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Eastlake's new head coach a familiar face

08/07/2014, 1:40pm PDT
By Kevin J. Farmer, Special to the U-T

Longtime assistant Lee Price succeeds veteran John McFadden


Eastlake football coach Lee Price works with junior defensive tackle Justin Norton (left) and junior running back Traylon Reed.

— To the casual observer, Eastlake High’s opening football practice Aug. 1 looked like a typical crisp, well-organized Titan practice.

There was the conditioning — hops, gassers, kickoff coverage sprints — and the basics of the offense and defense, mixing in with position group time for the finer things.

It was anything but typical, though, for Lee Price.

“It was a good solid, very organized practice, wasn’t it?” asked Price, who found out he was officially following the longtime, highly successful John McFadden at the helm just 1 ½ weeks earlier. “I think the kids responded well, everyone seemed to know where to line up.”

Price knew very well how things went at an Eastlake practice. He’s been an assistant there since McFadden hired him in 2000. Price’s resume included being head coach at Coronado in 1992 and a member of the staff at Bonita Vista, Mar Vista and Ramona. He was hired as a teacher at Eastlake in 2005, currently teaching physics six periods a day.

Before the break of the school year, the Titans held their two-week spring practice with no sign of a change at the helm. After a short out-of-state trip, McFadden, with a career record of 122-41-3, including CIF Division I titles in 2009 and 2012, determined it was time to go.

“There are so many reasons, nothing overwhelming; times have changed,” said McFadden, busying himself on the sideline with the equipment while Price addressed the varsity at the start of practice.

That pep talk Price gave his squad was a big one.

“It was really surprising, nobody looked forward to Coach (McFadden) quitting, but we understand it,” said junior All-CIF running back Traylon Reed, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last year.

“(The pep talk) set the tone for the team, but means nothing if I don’t follow up on it,” Price said. “I told them we were going to do things the right way — not like we didn’t before. If we do things to the best of our abilities all the time, everything will take care of itself.”

As practice went on, McFadden shuffled down to the other end of the field to join the JV, where he’ll be calling the offense.

“I plan to give him all the support he can ask for, the same as he gave me over the years,” said McFadden. “I’ll help with the JV and be up in the box during the varsity games.”

Price and McFadden go back further than coaching at Eastlake. Price remembers playing in the 1983 game between his Bonita Vista team and McFadden’s Hilltop team. The game featured a bench-clearing brawl.

“We won 21-14,” Price bragged.

A year later, he used his free time from UCSD to help at Bonita Vista. One of his players was 16-year-old Lance Christensen, the new head coach at Mesa League rival Otay Ranch. Until this season, Christensen was the offensive coordinator for McFadden, while Price was the defensive coordinator, a position he will keep for now.

This year should be even more of a challenge for both first-year bosses. They both have volunteered to help on their son’s youth football teams.

“At least it’s easier for me; they practice right here,” said Price. “I’m not sure how he’ll do it.”

Over the years, Price has had opportunities for head coaching jobs, but he had plenty of help making the decision to stay.

“We’re Eastlake people,” explained Price. “I have one daughter that graduated from here a year ago and a son in seventh grade. My wife let me know, ‘You can coach at another school, but we’re going to the Eastlake games on Friday nights.’ ”

So opening-day practice at Eastlake was where Price knew he should be.

“Once I was on the field, I wasn’t nervous anymore,” he concluded.

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