It’s been nine years, almost to the week, since I started working for The Californian, so I missed a heck of a prep football season by about 10 days.
Four Kern County teams had won section championships that year — Bakersfield, Tehachapi, Taft and Bakersfield Christian — but the CIF State Bowl system was in its infancy and included only three games, so no local teams were involved.
The CIF has since expanded its state playoff structure to contain 13 divisions, regional games and 50 teams. One of the brackets, Division 4AA, will have its state championship decided at 6 p.m. today at Bakersfield Christian, where the 13-1 Eagles take on Moraga-Campolindo.
It makes me think about the first high school football game I covered for TBC. Because I came on just after the 2007 season, my first Kern County football experience was on Sept. 5, 2008 ... at Bakersfield Christian, which hosted Westlake Village-Oaks Christian that night.
Why is this notable now? It’s got something to do with the Carr family (of course) and Wayne Gretzky (really).
Allow me to explain:
THEN: Derek Carr was playing his first game as Bakersfield Christian’s quarterback. He threw for more than 4,000 yards and 46 touchdowns in 13 games, and this was the only game he lost as an Eagle.
NOW: Carr still doesn’t lose much, though now he quarterbacks some team named the Oakland Raiders. It’s possible BCHS’ most famous alumnus will be at tonight’s game — nobody seems to know for sure — though it seems unlikely considering the Raiders play Sunday afternoon in San Diego. His older brothers, head coach Darren and offensive coordinator David, however, are sure to be on the sideline.
THEN: I’m having trouble remembering exactly, but I don’t believe BCHS brought in any extra bleachers for the Oaks Christian game. In fact, the Eagles’ stadium didn’t even have a press box at that point.
What I do remember is fans walking around in 100-degree weather well before the junior varsity game, trying to snap photos of Will Smith, whose son Trey was a wide receiver for the Lions. I also recall an imposing bodyguard telling folks over and over that Smith was on “Family Time!” and wouldn’t be signing autographs or taking photos. A couple of students snapped pictures anyway, acting like they were talking on their phones as they walked by.
NOW: Thankfully, tonight will be about the game and not any sideline side show, but the crowd will still be, in the words of a certain president-elect, YUGE. Bakersfield Christian — which has a full press box and finished stadium — has sold nearly 3,000 tickets in advance. The extra bleachers behind the end zones won’t be enough; it’s reasonable to expect a two-deep crowd standing around the track.
THEN: Trey Smith wasn’t the only Oaks Christian player with a famous dad.
The Lions’ varsity quarterback was Nick Montana, son of Joe. The JV quarterback was Trevor Gretzky, son of Wayne.
Will Smith flew up in a helicopter and wanted to land next to the BCHS campus, then thought better of it and went to Meadows Field Airport and hired a car instead. Wayne Gretzky rolled up in an SUV and slipped out right after the JV game. Joe Montana stood alone in the bleachers on the BCHS side.
NOW: Campolindo is a darn good football team, but there are no known celebrities in the Cougars’ fan base.
Still, I don’t need seven degrees of separation to draw another parallel between 2008 and tonight: When BCHS beat Selma for the D-4AA regional championship last week to advance to the state title game, the school first reached out to Bakersfield College to see about playing at Memorial Stadium.
No can do, BCHS was told, because the ice rink for the Condors’ Winterfest is being constructed on the field at Memorial this week.
Among many other things, that temporary rink will host an alumni-celebrity game Jan. 6.
Headlining those playing in that game? Why, none other than Wayne Gretzky.