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On Heels of State Championship, Mission Viejo Set up for More Football Success

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On Heels of State Championship, Mission Viejo Set up for More Football Success

Sophomore wide receiver Vance Spafford (13) plays for Mission Viejo High School's football team. (Courtesy of Anthony Miller)

Dan Wood

Dan Wood

12/12/2023

Updated: 12/21/2023

MISSION VIEJO, Calif.—Chad Johnson makes no secret of the weight that sat heavily on his shoulders.
“Relieved is the word I would like to use,” the Mission Viejo High School football coach told reporters, describing his overriding emotion after the Diablos claimed the CIF Division 1-AA state championship Dec. 8 with a 27–14 victory over longtime Northern California power De La Salle of Concord at Saddleback College.
“Taking over the reins of a program like this that is so storied and has so many championships and so many great players and all of that, there’s a lot of pressure,” he said. “You don’t want to be the guy that screws it up.”
Mr. Johnson spoke Nov. 25, after Mission Viejo had defeated Servite of Anaheim 34–15 in the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship game, of the responsibility he felt in succeeding coaching icon Bob Johnson (no relation). After adding a state title to the one the former coach won with the Diablos in 2015, Mr. Johnson drew a comparison to the coach who will eventually follow the legendary Nick Saban at the University of Alabama.
“You just feel that pressure,” Mr. Johnson said. “And then it’s the community that I grew up in. I went to school in the same district, down the street at El Toro, where Bob taught and coached before Mission. I’m back home, and the last thing I want to do is come back home and blow it.”
Six seasons into his Misson Viejo tenure, Mr. Johnson is off to a pretty good start.
With three South Coast League championships and now the section and state titles to go along with a 52–15 record and .776 winning percentage, his numbers bear a certain resemblance to those of Bob Johnson.
Including his time at El Toro, the former coach retired in 2019 with a career record of 345–95–1, making him Orange County’s all-time victory leader and the third-winningest coach in California history. In 19 seasons with the Diablos, Bob Johnson went 214–32–1 for an .868 winning percentage and captured 14 league and five section championships, in addition to the one state banner.
“Bear that torch,” Mr. Johnson, the current coach said. “Make sure it stays at the level he left it to us. That’s what we were trying to do, and I think we did that. I think we made him proud.”
Mission Viejo High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Sept. 18, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Mission Viejo High School in Mission Viejo, Calif., on Sept. 18, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Featuring a roster that is loaded with talented underclassmen who made huge contributions this season, Mission Viejo figures to have a great opportunity to build on its success going forward.
Sophomore Luke Fahey and junior Draiden Trudeau, who shared quarterbacking duties all season, lead a promising group of youngsters on offense. Sophomore Vance Spafford turned in a breakout campaign and heads a talented corps of wide receivers that includes juniors Phillip Bell III, Dijon Lee Jr., and Cash Semonza, as well as sophomore Markus Kier.
The Diablos’ top running back, Hinesward Lilomaiava, is also a junior, as are tight end Grant Nichols, and offensive linemen Gavin Disbro and Josh Bates.
On defense, end Jaden Williams and Lee, who doubles as a cornerback, are juniors, while end Jayden Hill, lineman Kane Nolte, safety Zach Foeldi, and nickel back Jeron Jones are sophomores.
Oh, and it just so happens that Misson Viejo’s freshmen team went undefeated this season.
“I’m so excited for the future,” Fahey told The Epoch Times. “We have so much young talent. I know the seniors left a great legacy, but we’re just going to keep doing it for them. That’s the goal, just to keep going, carry the legacy.”
Sophomore quarterback Luke Fahey (3) plays for Mission Viejo High School's football team. (Courtesy of Anthony Miller)

Sophomore quarterback Luke Fahey (3) plays for Mission Viejo High School's football team. (Courtesy of Anthony Miller)

The key determining factor for the Diablos next season, Mr. Johnson, the current coach, said, will be replacing the leadership provided by this year’s seniors, linebacker Jack Matranga, free safety Travis Anderson, and offensive lineman Reef Lancaster primary among them.
It was the upperclassmen who kept things on track after losses to Long Beach Poly, St. John’s of Washington, D.C., and South Coast League rival San Clemente, and enabled Mission Viejo to close the season with an eight-game winning streak and a 13-3 record.
“Those are going to be big shoes to fill,” Mr. Johnson said. “If we can somehow fill out the leadership, then we have a chance of being competitive again. If we don’t have strong leadership from the upcoming juniors and sophomores, we’ll see. It could be another learning-experience year early on until we kind of settle down.”
Mission Viejo High School's football team wins the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship. (Courtesy of Anthony Miller)

Mission Viejo High School's football team wins the CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship. (Courtesy of Anthony Miller)

Lilomaiava, for one, is eager for the challenge.
“I’m really excited,” he told The Epoch Times. “We have a young, young group of guys. I think that’s why we lost those three games, just due to us being inexperienced. Now we have a lot of experience under our belts. I know a lot of guys will step up and be leaders, including myself. It’s something I look forward to.”
Anderson, whose high school career closed with a perfectly scripted interception on De La Salle’s final possession to punctuate the state-championship victory, has committed to playing college football at UCLA. He will most definitely still be paying attention to the Diablos, however.
“We’re just starting, really,” Anderson told The Epoch Times. “I think there’s going to be a big future for this team. We have all those guys coming back. We’re going to be great next year.”
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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