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OPINION: Honkers' title 25 years in the making
A brown and gold placard commemorating Yuba City High's 1987 Delta League championship team hangs in the school's weight room. A dusty banner in Honker Gym has hung in the rafters for a quarter of a century, a yearly reminder of that magical season. The Honkers haven't added to the collection since.
Sure, there were some fantastic teams during that time span. Mick Maxwell's 1993 squad with Rayshon Bishop and Patrick Boykin turned heads en route to the playoffs. The Honkers also found their way to the postseason in back-to-back seasons in 1997 and 1998 behind coach Dave Warmee, the latter is the last Honkers team to go 9-1.
Keep in mind, all of those teams played in Division I, competing for league titles with Elk Grove, Grant, Nevada Union and Jesuit, some of the winningest programs in the history of the Sac-Joaquin Section.
The drought ended on Friday night at Honker Stadium with a 29-3 win over rival River Valley
in the Mayor's Cup and the man who led them there is the same guy who was playing linebacker and offensive guard for that 1987 team — John Ithurburn.
Like this year's team, the '87 squad also went 9-1 during the regular season and Ithurburn was quick to give all the credit to his 2012 team for taking home the Tri-County Conference championship and ending the league title drought.
Moreover, the 2012 Honkers went undefeated in conference play, something even the 1987 team didn't do. However, with a bit of a smile, Ithurburn was quick to point out that his 1987 team clinched the league title before their final league contest and rested some players.
"It's a lot more gratifying to watch your kids do it," Ithurburn said. "You want your kids to be better than you. I'm just very proud of them and proud of this moment for the school."
Earlier this week, Ithurburn said it's hard to make comparisons between this year's group of Honkers and the 1987 team.
For starters, the head coaches are like night and day. Warmee, widely referred to as the "Blonde Bomber" for his slew of gadget plays and multiple formations, had a different philosophy than Ithurburn's old-school, ground-and-pound approach to the game.
Other changes in the last 25 seasons:
Instead of Bermuda, the Honkers play on field turf.
Instead of sunflower gold helmets, it's Vegas gold now.
Instead of Chris Phillips at quarterback, it's southpaw Taylor Elkins.
Playmakers like Shawn McBath, John Gamache and Brian Brown are replaced by Omar Herrera, Devin Pettengill and Nate Van Dusen, who's uncle Doug Van Dusen was a standout tailback for the 1982 league championship squad.
It's all coming full circle for the Honkers.
This year, senior offensive lineman Justin Noreen is making holes for the Honkers running game like his dad Bob did back in 1977 for Jim Stassi, Larry Abinante and Robert Winship.
In 1987, Ithurburn and Pat Larrigan stuffed the middle at linebacker. Now, it's Anthony Fleenor, the 2011 team MVP and returning senior who wanted redemption following last year's Mayor's Cup loss.
"Words can't explain how I feel right now," Fleenor said. "We put it all on the line for our coaches. Coming off of the 3-7 record we had last year, we all came together to play the game as one."
That attitude is one Ithurburn said the 1987 squad had as well when they ran through the gauntlet in the playoffs with wins over Nevada Union, El Dorado and Grant. That last victory will remain in Yuba City lore for Eric Smith's 26-yard field goal to seal a 30-28 victory.
Yet, even that group could not deliver the school's first section title as they lost to Tracy by one point in the championship game. Six other squads in 1993, 1997, 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2010 all attempted the same goal, but all fell short.
That's the task presented before the Honkers and it begins on Nov. 9 back at home.
"We're going to go into it humble and just work hard to get that first game," said Nate Van Dusen. "To set a legacy like this is amazing."