K.K. LIMBHASUT GOLFS HIS WAY FROM REDLANDS TO BERKELEY

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, NASCAR, the Kentucky Derby and Indianapolis 500, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

For years, Redlands High’s K.K. Limbhasut worked his way into the Terriers’ golf lineup at the No. 1 position — all four seasons, in fact. When he notched a victory at  the Ka’anapali Classic in Lahaina, Hawaii last November, he shot his way to collegiate golf’s mecca.

He has just capped his junior season at Cal-Berkeley, shooting just over 71. Limbhasut’s collegiate career includes two prominent wins, a dozen top 10 NCAA finishes, plus a 10th place at the 2016 NCAA Championships as a freshman.

The Thai-born Limbhasut (pronounced Lip-ah-SOOD) was one of those athletes that showed up as a Terrier, who averaged 68 shots every time he played 18 holes as a prep.

KK LIMBHASUT
K.K. Limphasaut, a Redlands High School product, is playing his way through UC Berkeley on a golf scholarship. The fifth-year senior has won some collegiate events in his time (photo by Cal Bears).

He goes into a list of Terrier athletes that might’ve been surprises in the school’s traditional Blue Line.

Athletes like future Olympic high jumper Karol Damon, plus Brigham Young University tennis’ Hermahr Kaur, soccer’s Landon Donovan, football and track star Patrick Johnson, among others, who showed up, perhaps unexpectedly, to carve out a niche.

Those athletes could’ve easily shown up on some other campus.

When Limbhasut shot a 67 at the CIF-Southern Section championship at Mission Lakes, he’d outplayed Oregon-bound Aaron Wise (now on the PGA Tour), of Corona Santiago, by a single shot to win the 2014 championship.

Names like Tiger Woods (three times, in fact, for Anaheim Western) are on that same winner’s list. So are PGA Hall of Famers like Dave Stockton (San Bernardino Pacific) and Billy Casper (Chula Vista), plus Vista Murrieta’s Ricky Fowler.

Limbhasut  probably won’t ever forget that eagle on the 16th hole at Mission Lakes which lifted him to his win over Wise and an entire field of gifted prep players.

His grades, not to mention his game, got him a shot, literally, at the academically sound Berkeley campus.

He’s paid his dues at Berkeley. There was that 2014-2015 Aggie Invitational triumph in Texas, plus a tie for first place at the John A. Burns Intercollegiate Tournament in Hawaii one season later.

Limphasut has been a three-time All-West Region. Like most top-flight amateurs, he’s played in plenty of major events. He just finished playing at the Arnold Palmer Cup, held in France, losing in match play while representing the International team.

Let’s not forget that any time, he tees up in a collegiate match — particularly in the super talented Pac 12 — Limbhasut’s taking on top-flight future pros. In Cal’s NCAA Regionals, played in Raleigh, N.C., an 11th place finish failed to land a spot in the NCAA Championships.

Limbhasut’s tie for 32nd place, shooting 212, was middle of the road play.

It’s probably far too premature to pronounce a pro future on Limbhasut, which is the likely conclusion to draw from any golfer with such a growing list. It’s probably too premature to rule it out.

His final round 66 at the Royal Ka’anapali Course included three pars on the final three holes, shooting 12-under par for a 200 total, edging South Carolina’s Scott Stevens by a shot. Limbhasut’s Cal teammate Collin Morkiwaka started the final round in first place.

Limbhasut’s patience and iron play held steady.

“I controlled my ball flight this week,” he told an area magazine, “which helped when the trades (infamous Hawaiian winds) picked up.”

Noting a 25-foot uphill putt he sank for an eagle on the ninth hole, Limbhasut seemed perfectly up to that up-and-down part on the 18th hole to close it out.

Next stop: Limbhasut, a fifth-year senior, will begin play this fall.

JOHNSON’S SPEED LED HIM INTO NFL, NOT AMONG WORLD TRACK ELITE

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open and the Olympics, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

It was June 1, 1995. The place was Knoxville, Tenn.

Patrick Johnson, born in Georgia, moved to Redlands, took a football scholarship at the University of Oregon, eventually winding up playing professionally in Baltimore. All evidence pointed to a possible world-class career on the track. Here he was in Tennessee. World class speed seemed to be everywhere.

