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Injuries, Growing Pains Cause Saddleback Football to Forfeit League Opener

Injuries, Growing Pains Cause Saddleback Football to Forfeit League Opener

Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, Calif., in July 2022. (Google Maps/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

9/11/2023

Updated: 9/11/2023

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First-year Coach Mike Nobles knew that building a successful football program at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, California, wasn’t going to be easy. He didn’t realize that three games into his tenure, the Roadrunners would be unable to field enough players to compete in their scheduled Orange Coast League opener.
After three consecutive one-sided losses, by a combined score of 123–16, and a spate of injuries that left the team with only 19 healthy players, Saddleback opted to forfeit its scheduled Sept. 15 contest against Orange.
“It was a difficult decision just because I tell my players that I don’t shy away from anybody,” Mr. Nobles told The Epoch Times. “I would play Mater Dei. I’m a competitor. But when it comes down to having to play players that haven’t had a lot of playing time, or having to bring up players from the frosh-soph level to fill a team, I have to look at it as if I were one of those kids’ parents. I have to look at it as a safety issue.”
In the wake of a 29–8 loss Aug. 18 at Godinez, a 35–2 defeat Aug. 25 at Century, and a 59–6 setback Aug. 31 at La Quinta, the Roadrunners are missing three players who are in concussion protocol, two who are sidelined with knee injuries and another because of a high ankle sprain.
Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Even coming off a bye week, Saddleback was too shorthanded to tee it up against perennial Orange Coast League power Orange.
“Last year when we played Orange, we had three concussions in the game,” Roadrunners athletic director Rob Thompson told The Epoch Times. “It doesn’t help us when they’re the first team in the league that we play. It kills the rest of our season, and we’re already having a bad season. I don’t want to make it worse. Half [of] our team is sophomores who have never played football before. We felt for the safety of the kids it wasn’t proper for us to play Orange.”
Still awaiting updated medical reports on the injured players, Saddleback anticipates having a deep enough roster for its ensuing game, Sept. 21 at Calvary Chapel. Next up would be the night everyone has been pointing toward, Sept. 29, when the Roadrunners are scheduled to host Costa Mesa in their long-awaited first game in a brand-new, $15 million-plus football facility on campus.
“If we have to bring up some eighth-graders, we’ll play the Homecoming game,” Mr. Thompson said. “We have to play that game, is my point.”
Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Saddleback High School's new football stadium in Santa Ana, Calif. (Courtesy of Edward Bustamante)

Mr. Nobles, who inherited a program that has gone winless in league play each of its past three seasons, took over at Saddleback last spring. The late start negatively impacted the Roadrunners’ offseason weight training and conditioning programs, and made the installation of offensive, defensive, and special-teams systems especially challenging.
What once was a roster of more than 30 players dwindled because of some disciplinary issues, leaving Saddleback particularly vulnerable to the inevitable health woes that are simply a part of football.
“I was optimistic,” Mr. Nobles said. “I really thought we could have been 3–0 heading into the Orange game if we didn’t have any injuries. The kids are a little discouraged that we’re not winning, but I think they’re more discouraged by how many points we’re losing by. I have to take a step back myself sometimes and say, ‘You have a young team. Wait until these sophomores are seniors.’”
While such challenges weren’t hard to predict, what Mr. Nobles perhaps did not expect after one season as the head coach at Northwood in Irvine and three more as an assistant at Dana Hills are what he called “cultural differences.” For example, all the Roadrunners, he said, know full well who soccer superstar Lionel Messi is, but many aren’t familiar with Alabama’s Nick Saban, the highest-profile college football coach in the country.
At the same time, a sizable contingent of Saddleback’s players, as well as their parents, grandparents, and guardians, simply don’t appear to grasp the dedication, commitment, and consistent practice attendance necessary to succeed in high school football.
“I haven’t had the same five linemen in practice more than two days in a row,” Mr. Nobles said. “It is frustrating, but I’m learning and being acceptable and understanding of the culture. On the other hand, too, I was hired here to turn around this program, and one of the things about turning around a program that has been in the cellar for so long is players have to make sacrifices, and parents have to know that.”
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Dan Wood

Dan Wood

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Dan Wood is a community sports reporter based in Orange County, California. He has covered sports professionally for some 43 years, spending nearly three decades in the newspaper industry and 14 years in radio. He is an avid music fan, with a strong lean toward country and classic rock.

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