Offensive linemen such as Nate Flowers, a 6-4, 300-pounder, and Johnny Winfrey, a 6-2, 290-pounder, have helped Chula Vista to a 7-0 record. Although the weight room -- compliments of a $40,000 donation from Donnie Edwards, a Chargers linebacker and Chula Vista alum -- was dedicated this year, players the size of Flowers and Winfrey and unbeaten records don't develop overnight.
This is a season at least two years in the making.
"We have an excellent senior class, with five seniors who are third-year starters" Chula Vista head coach Rex Johnson said. "We've been building toward this season. The five seniors are the nucleus of our team, but we have a lot of other returning guys (25 seniors)."
Chula Vista has climbed to No. 2 in the CIF-San Diego Section rankings by both both the Union-Tribune and the North County Times after a 17-10 win over Eastlake in a Mesa League showdown for first place on Oct. 24. In the state Division I Top 10 by Cal-Hi Sports.com, it is "on the bubble."
Travis Crawford is one third-year starter at quarterback, which is always an advantage. The other four third-year starters are offensive linemen Flowers, Winfrey and John Morales (6-2, 255) and tight end-linebacker Carlos Santamaria (6-4, 190).
"The line has been the key to our success," Johnson said. "We've not only got good size, we've got good depth. Our linemen don't have to play both ways."
One reason South Bay football has been dominated by North County powers in recent years is the Metro Conference has lacked the ability to play smashmouth football. The only South Bay school that has matched up in the past decade was Castle Park's Division II championship clubs of 1994 and 1996. Those teams featured Zeke Moreno, now a linebacker with the Chargers, and Jerome Haywood, a defensive lineman with Ottawa in the Canadian Football League.
But Chula Vista proved it could play smashmouth football when the Spartans routed defending Division I champion Carlsbad in the season's third week, 34-7.
Another reason for Chula Vista's success is the continuity of the football staff. This is Johnson's 10th year as the head coach and 30th overall at the school. All but two of his assistants are Chula Vista alums.
Johnson succeeded George Ohnesorgen, who won a San Diego Section 2A title in 1983 and dominated the Metro Conference between 1985 and 1992. Coaches who follow in the footsteps of someone as successful as Ohnesorgen often only last a couple of years.
But Johnson, who was Ohnesorgen's defensive coordinator and who guided the Spartans to their most recent league title in 1997, is a good fit for the school.
"I like the kids and we have a good staff," Johnson said. "That's what makes coaching enjoyable for me."
Players who first attend Chula Vista games in elementary school or junior high are playing for the coach they first became aware of as wide-eyed kids.
"He's an inspiration for us," Crawford said. "You hear that he's a real tough guy, but when you get to know him he's really a good guy."
The coaching staff's continuity also makes it easier for alums to return to the school. At Chula Vista, that meant Donnie Edwards felt a desire to pay back the people he feels assisted him as he matured into a player who eventually tapped into NFL riches.
Among today's Spartans, Edwards isn't merely a figure on the television screen. They can relate to him because Edwards spends time on campus.
"Guys use the weight room all the time," Crawford said. "He (Edwards) is a great guy who comes around a lot. We've taken pictures with him. He's a funny guy, too. We appreciate the weight room so much, we wish we could donate something to him."
MARIAN STILL NO. 1
With Marian Catholic (7-0) and Chula Vista ranked 1-2 in the section, the 2003 season marks a resurgence of South Bay football. Unfortunately, South Bay League member Marian and Mesa League member Chula Vista don't meet in a Metro Conference cross-league game.
"We wish we were playing Marian this year," Crawford said. "We know a lot of their players. We played against them in Pop Warner and we're friends. That would be great if we both went to the stadium. We want them to go with us. That would be great for South Bay football."
It's a measure of the Spartans' maturity that Crawford says they don't feel Marian is stealing their thunder. That says something about the influence of the coaching staff, too.
After all, have you ever heard Donnie Edwards utter a foolish quote in his eight years as a pro athlete? The answer is no, even though this is an age when so many pro athletes make self-serving comments.
But back to the question of who is No. 1 in San Diego: Although Chula Vista is bigger physically than Marian, I still believe the Crusaders are deserving of their No. 1 ranking. What separates Marian from other ranked teams is the Crusaders have a game-breaker in senior running back Patrick Gates.
Chula Vista has a Thunder-and-Lightning backfield with Roderick McPeak (6-1, 190) and Larry Richardson (5-6, 170), but the Spartans need to control the ball by pounding it down the ball down field. Gates is always one snap from breaking a touchdown run as a back, receiver or return man.
The only other San Diego Section players as dynamic as Gates are Mission Bay running back Arian Foster and Oceanside wide receiver Marcus Montgomery.
THIS WEEK'S FIVE-PACK
Games that were originally featured this week were Coronado (7-0) at University City (4-3), Fallbrook (5-2) at La Costa Canyon (5-2), Valley Center (4-3) at Escondido (4-1-2), West Hills (4-3) at El Capitan (7-0) and Eastlake (4-3) at Marian (7-0). All of those games have been canceled due to the wildfire emergency in the San Diego area. The latest info from the section office on Wednesday indicated that the entire schedule might be pushed back one week.
Editor's Note: Tom Shanahan is the San Diego Section correspondent for Cal-Hi Sports. He wrote and covered San Diego high school sports and San Diego sports for 18 years for the San Diego Union-Tribune. We're honored to have his byline on our site and San Diego athletes and coaches should be honored that Tom still wants to continue to write about them in some capacity as he pursues other interests in addition to journalism.