Johnson, an Oregon freshman, was competing against the likes of Ato Boldon, Obadele Thompson, Donovan Powell and Tim Harden, among others. A month earlier, Johnson had beaten Olympic legend Carl Lewis in nearby Des Moines, Iowa.

On hand was the NCAA Division 1 championships, hosted by the University of Tennessee between May 31-June 3.

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson, an electrifying speedster who found his way from world class track into the NFL (photo by ProAthletes Celebrity).

As a world-class speedster, Johnson never hid from the fact that his first interest in athletics was football. I’ll never forget that moment, either.

“All I wanted to do,” Johnson told me during his senior year at Redlands High in 1994, “was play football. That was my goal. Man, I loved track. But football was something different. It was special.”

It was one of a few chats with, perhaps, one of Redlands’ most accomplished athletes.

Here he was, the reigning track & field star at Redlands in 1994 – the eventual state 100- and 200- meter champion. His times were outrageously quick – a 10.43 to win the 1994 State 100 title, while a 10.61 was quick enough to win the Southern Section Division 1 championship.

Don’t forget the 200, where he turned it on three times to win titles, starting in 1993 with a 21.40 to win the Division 1 championship.

One season later, he not only re-captured the Division 1 title in 21.25, but he beat all comers at the State finals in 21.01.

He was no marginal athlete in either sport. Compared to football, where his skills could’ve been used in a variety of positions on the field, Johnson single-mindedly trained for football – even during spring track season.

That’s the groundwork for Johnson’s upcoming track career. Right?

Even the most casual observer might agree that Johnson’s future seemed to be on that oval that usually surrounds any football field.

As a freshman at Oregon, Johnson beat all comers in the Pacific-10 400-meter finals – 45.38 seconds. He made the NCAA Championships in Knoxville, Tenn. that year, unable to qualify in either the 100 or the 200.

His competition was off the charts.

Guys like Bolden, of UCLA, was winning the 200 in 20.24. Johnson’s prelims time was 20.82 – ninth place, one spot out of a place in the finals.

O._Thompson_Sydney_medal
Obadele Thompson once beat Carl Lewis at the Drake Relays, a 100-meter race in which Redlands’ Patrick Johnson finished second (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

At least Johnson made the 100-finals. But his 10.32 clocking was eighth, and last, in a field headed by Kentucky’s Harden (10.05). In that race was the Jamaican, Powell, whose brother, Asafa Powell, once held the world record (9.74) in the 100.

Harden was part of the Olympic silver medal 4 x 100 relay at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Ato_Boldon_Sydney_2000
Ato Boldon, of UCLA, was a chief rival of Patrick Johnson, the onetime State prep champion from Redlands who took off for the University of Oregon. Boldon celebrated an Olympic medal in this photo at the 2000 Sydney Games (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

Boldon, an eventual four-time Olympic medal winner, had false-started in that 1995 100 semifinals, eliminating him from a possible sprint double – a controversial result, in fact.

Carl Lewis
Carl Lewis, a 9-time Olympic champion, took on Redlands’ Patrick Johnson at the 1995 Drake Relays (photo by Wikipedia Commons).

A month, or so, before that year’s NCAAs, Johnson prepped at the Drake (Iowa) Relays – on April 29, 1995. It was there that Johnson beat nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis across the line in the 100-meters. Few recall, however, the Lewis’ career was coming to an end. Or that Johnson didn’t even win that race.

Thomson, a sophomore at Texas-El Paso, won in 10.19. Johnson, an Oregon freshman, was next at 10.26. Lewis, the Olympic hero, was third in 10.32.

SPEED KILLS ON A FOOTBALL FIELD

Johnson’s speed was a rampant weapon on any football field.

In football at Redlands, Johnson never seemed to have that huge, stunning, break-out game that observers would recall in years to come. That never kept him from swaying from his dream.

“Ever since I was little,” said Johnson, “I’ve thought about football.”

His Redlands track records will likely stand the test of time – 10.39 in the 100, 20.79 in the 200, 43.79 in the 400 and anchoring a 4 x 400 relay (3:18.79) are numbers that just don’t point a young man away from track & field.

The tipoff should have been easy to spot.

