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Oceanside's John Carroll back at the helm

08/22/2014, 2:50pm PDT
By John Maffei

Veteran coach has overcome face plant to lead the Pirates


Oceanside football coach John Carroll spent two nights at Tri-City Medical Center.

2014 PREP FOOTBALL SEASON PREVIEW

Scouting reports, key players and schedules for all the teams.

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OCEANSIDE — John Carroll was feeling like a man half his age.

So the 57-year-old Oceanside High football coach lined up at scout-team quarterback in practice late last season.

"I was having a great time," Carroll said. "I was Peyton Manning. I was taunting my defense.

"I was faking, spinning, yelling 'Omaha'."

Then Carroll took a snap, ran right, got tripped by the Turf Monster and did a face plant.

He landed hard, breaking his glasses and cutting his nose.

End of practice.

"I guess I'm not as athletic as I used to be," Carroll said.

No harm, no foul ... at least that's what Carroll thought.

Two weeks later, though, Carroll left campus and ran to the store to get medication for a "damn inner-ear thing".

When he arrived back at his office, the room was spinning. He was sweating and his complexion resembled a sheet.

Roland Thomason, an ex-Marine and Oceanside's Mr. Indispensable, immediately called 911.

Paramedics arrived within two minutes and rushed Carroll to Tri-City Medical Center with what everyone thought was a stroke.

"It WAS NOT a stroke," Carroll said. "I can't emphasize that enough. There were stroke-like symptoms. But it wasn't a stroke."

In fact, Carroll had suffered a tear in his vertebral artery, one of the main arteries at the base of the neck, and the first branch of the subclavian artery. That tear created a blockage in the blood vessel to the brain.

That's a problem. Left untreated or misdiagnosed, death is a possibility.

It had taken two weeks from Carroll's face plant for the problem to manifest itself.

The symptoms were trauma related and a direct result of the fall.

"The doctors at Tri-City diagnosed it right away," Carroll said. "Thank God they did or I might not be around.

"They handled things extremely well."

Carroll, however, did not.

His team was heading into the San Diego Section Open Division playoffs against a good Torrey Pines team.

So he pulled an all-nighter putting together a gameplan.

The plan worked to the tune of a 35-0 win, but it took a toll on Carroll.

Carroll had to turn coaching duties over the Rick Girardi, his long-time and most-trusted assistant. Tua Meyers, another long-time assistant, handled the offense. Patrick Coleman took control of the defense.

Carroll coached/observed that game from the pressbox at Oceanside High protected from the outside by his coaching staff and wife, Peggy.

"John is who he is," said Peggy Carroll. "He's an intense person, but we were scared to death. "It was his decision to coach from the pressbox. I supported that and the kids respected it.

"He learned to delegate, and his coaches stepped up.

"Rick Girardi did all the behind-the-scenes stuff, all the business stuff, all the internal stuff John usually does.

"People give me credit for taking care of John, but Roland Thomason saved his life. Roland's quick thinking was huge."

The next week, Carroll again coached/observed from the pressbox as his Pirates used an incredible second-half comeback to beat Eastlake 33-30.

Carroll tried to coach the Open Division championship game against Mission Hills from the pressbox at Qualcomm Stadium. But he was severely handicapped.

"I tried to get from the pressbox to the locker room, but couldn't make it," Carroll said. "It was just too far.

"I couldn't get to my team at halftime. It killed me. I had a hard time getting around. I had a hard time using my brain."

The Pirates lost the game 36-14 as Mission Hills played a near-flawless game.

"Coach Carroll wasn't on the field with us and it was tough," said Oceanside defensive tackle Brandon Badillo, who is now playing at Palomar College

"He loves the game so much, but he'd get dizzy watching film with us.

"He told us he'd be OK. He told us not to give up because he wasn't.

"But Mission Hills was just better that night."

Defensive end Tommy Woo, one of the best players on this year's Oceanside team, said the Pirates tried to use Carroll's absence as motivation.

"Let's face it. The man's a legend," Woo said of the man who has led Oceanside to 20 straight county semifinals, 12 county titles and a pair of state bowl championships.

"The other coaches took over and did a great job, but we were afraid for him.

"We wanted to represent him, win for him. It was upsetting, scary.

"But he's back now. He's Coach Carroll again, joking around."

Carroll resumed some teaching duties at the end of the last school year and is back coaching and teaching full-time.

All the tests have been positive. He's fully functional and is off nearly all his medications.

"Oceanside High football is a big family, so it's good to have Coach Carroll back," Woo said. "There is a lot of love in this program."

At one weightlifting session during the summer, Tofi Paopao - who is playing quarterback at Southwestern College, and receiver Thai Cottrell - who is at San Jose State - stopped by to see Carroll.

"And that was a slow day," Woo said. "We'll have four, five, six former guys come around in the summer to see Coach Carroll. "It's great."

Carroll said he's doing great.

He didn't want to put a percentage on how far he has come back, but there has been significant improvement.

He has no limitations and plans to be on the sidelines Friday when the Pirates - ranked No. 2 in San Diego in the preseason - host No. 5 St. Augustine.

"John's injury wasn't like a pulled hamstring," said Dave Barrett, Oceanside's athletic director and a man who was Carroll's defensive coordinator for nearly two decades.

"It wasn't like he was going to miss six weeks and be OK.

Honestly, though we didn't know how severe it was.

"I got there right after Roland called 911 and it was very frightening.

"John Carroll isn't just a great football coach. He's a very important part of our campus. He's a mentor to so many kids. He has helped build a family culture here.

"Thank God, he's back doing what he loves, what he does best ... coach football."

NUMBERS

25 - Seasons as head coach at Oceanside

20 - Straight trips to the San Diego Section semifinals

16 - Appearances in the section championship game

12 - San Diego Section titles

10 - Straight trips to the section finals

7 - Straight section titles from 2004-2010

2 - State championships

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