drafted in the NFL by the San Francisco 49ers out of the University of Colorado.
"An ideal football family," notes the younger Austin, who is being recruited by the University of California and the Air Force Academy. "Around this time of the year--football season--our family life style is based around football."
Brett hopes to play football in college and a 3.1 grade-point average shouldn't frighten schools. Nor should his uncanny ability to stay out of trouble.
"My dad is an authority at school as a science teacher and football coach," Brett said. "There's no way I can get away with anything because he would immediately hear about it. In four years I have never missed a football practice and hardly missed a school day."
The elder Austin sympathizes: "He does have it bad. When I was in school I got in a lot more trouble."
How bad does Brett really have it as the son of his coach? Picture Brett coming home after a tough practice or game. He kicks off his shoes and settles onto the couch. And seated next to him? The coach! A father who has critical eyes on him for about 15 hours a week during practice, another 3 during a game. Then at home?
"I try not to bring the game home too much," Joe says. "And when I do, I try to say positive things, but I know I don't always do that. It's hard on me because if I get mad at him--unlike another player--I have to go home and face him."
And at home Brett has to face his coach, whom he calls dad at home and coach on the field. "I'll call him dad on the field and he won't answer," Brett said. "He likes coach because he wants to treat me like just another player."
Brett said his father definitely brings the game home, but he's not critical. Quizzical is a better word.
"We'll be sitting in the family room and he'll ask me things like what I do on a certain play," Brett said. "He makes sure I know every play.
"On Sundays before dinner, we watch game films of our next opponent and he asks me what defense the other team is in, what formations their offense is in and what all that means," said Brett, who has already watched the films with teammates from 8 to 12 on Saturday morning. "It's sort of a routine. I get bored watching games. I like playing."
Kathy Austin said she stays out of the football talk except after a game when Joe tells her how well Brett played.
"They get along real well, probably because both are mild-mannered," she said. "He knew what it would be like coaching Brett because he coached him in Pony League baseball and there were no problems. He also talked to other coaches who had coached their sons."
Father and son are not only alike in demeanor but also appearance. "Joe and I were at our 25th high school reunion," Kathy said. "We brought our kids along, and someone looked at him and said, 'There's Joe.' I had to tell them that was Brett."
The comparisons don't stop with appearance. Brett feels he has a tradition to follow in his father's and uncle's athletic accomplishments.
"He tells me to try to be as good as he was," Brett said. "But they didn't have films back then, so I don't know how good he was."