Q: What happens when Falcons fly around a football field?
A: Dominance on the gridiron.
If you haven't heard, Rubidoux High has had an epic season, tearing through its division to boast a 10-0 record and earn a CIF playoff berth. The postseason action begins Friday, Nov. 11, at home against the Viewpoint Patriots of Calabasas (5-5).
"It's extremely special," Coach Patrick Thompson said of the squad's first undefeated season since 1981. "It brings me so much joy to see our guys succeed."
The turnaround began last year, when the coach installed a new scheme and the team finished 9-3. "The kids really tasted success," he said. "It started last January when they really visualized a successful season, and they worked so hard."
The new scheme – traditional run-first, smashmouth, blue-collar football – has been like the return of an old friend. "Rubidoux made its name that way in the 1980s and early '90s," Coach Thompson said. "So I wanted to bring that back."
The classic style includes physical play, a brutal running attack, and a focus on stuffing the run on defense. "It mirrors our community nicely," the coach said. "It's very team oriented. It's a family and workmanlike community."
Along with the scheme, Mr. Thompson credits the squad's stars: 100 athletes, 17 coaches, and eight students who serve as team managers.
The players do well by staying focused, executing their assignments, and getting the little things right. "We also have dudes who are really athletic," the coach said. "And they are really, really hungry." Student team-leaders, called the Talons, help ensure order and keep their peers cohesive as a unit.
The coaches, meanwhile, help build skill and technique. "They're excellent teachers," Mr. Thompson said. "They upload very complex information into our boys' minds – with a test every Friday on game day."
Among those coaches is Mr. Thompson's father, Pat Thompson Sr., 65, a retired Jurupa Unified teacher who spent 35 years in the classroom and 20 years coaching the Jurupa Valley High and Rubidoux football teams. "I have a great opportunity to coach alongside him now," the younger Mr. Thompson said. "The boys love him, and he is the schematic brains of everything."
The age range – 22 to 75 for the coaches, 14 to 18 for the players – is conveyed in the music throbbing over the field at practice, a playlist from "Ruff Ryders Anthem" by DMX, to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," to "My Girl" by the Temptations.
Practices tend to be orderly, efficient, and fast-paced, with wind whistling through players' helmets and flags whipping overhead. Students work in position groups, with the team managers drifting from pod to pod to keep the players hydrated, the drills on schedule, and the training like clockwork.
"We don't waste one second of time at all," the coach said. "And there's not a lot of yelling. It's a classroom. We believe in a positive learning environment."
Toward that end, every student gets reps to help improve his game, grow in the sport, and build confidence. "It's about every kid being important, whether first string or third string," said Mr. Thompson. And you never know: Today's third string lineman might evolve into next season's starter.
Meanwhile, no account of RHS football is complete without a note about reward stickers. The coaches allot 30-40 of the decals – each a sledgehammer the size of a quarter – on Mondays, based on game performance on Fridays. A defensive back might earn a sticker for an interception, a linebacker for a forced fumble, or the entire offense for moving the ball 150-plus yards on the ground.
"It's amazing what kids will do to get a hammer sticker," Mr. Thompson said. The stickers, which players affix to their helmets, symbolize excellence, along with the physical, smashmouth, blue-collar style so fitting for Jurupa Valley.
Based on sticker count, the squad's leading playmaker is Brandon Carroll, an inside linebacker and fullback; the yellow hammers crown three-fourths of his helmet.
Now, Carroll and his peers will look to add more decals in the playoffs, against the league's best competition. To prolong the winning streak in a stacked division, the coach said, "We need to keep doing what we're doing, executing game plans, playing as a team. There is unbelievable trust and love among kids and the coaching staff."
However the postseason unfolds, this 10-0 squad has already won. "It's a very, very special experience," Coach Thompson said of the boys' achievement this year. As the Falcons fly around the field, he said, "they are making history."
*Photo Credit to Verne Lauritzen