Upon Johnson’s transfer to Redlands as a junior in 1992, he was declared ineligible because he did not have enough units toward graduation. In Terrier coach Jim Walker’s first season, Johnson was a practice squad player from weeks one through 10. Under those conditions, it would have been easy to find something else to do.

“I remember coaching the defensive backs that season,” said onetime Redlands assistant Dick Shelbourne, “the season Pat missed playing in the games because he was ineligible. He only missed two practices the whole season.”

It was a sure sign to Terrier coaches that Johnson was serious about football. When the playoffs rolled around, Walker and Shelbourne worked him into their games against Capistrano Valley and Loyola – in the secondary.

That was Redlands’ introduction to Johnson, who was eligible to run track later that spring. By his senior year, Walker contemplated Johnson at any one of three different offensive positions – receiver, running back or an option quarterback.

Settling on running back, Johnson’s season was uneventful – 583 yards rushing, another 257 receiving, and the Terriers failed to reach the post-season.

His speed on the track lured interested parties because he played football, too. Johnson opted for the University of Oregon, where he played wide receiver.

Years later when Ducks’ football coach Rich Brooks spoke about Johnson, he chuckled when we chatted. “That speed of his,” he said, “could’ve taken him anywhere – football or track.”

Let’s not forget, either, that Oregon is home to Hayward Field, which is the nation’s top site for track & field. It would be impossible not to feel that emotional tug. He seemed offended if anyone suggested track over football.

He’d shake his head. Mind was made up.

FOOTBALL NUMBERS VERSUS TRACK TIMES

At Oregon from 1994-97, Johnson snagged 143 passes mostly from the likes of Ducks’ QBs Tony Graziani and Akili Smith. His final collegiate game, against Air Force in the Las Vegas Bowl, Johnson took advantage of his blazing speed. Catching five passes for 169 yards, he caught two TD passes from Smith for 69 and 78 yards.

On the other hand, he remains on Oregon’s all-time records list – eighth best in the 100 (that 10.26 at The Drake Relays), tied for second best in the 200 (20.39) and sixth best in the 400 (45.38) – with all electrifying marks.

Remember, this is a historic collegiate program. Ranking among the best at that school is overwhelming.

Though uniquely qualified to take on the world’s best sprinters of the day – Lewis, Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene, among others, Johnson’s chosen field was professional football.

The Ravens made him the 42nd selection in the draft, taken in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft.

Johnson, a two-time NCAA All-American in the 100 and 200 in his only full season of collegiate competition, was expected to win the 400 NCAA championship in 1996.

Plus, he was a staunch favorite to make the USA Olympic team that year.

Remember, The Games were scheduled for Atlanta, Ga., Johnson’s home state.

It’s possible Johnson might have over-trained early that season – trying too hard, perhaps. He was, apparently, in no condition to compete at the NCAAs.

Johnson took second in the Pac-10’s 400-meter finals in 1996.

Those calamities added up. Johnson never stepped on Hayward Field’s track again to compete.

PART 2 – IN ONE DAY, REDLANDS HAD TWO TAKEN INTO NFL

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

A telephone call? From the NFL? To a University of Redlands player?

Can’t be. It never happened before. It never happened again.

The deliverer of that message, University of Redlands’ John Rebenstorf, said Brian De Roo, was among those “most unlikely to be believed” by team members.

De Roo eventually returned the phone call to Giants’ head coach John McVey.

MCVAY_3
John McVay, who called Redlands’ Brian De Roo to tell him that he’d been drafted by the New York Giants in 1978, left after that season. So did De Roo (Photo courtesy of San Francisco 49ers.)

The exciting news: Fifth round selection. Mini-camp information. Dates. Flight arrangements. De Roo was a pro.

Bruce Gibson, for his part, was taken by the Detroit Lions two rounds later.

Axelrod, meanwhile, was De Roo’s agent throughout his four-year stint in the NFL.

“Needless to say,” said De Roo, “(my family) needed to move the party up.”

Draft day had conflicted with the school’s academic finals. De Roo left his party early to sleep and prepare for a final one day later.

“I was surprised to a certain extent,” said De Roo, “but with the information given to me by Mr. Axelrod, not totally. (I was) just excited that it was on the first day of the draft.”

Redlands, never having had a drafted football player, didn’t quite know how to handle it, said De Roo. “In the end, they didn’t do anything (to celebrate).”

