Thursday Nov 19 2009
Hillmen of 1980 set the standard at LeFebvre
By: Dave Krizman Journal Columnist
Former Placer stars reflect on undefeated run to state banner
The 1980 Placer High football team was and is the best team in the school’s history. That season concluded with the Hillmen going undefeated with a 12-0 record, winning the Sierra Foothill League title, winning the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II title by defeating a powerhouse Ponderosa High team 35-8, and a week later being crowned the No. 1 Division II team in the state. Over four years of high school football, this squad was 42-1. Led by co-head coaches Tom Johnson and Bill Miller, Placer rolled over its early season opponents but saved their best performances for the final three games of the season. In the regular season finale, the Hillmen trounced arch rival and perennial power Nevada Union 30-7. Hosting Manteca, Placer demolished the visiting Buffaloes 36-0 in the section semifinals. In the section championship game, the Hillmen thoroughly outplayed visiting Ponderosa for a 35-8 win. Little did anyone sitting in the stands that chilly November evening know that Placer would not host a playoff game for 29 years. Tonight, Placer will play host to visiting Foothill High for a first round playoff game, ending the long drought. That team was a veritable collection of all-stars. Robert Holscher was the SFL Defensive Player of the Year. The hard-nosed defense also included Kevin Wallace, Guido Metzler, Carl Hanley, Terry Spivey and Phil Sparling. Offensively, Dennis Peck, Bob Crosthwaite, Wayne Davis, Jim Foehr, Jerry Mitchell, Jordie Cassell and Scott Ditty spearheaded a punishing attack. Tom Johnson, co-head coach and defensive coordinator, felt that “This was the most athletically gifted team I have ever coached.” “At every position we had excellent speed and the ability to pursue to the ball,” Johnson said. “We weren’t the biggest team, but we were very strong and had so much athletic ability.” This team’s success in 1980 was no surprise. As freshmen, the 1980 class went 9-0. During their JV campaign the Hillmen were 10-0. Their only loss in four years came during a semifinal playoff game against Ponderosa in ’79. Reflecting back 29 years ago on his senior season , Kevin Wallace, one of the finest linebackers in Placer history and still a local resident, was asked to spend a little time discussing football. Instead, he spoke effusively on the bond that was formed between players and between coaches. “I can’t say enough about Bill Miller and Tom Johnson,” Wallace said. “I have no words to express my appreciation to those two. Whenever I think of them, a big smile lights up my face. They were exceptional coaches and they shaped so many lives in a positive manner” Scott Ditty, the quick guard, in Miller’s offense, now lives in Utah where he is a high school PE teacher and football coach. Tonight, his team will be playing for the 4A state championship. “Our coaches taught us life lessons,” Ditty said. “They are lessons that I still use today in my personal life and lessons that I try to impart to my team. We were taught to handle adversity. In football, adversity is around every corner, and we were coached on how to handle it. In life, just as in football, there will be adversity; I feel I can handle setbacks because I played football at Placer. Coaches Miller and Johnson stressed that our team was a family. If you didn’t try your hardest, you were letting your family down. Our formula for success: teamwork, unity, enthusiasm and hard work are all life lessons that I have carried from football and hope to pass on to my players.” Tonight’s home playoff game comes full circle with 1980. Joey Montoya is Miller’s grandson and no doubt the life lessons discussed by the 1980 squad will be learned by the 2009 version of Placer football. Fast Facts on the Hillmen of '80 · Scott Ditty spent 15 years in Hollywood making a living as an actor. He is best remembered as a prison guard in the star-studded action movie, “ConAir.” · Their only loss in four years was at the hands of a Ponderosa High team led by running back Bryce Ogelsby who would go on to star at the college level. · Under coaches Johnson and Miller, the Hillmen wore uniforms identical to the Green Bay Packers. · The football team would charge out onto the field with the theme song to “Peter Gunn” blaring. · From 1975 through 1981, Placer won five CIF championships. Ponderosa won two. · Throughout the 1970s and early ‘80s, the Placer players would shave their respective heads before the start of the season. It was a sign of team unity.