Long before the Redlands East Valley and Mission Viejo high school football teams inked their nonleague game Friday night at University of Redlands, they were connected by a series of common threads.
Legendary coaches, gifted sons and men trying to carry on their father’s traditions.
The newest twist in the knot is Trevor Douglass, a returning all-Citrus Belt League strong safety for Redlands East Valley and the son of former El Toro High School quarterback Bryan Douglass, who played for Mission Viejo coach Bob Johnson during the early years of his now-legendary career.
Trevor’s three uncles also starred for Johnson.
Mike Douglass was the starting quarterback and his twin brother, Billy, was a defensive end on the El Toro team that won a Southern Section title in 1982, the first for Johnson and the school.
Mission Viejo’s defensive coordinator, Brett Paton, is a former teammate of the Douglass twins and is known as “Uncle Brett” by Trevor. A number of other Diablo assistants remain close friends with the Douglass clan.
Then there’s Redlands East Valley coach Kurt Bruich, a former Fontana High standout and the son of a legendary coach himself, Dick Bruich, winner of 292 career games and four section titles. Kurt Bruich played wide receiver for his dad in a victory against Fountain Valley at the 1987 Southern Section finals. The Barons were coached by current Mission Viejo assistant Mike Milner.
The following summer, Bruich caught passes in the Shrine all-star game from Johnson’s son, Bret, none other than the current offensive coordinator at Mission Viejo.
As the biggest game of the season approaches for Redlands East Valley, against a team ranked 31st in the nation by ESPN, many of those connected with the other side will have their minds on a certain family bond that’s missing.
Trevor’s grandmother, Sue Douglass, the mother of four football-playing boys and the wife of a longtime high school football coach, died of cancer Sept. 22 at her home in San Clemente. She was 75. Trevor knows Friday night’s game is the type his grandmother would have never missed.
“It means a lot to me,” he said. “It means a lot to this family.”
The funeral was Sunday in San Juan Capistrano. Among the hundreds in attendance were past and present football coaches from throughout the Southland, including Johnson and Paton.
“The coaching network is a close-knit family,” Bryan said.
Sue Douglass was not just connected to Redlands East Valley through her son and grandson, and to Mission Viejo through Johnson and Paton, she was known in football offices throughout South Orange County.
Don Douglass still assists the sophomore team at San Clemente High, where he’s in his 52nd year of coaching. He spent the bulk of his career at San Clemente, but was also the head coach at Dana Hills from 1982 to '92.
Sue loved the sport, especially USC football and any game involving her sons or grandson.
“On Friday nights, she had to pick between watching her son’s play or her husband,” Bryan remembers. “Of course, she chose her sons.”
Sue Douglass died two days before the Wildcats hosted Dorsey, one of the top teams in the Los Angeles City Section. Before the game, Trevor wrote on one band of wrist tape, ‘Rest in Peace, G-Ma,’ and ‘Fight On’ on the other, then went out and helped lead the Wildcats to a 14-12 victory.
“Trevor is trying to feed off that, to make him stronger,” Bryan said of his mother’s memory.
Before the Dorsey game, Bruich provided sideline passes to Trevor’s father, uncles and grandfather, just so they could spend time together, in a comfortable environment after such a difficult week.
“Just so they could get their mind off it,” Bruich said. “Kind of rekindle that sideline flame that they’ve had for so long.”
Trevor is expecting his extended family and several close friends to attend Friday’s game against Mission Viejo, ranked No. 2 in the Southland by ESPNLA.
Last season, his uncles and grandfather stood on the Mission Viejo sideline when the Diablos hammered Redlands East Valley, 42-14, at Mission Viejo Stadium. This season, he’s sure they’ll be on his side.
“It’s going to be a big game for my family,” he said.
It’s just as big a game for the No. 21 Wildcats, who have yet to beat such a highly regarded opponent in the school’s 14-year history.
“We’ve been thinking about this since last year,” Douglass said. “They’re so highly ranked and we’re kind of an up-and-coming program, so we really want this.”
Redlands East Valley has been getting the job done on both sides of the ball. The defense has posted shutouts in three of its four victories and the offense is averaging 28 points a game.
Bryan Douglass insists most of his son’s athletic ability comes from Trevor’s mother, who was known as Heather Thomas when she competed in gymnastics at Cal State Fullerton. He played outside linebacker last season, but switched to a more hybrid strong safety position. Some plays he’ll be near the line of scrimmage, whether in a blitz package or playing the run, and others he’ll sit deep in the secondary, looking to break up a pass with a timely hit.
His defensive numbers reflect his do-it-all abilities. So far, he has collected an interception, a sack, two fumbles and caused three fumbles.
Occasionally, he performs as a spy, focusing on the opponent’s best player and limiting his opportunities to get big chunks of yardage. When the Wildcats played Dorsey, he limited USC-bound Jaydon Mickens to 92 yards passing and 63 yards rushing, an average of just under four yards a carry.
“We like to keep him around the ball as much as possible,” said Bruich, comparing Douglass’s style of play to former USC standout strong safety player Troy Polamalu. “We like to use him everywhere.”
Because of his size (5 feet 7, 175 pounds), Douglass is finding the recruiting trail somewhat stagnant. He’s prepared to play anywhere next season, even if it means heading to the junior college ranks. If that’s the case, he’ll likely end up at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, where his family name is also well known.
“He needs to play for four more years somewhere," Bruich said. "Someone is going to be very happy.”
In the meantime, there’s a lot more football to be played this season. The Wildcats are in position to make their deepest postseason run in school history. A good showing against Mission Viejo would make that even more of a reality.
Backed by the support of his family and the memory of his grandmother, Trevor would like nothing more than to christen his own school with its first section title, and stamp his family’s name in another program’s history.