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Honor Bowl goes beyond football

09/02/2015, 8:43pm PDT
By John Maffei

Prep coaches, players join efforts to help military veterans transition to civilian life

Cathedral Catholic and Adam Eastwood (25) will play an Honor Bowl rematch with Westlake Village Oaks Christian on Saturday.


Honor Bowl scouting report, facts 'n' figures


Word-of-mouth is the best advertising.

With a national-caliber program, Eastside Catholic High football coach Jeremy Thielbahr was looking for a big game to open the 2015 season.

His Crusaders from Sammamish, Wash., had played Mission Hills Alemany of Southern California and American Fork from Utah last season. Eastside beat Bellevue for the state 3A championship and traveled to Florida to play Trinity Christian Academy of Jacksonville after that.

“High school football is about experiences,” Thielbahr said. “We have a good program here, great kids.

“And after playing in Florida last season, I was looking for another trip.”

Thielbahr spoke with the coaches at Bellevue, a team that played Gardena Serra in Oceanside last season at the Honor Bowl.

The Honor Bowl, run by Mark Soto, is in its third year at Oceanside. This year’s field features some of the nation’s top teams in doubleheaders Friday and Saturday.

“The Bellevue people said coming to Oceanside was a great experience, said it was a premier event, said they loved it,” Thielbahr said. “So when Mark Soto invited us, I said we’re in.”

Eastside Catholic will play Oceanside at 8 p.m. Friday.

“The thing about the Honor Bowl is that we’ll play a quality opponent,” Thielbahr said. “We watched film on Oceanside last season and saw their San Marcos game last week.

“They have big lines and skill kids who make plays. And they fly around and play with intensity.

“Beyond the game, though, is the military theme. This is exactly what I was looking for.

“I want my players exposed to the military. We’re excited about visiting the hospital and wounded warriors.

“As players and coaches, we need to give back, and this event gives back.

“They’re excited to have us here, but we consider it an honor to be invited.”

Soto, whose sons served in the military, runs the Honor Bowl as a nonprofit event.

The proceeds go to help equip wounded military veterans with much-needed items and resources to assist a return to civilian life.

The Honor Bowl is more than just the athletic competition.

There will be a military expo, sky-diving performances, special guests and tributes and a variety of food concessions.

There will also be a salute to the memory of former Oceanside and NFL great Junior Seau on Friday.

“The Oceanside community has embraced us,” said Soto. “The cooperation we get — from the city to the school — is tremendous.

“They understand the Honor Bowl is more than just football games.”

Athletic Director Dave Barrett and the staff at Oceanside High cooperate with Soto and his staff.

And Oceanside Mayor Jim Wood is a regular at the event.

“What’s not to like?” Barrett said. “We live and work in a military town. Our players and coaches are tied to the military.

“This is such a great cause, and we get to play a quality football team.”

The one downer this year is the lack of a third game Saturday.

Soto had matched Upland against Helix, but Upland backed out in May. Soto scrambled to find an opponent for the Highlanders but failed to find a match.

“Helix elevates our event, so we hated to lose them,” Soto said. “Honestly, we looked across the nation for an opponent, but it was too late.

“Helix wants back in next season. Teams that play here keep coming back.

“I think that shows we present two wonderful nights of football and pageantry — for a great cause.”

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