San Clemente was dealt a blow to the program on Tuesday when coach Eric Patton was removed from the program after 11 seasons following a district investigation into alleged involvement in a slush fund scheme with an athletic apparel and equipment supplier. Oh yeah, this might be the best Tritons team ever. How it all plays out will be one of the more intriguing storylines of the year.
Offensive line coach — and athletic director — Jon Hamro has taken over in the interim.
“We have all gone through a pretty shocking crisis,” Hamro said. “When you go through a crisis, that suddenly becomes a common bond that none of you had prior. That goes for players and coaches. It’s no longer players and coaches, it’s us. It can galvanize and sharpen our focus that maybe wasn’t there. I think the players are more focused, more on a mission and more unified than I’ve seen in 20 years.”
They have plenty of starters back, including two blue chip players: quarterback Travis Wilson (6-6, 215), who has committed to Utah, and left tackle Kyle Murphy (6-7, 275), who can pretty much have his choice. Murphy is the Southland's No. 1 recruit, and No. 26 nationally, according to the ESPN 150.
Here's a closer look at the Tritons:
Team: San Clemente
Coach: Jon Hamro, first year
2010 Record: 8-3, lost in first round of the Southern Section Pac-5 playoffs.
Returning starters: 14 total. Eight on offense. Six on defense.
Key players on offense: QB Travis Wilson (Utah), OL Kyle Murphy, RB Herbert Gamboa, RB Mike Elesperu, C Connor O’Brien.
Key players on defense: LB Herbert Gamboa, LB Chad Foster, DB Nick Pasquale, CB Christian Tober, DL Julian Perry.
Difference maker: It’s easy to look at Wilson (Utah) as the key guy, but Gamboa has the kind of speed that Servite utilized in 2009 with Chris Nichols and 2010 with Malik Felton. Guys that run the 100 meters in 10.71 seconds and can turn any touch into a touchdown can make a QB look awfully good.
Newcomers: TE Chris French, a transfer from Saddleback Valley Christian.
Not to be missed: San Clemente at Mission Viejo, Oct. 28. Mission Viejo will have already played Tesoro, the other team that will challenge for the South Coast League title; regardless of that outcome, this is the biggie. The following week, San Clemente will play Tesoro, but the importance of that game depends on what the Tritons do in this one. They haven't beaten Mission since 1999—Patton's first year as head coach.
Coach’s comment: Before he was replaced on Aug. 16, Patton said that the team could be good, but "for the first time in my career, we’re looking at about 40 guys. The big question for us is staying away from injuries.”
Final analysis: The Tritons are still playing catch-up to Mission Viejo and hoping to win their first outright league title since 1999. Who knows how the team might react to the change in leadership. It could be positive — or it could be a disaster. San Clemente was always consistent under Patton. No matter the end result, this team should be wildly entertaining, and the success — if it stays healthy — will probably hinge on the team defense it plays.