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New Football Coach Sees Similarities Between San Clemente and Sunny Hills

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New Football Coach Sees Similarities Between San Clemente and Sunny Hills

Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, Calif., on Aug. 11, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

12/19/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

An initial glance wouldn’t reveal a whole lot in common between Southern California football programs at San Clemente High School and Sunny Hills in Fullerton.
The San Clemente Tritons, after all, were the top-ranked public school in Orange County this past season. They rolled through the very strong South Coast League undefeated, qualified for the highest level of the CIF Southern Section playoffs, Division 1, and finished with a 9–2 record.
The Lancers, meanwhile, endured a second consecutive losing season, going 4–6, and failed to reach post-season play.
Fred Gambrell, however, spied a similarity that struck him. After spending the past four years at San Clemente, including the final season as Tritons defensive coordinator, he has been named the new head coach at Sunny Hills.
“It just felt, honestly, like it’s a spot, coming from San Clemente, that’s close to that,” he told The Epoch Times. “It just has the feel, with a lot of hard work and the right coaches, of really turning into my own version of San Clemente.”
New Sunny Hills High School football coach Fred Gambrell. (Courtesy of Paul Jones)

New Sunny Hills High School football coach Fred Gambrell. (Courtesy of Paul Jones)

Mr. Gambrell cited the Tritons’ mantra of “One town, one team,” and compared it to the “Coach the neighborhood” approach instilled by Sunny Hills assistant principal Pete Karavedas during his seven years as the Lancers’ coach.
Since Mr. Karavedas left football coaching to focus on administrative work following the 2021 season, when the Lancers finished 7–4 and made a seventh consecutive Southern Section playoff appearance, it’s been a struggle at Sunny Hills.
Former offensive coordinator David Wilde served two seasons as coach, going a combined 8–14 before stepping down. Now the Lancers must work to regain the status of a destination school for talented prospective football players.
An assistant high school coach since 2008, Mr. Gambrell formerly worked at Kennedy High in La Palma and Dana Hills in Dana Point.
“The experience of coaching at a school like Kennedy means his coaching can translate,” Sunny Hills athletic director Paul Jones told The Epoch Times. “He’s not used to just coaching, say, high-level athletes at San Clemente. He can coach on the high level, and he can coach at the level of Kennedy or Sunny Hills, just really teach students and coach them up to be good players and good for the team.”
With restructuring of Orange County’s high school football leagues based on computer rankings and competitive equity set for next season, Sunny Hills stands to be in a more favorable alignment. The Lancers, for example, will no longer have to compete against La Habra, which has dominated the Freeway League in recent years.
Students play a high school game of football in a file photo. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Students play a high school game of football in a file photo. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Another feature on Mr. Gambrell’s resume that impressed Sunny Hills was his having served under San Clemente’s well-respected head coach, Jaime Ortiz. A defensive-minded coach himself who has been the coordinator on that side of the ball for most of his time with the Tritons, Mr. Ortiz promoted Mr. Gambrell from defensive-backs coach and special-teams coordinator.
“He did a great job here, and he’ll do great things at Sunny Hills,” Mr. Ortiz told The Epoch Times. “Being a teacher first, he understands different methods of how kids learn. He does a great job of working with them, teaching them football but also the game of life. He’s a great addition, and it’s good for Orange County football.”
A former college football player at Charleston Southern who began his coaching career with one season as a graduate assistant at his alma mater before moving into high school coaching in South Carolina, Mr. Gambrell described himself as a “high-energy” coach.
“I’m very excited for this opportunity,” he said. “Just talking to the principal, the athletic director, even some of the teachers, they really want Sunny Hills to be good. They want it to be a winning program for years to come, and that really excited me. I’m coming to win. We’re going to work the hardest we’ve ever worked and build that kind of blue-collar culture. That’s just who we’re going to be.”
Dan Wood

Dan Wood

Author

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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