There was a Bulldog inner circle, however. De Roo said being drafted was a “team victory as all of them were.”

Serrao had returned telephone calls from NFL personnel people, providing film, guiding scouts and general managers throughout the process. Noting that UC Riverside receiver Butch Johnson, selected by Dallas, along with Butch Edge, a Bulldog linebacker, had probably brought additional spotlight to De Roo.

De Roo, out of Redlands, was off anyone’s draft charts. Surrounded in the draft by players from USC, Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, Syracuse, the Bulldogs couldn’t have been on anyone’s map.

Pacific had to be. The Tigers had been the ticket for Tom Flores, Eddie Le Baron, All-Pro linebacker Mike Merriweather, plus Dick Bass, among dozens of others, who had been plucked by the NFL.

Even Hall of Fame coach Amos Alonzo Stagg had coached at UOP. Future coaches like Jon Gruden, Bob Toledo, Mike Martz, Hue Jackson and Pete Carroll were connected to the Stockton-based campus.

Redlands was full of wonderful players – too small, too slow, too inexperienced – that didn’t play tough enough opponents to make a pro scout even take notice. De Roo, who snagged 156 passes as a Bulldog, might have been the exception.

Gibson, meanwhile, was playing for a Tigers’ team that numbered 13 total wins during his 1975-77 stint. Playing the likes of Fresno State, Hawaii, Air Force, San Diego State, plus 17th-ranked Arizona in Gibson’s sophomore season, Pacific was certainly on NFL scouts’ radar.

Arizona stopped Pacific, 16-0.

Pacific was miles ahead of Redlands.

But Gibson, for whom Redlands High was built around a few years earlier, was cut by the Lions in training camp, never to play in an NFL game.

Other Redlands-based draftees:

1974 – Greg Horton was selected by George “Papa Bear” Halas, the longtime owner and coach of the Chicago Bears. Third round, out of Colorado.

1999 – Patrick Johnson, a world class sprinter who chose football over track & field, was taken by the old Cleveland Browns, now known as the Baltimore Ravens. Second round, out of Oregon.

That’s the entire list from Redlands. Kylie Fitts, a defensive end from Redlands East Valley, was expected to be taken in 2018.

As for the NFL draft, consider that eventual Hall of Fame QB Warren Moon, from Washington, wasn’t even selected. Moon, like De Roo eventually, wound up playing in Canada.

As for any University of Redlands celebration: Consider that De Roo’s jersey No. 2 is the only football one ever to be retired.

Footnote: De Roo points out that McVey is the grandfather of current Rams’ coach Sean McVey.

 

PART 2 – SUPER BOWL FROM TAMPA

Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown

Twenty-four years after Redlands’ Jim Weatherwax appeared in the first-ever championship game between the National Football League and old American Football League, one of the most coincidental connections in Redlands/Super Bowl history took place.

A pair of ex-Terriers showed up in the NFL’s biggest game.

Brian Billick, whose Redlands High School days were beckoning when the first Super Bowl kicked off in nearby Los Angeles, had a future in the NFL’s big game.

At Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., the Baltimore Ravens – formerly the Cleveland Browns – stopped the New York Giants, 34-7, to win Super Bowl XXXV. The date: Jan. 28, 2001.

All those football eyes from Redlands were squarely on the Ravens. By-lines appeared under my name about Billick’s early years in Redlands – his friends, starting football as a ninth grader at Cope Middle School, plus some of his Terrier playing days which included subbing for injured QB Tim Tharaldson in 1971.

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Brian Billick, whose high school play in Redlands was memorable in the early 1970s, eventually rose through the coaching ranks to take on of the most deadly defensive teams to win Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Baltimore Ravens)

Thirty years later, he was coaching the Ravens in the Super Bowl.

One of the Ravens’ receivers was speedster Patrick Johnson, a track & field sprinter who had raced to California championships in both the 100 and 200 less than a decade earlier. He wore Terrier colors. Picking football over track & field, Johnson played collegiately at the University of Oregon before getting picked in the second round by Baltimore in the 1998 NFL draft.

