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Carlsbad coach Thadd MacNeal talks to Christian Chapman, who will be the 16th quarterback MacNeal has sent on to college football.

— Five or six years ago, when Thadd MacNeal was the football coach at Lakewood High, one of the top programs in California, he began dreaming of going home with his wife and three children.

When that call finally came to coach at Carlsbad following the 2010 season, the 1989 graduate couldn’t wait to start wearing Lancers purple again.

Now in his third season at Carlsbad, MacNeal has the Lancers (5-0) awaiting the arrival of defending San Diego Section Division II champion Oceanside (3-2) to open Avocado West League play at home Friday.

“I always wanted to coach my alma mater,” said MacNeal. “Leaving Lakewood was hard because we had it going, but my whole career has been toward coming back to Carlsbad.

“That being said, I knew just because I’m a graduate, Carlsbad wasn’t going to just hand over the keys to the car.”

MacNeal began his coaching career as an assistant for Rick Brown at Carlsbad as a college senior. Soon it was off to Capistrano Valley and an eight-year stint as the offensive coordinator at Los Alamitos before accepting the reins at Lakewood.

By the third year, Lakewood had its first 10-win season en route to a 45-15 record under MacNeal.

That qualified the former Lancers quarterback to replace Bob McAllister at Carlsbad in 2011, going 7-5 that first year and 5-7 in 2012.

“He tells me all the time he was a better quarterback than me,” said current Lancers quarterback Christian Chapman, a 6-foot-1 senior who has committed to San Diego State and will become the 16th quarterback MacNeal has sent to college. “It took me until the end of my second year on varsity last season to get comfortable with everything he wants a quarterback to do.

“There is such a big commitment to play quarterback for him and I understand that. He’s made me a better player because of it.

“There was a lot more yelling at me the last two years to get to this point.”

MacNeal defends the demands on his quarterbacks as necessary, the only way a team can succeed. The quarterback, in MacNeal’s mind, leads the way for the other players to fully commit to the program.

“I’ve been blessed when it comes to quarterbacks,” said MacNeal, trying to deflect the credit. “Nearly every quarterback I’ve sent to college was willing to listen, commit fully and worked to get better.

“Christian is now at the point, in his third year, that he sees the same things I do. We’re on the same page with presnap reads.

“If I see something and yell to him, he’s already seen it, too.”

Not only is Chapman much improved in his third year, so are the Lancers, who last won a section championship in 2006 when they claimed the Division I crown.

On offense, Carlsbad’s balanced approach has produced 240 points, an average of 48 per game for a team ranked No. 9 in the section.

The defense, which has three shutouts to its credit this season, has surrendered just 24 points.

Jordan Perez, a linebacker whose father Miguel was a receiver for MacNeal at Carlsbad, also credits the emergence on defense with the arrival of MacNeal.

“He changed the culture here,” said Perez, who has committed to Stanford. “From watching him coach, I can only imagine how he was as a player. I know we’re all trying to play the way he coaches.”

A big challenge awaits Friday. The Pirates have scored lopsided wins over Carlsbad each of the past three seasons.

“This is the biggest test in years for us,” Perez said. “Oceanside nearly beat the No. 1 team in the state (Gardena Serra).

“We will find out if we’re for real or not because Oceanside is that good.”

So, it turns out, was the return of the new Coach Mac.

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