The La Jolla High football team’s title in the Eastern League this season with a spotless 4-0 record — its first in almost a quarter century after years of struggle — provides a link to the Vikings’ great teams under coaches Gene Edwards and Dick Huddleston.
In 1991, 1993, and 1994, “Hud,” as he was known, led talented La Jolla teams to the CIF Finals each year, defeating St. Augustine 14-6 on Dec. 13, 1991, for the championship and finishing second the other two years. Edwards, coach for 30 years at LJHS, mentored Hud.
Running back E.J. Watson was named the CIF Player of the Year on offense for his ground-gaining exploits at the end of the ’91 title campaign. That set the stage for the Viking teams of 1992-1994 to win 21 consecutive games, which still stands as the seventh longest streak in the San Diego Section.
“E.J. could go around you or go through you,” says Dave Ponsford, Viking head coach from 1998-2008, who served as an assistant under both Edwards and Hud. “He was phenomenal. He had some good linemen in front of him, but he also was very fast and weighed 190, which for a high school tailback is good-sized.”
The present Viking title team doesn’t feature an E.J. Watson (he went on to star at Colorado State for four years). But it does have Max Smith, a unique linebacker stunning opponents in their tracks while also serving as an explosive playmaker on offense.
In the title clincher over Christian High, the 5-foot-10-inch, 197-pound junior came out of the locker room after halftime and carried the ball 53 yards on the third play from scrimmage for a touchdown to set the tone for a comeback and eventual victory.
His partners in crime, senior Jack Wiese (6 feet, 195 pounds) and fellow junior Dirk Germon (6 feet, 1 inch; 205 pounds) have formed a syndicate of pain with Smith that kept La Jolla in all but one game all season (versus a much bigger Lincoln) and powered third-year head coach Tyler Roach’s team.
Asked to put his team’s title in perspective, 6-foot, 190-pound lineman Devin Garcia says, “I think it’s crazy. Being a part of history, [being able to] come back to visit campus in the future and remember it.
“Family. You don’t get where you want without family. [Thinking of] the evolution of the whole thing, how it [the championship] came to be.”
Edwards, who was the Vikings head coach from 1960-1989, took La Jolla to the Division 2A title game (a 39-20 loss to Lincoln). The coach, whose name was applied to the school’s football stadium, is viewed with respect — even awe — by those who knew him.
“Gene was a mentor and a second father to me,” says Rick Eveleth, a former LJHS coach and athletic director who played under Edwards, later coaching with him.
“Gene was the consummate gentleman,” remembers Ponsford, who transferred to La Jolla from Hoover in his fourth year of teaching history to be head JV coach under Edwards.
Adds Ponsford, “I’m really proud of this year’s team.”