El Toro High School's football program has developed some big-name players over the past three years, establishing the Chargers as one of the top teams in the state with a 33-6 record.
Tackle Scott Spalding, linebacker Scott Ross, wide receiver Scott Miller and quarterback Bret Johnson were all-county players on the Chargers' championship team that finished 14-0 in 1986.
But there also have been some unsung heroes who have played key roles. Adam Brass, a versatile athlete who has played defensive back, wide receiver and tailback, often goes unnoticed. But Brass, a senior, has been one of the team's steadiest players for the past three years.
Brass rarely leaves the field during games. He calls the defensive backfield formations as the starting free safety and has intercepted four passes this season, 16 since he broke into the starting lineup as a sophomore cornerback. He became the team's starting tailback five weeks ago when Coach Bob Johnson decided the Chargers needed more speed in their backfield.
He also returns punts and kickoffs and averages 38 yards as the team's punter.
"Adam has been so important to our program over the past three years, I don't know what I'm going to do without him," Johnson said. "He's made some big, big plays for us in crucial situations."
Brass figures to get the biggest test of his career beginning at 7:30 tonight, when the Chargers will meet Santa Ana in the semifinals of the Southern Conference playoffs in Santa Ana Stadium. The game is a rematch of last year's title game, which El Toro won, 26-10.
Last week, George Tuioti, Santa Ana quarterback, passed for 263 yards and 3 touchdowns. Royal Wilbon, the Saints' speedy wide receiver, scored on pass plays of 79 and 80 yards. Tonight's game figures to be a matchup of Brass & Co. vs. The Bomb Squad. Brass hopes Santa Ana goes to the air.
"We're going to try and stop their running game and force them to throw," Brass said. "Our main objective is to take away the big play. Royal Wilbon can kill you with one play."
"We try and mix it up to keep the other team honest," Brass said of the five pass coverages El Toro uses. "We know this will be our toughest game in the playoffs."
Brass has one vivid memory of last year's championship game: teammate Sam Weaver hitting opposing tailback Robert Lee early in the first quarter. It was a fierce tackle that set the tone for the game.
"It was one of the greatest hits I've ever seen," Brass said. "It fired everybody up on our team."
The Chargers were named the top team in the state by Cal-Hi Sports. Brass called last year's titleholders "The Dream Team" because of such star players as Spalding, Ross, Miller and Johnson.
This year's team has Bret Johnson and a largely unheralded supporting cast and has overcome adversity and controversy to reach the semifinals. Johnson suffered a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery, forcing him to miss four games in midseason. Then wide receiver Chris McCarthy was lost for three games with a back injury.
Finally, there was the game against rival Capistrano Valley. Cougar Coach Dick Enright was found guilty of spying on El Toro's practices before the game, and a 22-21 Charger defeat was changed to a forfeit victory by the Southern Section's Executive Committee.
"We've been through a lot," Brass said. "It (the spying incident) was something I hope no one ever has to go through. It was really tough to concentrate on the game.
"Rumors were flying around the school, and everybody was talking about it. I tried to block it out and play the best I could. I'd rather not talk about it because it's something the team decided to put in the past and go on."
Brass made his debut at tailback against Capistrano Valley and has established himself as the Chargers' top running back. Last week, he scored two touchdowns in a 26-20 win over Hawthorne.
Bob Johnson and Brass discussed his moving to tailback last spring, then again before the start of South Coast League play, but when Brass sprained his right ankle before the first league game, Johnson decided to have him concentrate on defense.
"I've wanted to play tailback since spring ball," Brass said. "I wanted to be involved with the offense. I thought it would be a natural move because I was already returning punts and kickoffs.
"Coach Johnson asked me (before the Capistrano Valley game) if I wanted to play tailback or wide receiver. I thought I could help the team best by going to tailback."
Watching Brass play, it's difficult to imagine that he never played football until his freshman season. Brass and his older brother, Eric, were standout baseball and soccer players as youngsters. His club soccer team reached the state finals in 1982.
Brass has been a starting shortstop on the baseball team since his sophomore season, but he prefers football.
"It's fun playing in front of the big crowds," he said. "My favorite part of the game is returning punts. You're back there by yourself with everybody looking at you.
"I've never returned a punt for a touchdown, but I've come close. It seems like there was always one guy between me and the end zone. I did return a kickoff all the way last year against San Clemente."
And for a fleeting moment, Brass had a moment all his own in the El Toro spotlight.