For coach J.T. Stone, the building blocks of Santa Barbara High’s special football season started when he was hired six years ago.
Many of the players on the 2019 team that went 11-3, won an undefeated Channel League title and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Division 8 championship, watched Stone’s early Dons teams play his wide-open brand of football.
When their time came to wear the olive and gold, the 2019 players had a good idea what needed to be done to bring the glory back to Dons football.
Under Stone’s guidance, Santa Barbara went unbeaten in league play, snapped a 30-year drought in the playoffs and made its first CIF-SS finals appearance since 1989. The second-seeded Dons fell short against No. 1 Sunny Hills, 24-21, before a full house at San Marcos’ Warkentin Stadium.
The Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table is honoring Stone as the High School Coach of the Year.
“This is a true honor, but it couldn’t have been done without my assistant coaches, the players and the faculty at Santa Barbara High School,” said Stone. “It took everybody to get this done, so I’m very thankful as a coach and I look forward to next season.”
He gave credit to his earlier teams for laying the foundation for the 2019 season.
“It was the building blocks that started with (Brent Peus’) group and led up to (Deacon Hill’s) group. Deacon and those kids were able to watch those guys from a young age.
“They won at a young age and they understood what it takes to get to this point. When you’re preaching that every single day, I knew with this group coming in, that they were going to have that opportunity to (play for a CIF championship) because they understood what it took to win.”
Ironically, it was a loss that convinced Stone his team could contend for the Division 8 title. The Dons failed to score on several chances inside the red zone and lost 38-7 against a talented Oxnard-Pacifica team that went on to win the Southern Section Division 6 title and the CIF State 2A Championship
“After that game I felt like we could compete at a high level,” said Stone. “We were prepared for teams like Lompoc (in league) and Palmdale (in the playoffs).”
Behind the play of the Wisconsin-committed Hill at quarterback, Santa Barbara won at Lompoc en route to an undefeated Channel League campaign and then lit it up in the first three rounds of the playoffs, outscoring the opponents 123-47.
“All the pieces of the puzzle were there for us, from the coaching staff to the kids,” said Stone. “But it definitely wouldn’t have been done without leadership, our leaders on our football team.”
The seniors set the tone before the season started.
“Those seniors were like, ‘We’re not going to take anything else but making it to the CIF finals,’” Stone said. “That was our attitude the whole year. Last spring, we were saying: ‘We’re going to The Game! And we are going hard and do everything we could.’
“And the kids did it.”