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The Age of Excellence: Success in transition

Hart football began the decade as the pre-eminent program in the SCV

Posted: December 19, 2009 10:37 p.m.
Updated: December 20, 2009 4:30 a.m.

Hart High quarterback Kyle Matter (11) tosses a pass Dec. 8, 2000, in Hart's 34-11 victory over Mira Costa in the CIF-Southern Section Division III championship game. Matter threw for 353 yards in the game.

 
When it comes to high school sports, nothing’s more popular than football.

And when it comes to high school football in the Santa Clarita Valley, for years nobody did it like Hart High.

The Indians have won eight CIF championships and 20 Foothill League championships.

They had a 65-game winning streak in league from 1990-2004.

Back in the first year of this decade, Hart was busy winning the third of four straight CIF championships.

The players felt every bit of that notoriety.

“It definitely was a dynasty, and I think everyone knew it,” says Chris Frome, a defensive lineman who graduated in 2001. “We definitely felt it when we came on the field.”

Nowadays, things are different.

That’s not to say Hart isn’t still successful. The Indians haven’t missed the playoffs since 1980, and they made a CIF championship game as recently as 2007.

But they haven’t maintained that level of dominance.

Then again, neither has anyone else.

Why not?

“It seems like there’s a lot of great players coming from the area,” Frome says. “It’s just with the addition of two new high schools, you have to ask yourself, is the talent more diluted?”

That could be one of the reasons.

Ever since Golden Valley and West Ranch opened in 2004, their football programs have struggled to catch up to the rest of the Foothill League.

But as Hart head coach Mike Herrington points out, that doesn’t mean they don’t have talent.

“We were one of the top schools in enrollment in the district,” he says. “Now, us and Golden Valley are at the bottom. If you take away 800 students and half of them are boys, that’s a big part of your program.”

Hart finished the 2000 season 12-2 and won the CIF-Southern Section Division III championship.

The players in that pool of talent included Frome, who went on to play for Notre Dame and had a brief stint with the Chicago Bears.

The pool included quarterback Kyle Matter, who would go on to play at Stanford. It included defensive back Matt Moore, who would take over under center the next season and eventually play at UCLA, Oregon State and in the NFL.

It also included Josh Cummings, who went on to kick for the University of Pittsburgh and spent some time with the St. Louis Rams.

Cummings is back in the Santa Clarita Valley working as a personal trainer, and he has witnessed football become a full-time sport.

“I know firsthand the people that put in extra time,” he says. “You just hope they don’t get burned out and hope they don’t get too competitive with it. The offseason, that’s when you get the most work done. You can’t really do that much during the season.”

Herrington says that 10 years ago, players didn’t have the year-round commitment they do now.

While he was at Notre Dame, Frome remembers one eye-opening trip home in particular.

“I saw the coaches had this whole schedule set up and they had these drills, everything from stretching to weight training,” he says.

“Back in our day, we had sixth-period weightlifting and we were done by 3 o’clock. Now it’s a year-round thing like it is at the collegiate level.”

At that level, the schools also recruit.

In high school, recruiting has been a touchy subject for years.

Public schools have claimed that because of open enrollment policies at private schools, they target superior athletes in addition to superior students.

“As seventh- and eighth-graders, they’re getting recruited to private schools like colleges,” Cummings says. “I trained a kid that got recruited to Oaks Christian. At public schools, there could be a string of good players for a couple years, or you could be dry, or another area could spring up. A lot could go into it.”

At the beginning of the decade, when Hart was at the height of its power, the William S. Hart Union School District had an open enrollment policy.

Frome says that had there not been such a policy, he would have gone to Saugus along with teammate Mickey Mercado.
Another teammate, Tim Gregory, would have gone to Valencia, he says.

“That’s just the way things were,” says Frome, who now works in Valencia as a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley. “When you have the opportunity to go to a bigger program, then it was a smart decision.”

He adds that the closing of open enrollment has led to players playing on the same team for most of their lives, which can benefit a program.

Herrington has still been successful without open enrollment, but he’d like to see the CIF make a change.

“I’m a big advocate of public and private being separated,” he says. “(Private schools) can bring in students from all over the place. We’ve got our residency boundaries, and that’s it.”

Cummings and Frome both say that when Hart had open enrollment, the players really wanted to face private programs like De La Salle of Concord, which was in the midst of a 151-game winning streak at the time.

The Indians had to schedule those teams during the non-league slate if they wanted to play them, because they didn’t face many in their own CIF division.

“Any time you have an undefeated team, you want to ask, ‘How good were you really?’” Frome says. “I went to school with some of the De La Salle guys. I said, ‘If you would have scheduled us (in 1999), we would have got you.’ You’re never really going to know.”

Frome believes that Hart plays tougher teams now in the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division, which includes private schools like St. Bonaventure.

Cummings says playing private schools is the best way to see where a team stands, because of the talent level on the other sideline.

Cummings says it all comes down to execution and coaching.

Since the start of the decade, Hart has had to overcome some coaching losses, too.

Herrington’s brother Dean left Hart in 2000, but remained a staff adviser even when he became College of the Canyons’ offensive coordinator in 2002.

Dean eventually took over Alemany’s program in 2006, and Rick Herrington, who was Hart’s defensive coordinator, joined Dean after the 2007 season.

Mike Herrington says that while Hart has gotten by without them, the losses still changed the shape of the program.

“It’s key to lose great coaches like that off the staff,” he says. “Losing those guys, we still had some success, but it’s a factor as far as the way things have changed.”

It was also a factor when Frome chose to attend Hart.

“I obviously liked the Herringtons,” he says. “All the coaches put me in a great position.”

With all that’s gone on since Hart’s dominant run in the 1990s and early 2000s, it’s easy to point to any number of reasons why programs haven’t replicated that success.

The ultimate reason, however, may be pretty simple.

Maybe Hart just had incredible run of talent, commitment and support.

That’s what jumps to Herrington’s mind when he thinks of the 2000 team that kicked off the decade.

“A lot of dedicated players who had great attitudes and great work ethics,” he says. “Good kids, good parents, good families. Everything just kind of meshed together.”

The legacy of those teams still lingers to this day, for better or worse.

“The standards are way high, but if you think about it, even though we haven’t won a league championship the last couple years we’ve made the playoffs,” Herrington says.

“I think a lot of schools would die for that.”
 

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