It was Johnson’s third season when Baltimore reached the Super Bowl. Twelve of his 84 career catches came in the Ravens’ 2000 season, two going for touchdowns. Tight end Shannon Sharpe (67 receptions, 810 yards, 5 TDs) was, by far, Baltimore’s top receiver. Running back Jamal Lewis (1,364 yards, 6 TDs) was the Ravens’ most dangerous threat.

Baltimore’s defense, led by linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Rod Woodson, end Rob Burnett and tackle Tony Siragusa helped keyed the Ravens’ drive to an eventual 16-4 record. Playoff wins over Denver, Tennessee and Oakland lifted Baltimore into the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay, Fla.

Billick’s high school coach, Paul Womack, traveled back east to see his former player. He showed up at the team’s Owings Mill practice facility. Basically, Womack had free run of the practice facility.

Womack heard Billick telling Johnson – dubbed the “Tasmanian Devil” for his uncontrollable speed – he had to run precise routes. The ex-Terrier coach quoted Billick, saying, “Pat, I can’t play you unless you run the right routes.”

In the Super Bowl, Johnson snagged an eight-yard pass from QB Trent Dilfer. It was good for a first down. There was another moment, though.

“I ran right by (Giants’ free safety Jason) Sehorn,” said Johnson.

Dilfer delivered the pass. Into the end zone. The ex-Terrier receiver dove.

“It hit my fingers,” he said. “It’s okay. It ain’t all about me.”

Patrick Johnson (Photo by Baltimore Gridiron Report)
Patrick Johnson, a Redlands High product, is shown after one of his 84 career NFL receptions, turning upfield to display some of his world class speed. (Photo by Baltimore Gridiron Report)

As for Johnson, I got him on the telephone a couple hours after the Ravens’ big win. He was on the team bus, sitting beside teammates Sam Gash and Robert Bailey. At that moment, Johnson said the Lombardi Trophy was sitting about six feet behind him.

“I just had it in my hands,” Johnson said, “right before you called.”

LOMBARDI, LANDRY, SHULA … BILLICK!

Billick, for his part, later shared time on the telephone with me, sharing some of his innermost thoughts for the benefit of Redlands readers.

“I can’t believe I’ll have my name on that trophy,” said Billick, days after the big event in Tampa, Fla. It was a chance to reflect on guys like Tom Landry, Don Shula, Joe Gibbs and a man he once worked for in San Francisco, Bill Walsh.

Billick named those legendary coaches he’d be sharing Super Bowl glory throughout the years.

In the aftermath of the game. That trophy was held aloft. Billick was holding it. Showing it to players. To fans. An Associated Press photographer snapped a picture. One day later, the Redlands Daily Facts’ single page sports section on Jan. 29, 2001 was virtually all Billick and Lombardi Trophy. Confetti was falling all around him.

Framed around the Billick photo were two stories – one by local writer Richard D. Kontra, the other by-line was mine. As sports editor, I probably should have nixed the stories and enlarged the photo to cover the entire page.

Let the photo stand alone. Let it tell the whole story. As if everyone in Redlands, didn’t know, anyway.

One day after the enlarged photo, the newspaper’s Arts editor, Nelda Stuck, commented on why the photo had to be so large. “It was too big,” she said. “I don’t know why it had to be that big.”

Maybe she was kidding.

I remember asking her, “Nelda, what would you do if someone from Redlands had won an Academy Award?  You’d bury it in the classified section, huh?”

That’s the newspaper business for you. Everyone’s got a different view of the world.

A P.S. on Womack: Not only did he coach Billick in the early 1970s, but the former Terrier coach was Frank Serrao’s assistant coach in 1960. On that team was Weatherwax, who also played a huge role on Redlands’ 1959 squad.

It was a team that Serrao once said might have been better than Redlands’ 1961 championship team.

Another P.S., this on Weatherwax: While he had been taken by the Packers in the 1965 draft, the AFL-based San Diego Chargers also selected him in a separate draft. He played in 34 NFL games before a knee injury forced him from the game.

A third P.S. on Johnson: Billick’s arrival as coach in 1999 was one year after the Ravens drafted the speedy Johnson. That would at least put to rest any notion that Billick played some kind of a “Redlands” card at draft time.

One final P.S.: That Jan. 29, 2001 Redlands Daily Facts headline in the Super Bowl photo was simple. To the point.

“Super, Billick.”