Price Era Brought Pride and Passing Back to Pali High Football Program
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
Palisades High fielded its first football team the year the school opened in 1961 and since that time the program has gone through many ups and downs and produced many skilled players.
Perhaps the most exciting era, however, started in 1996 with the hiring of 60-year-old Ron Price, who had previously coached at Manual Arts, Hamilton and Fairfax and had retired after 33 years as an LA Unified school teacher only a few summers before. Price brought a grandfatherly presence players responded to, along with a handful of prominent assistants that included his sons Steve and Chuck and then offensive coordinator Steve Clarkson, who would mold the Dolphins’ offense into the most prolific passing attack in the City Section.
Palisades had gone 3-6-1 the previous season under Russ Howard (who was also the head baseball coach) and had not made the playoffs since 1992 in its last season under Jack Epstein.
In Price’s first game at the helm the Dolphins walloped Van Nuys 28-7 and they went on to finish the regular season with a record of 8-2, good enough for second place in the Coastal Conference behind Westchester. Led by nose guard Rodney Moses, free safety Sean Eugene, receive Trayvon Walker and tailback Marlin Usher, Palisades was seeded eighth in the 4A (upper division playoffs) and hosted No. 9 Kennedy in the first round. Despite a 23-21 defeat it was a remarkable bounce back season that showed the program was back on track.
Behind All-City defensive back Shamon Jamerson, lineman Melvin Hayes and wideout Ryan Hilst, the Dolphins did even better the following year, winning 10 games for the first time since 1976 and beating perennial power Dorsey in the first round of the 4A playoffs before falling to City runner-up Taft in the quarterfinals.
The team was not only winning, it was building a reputaiton as one of the most exciting and highest scoring teams in Los Angeles—a change from the defense-minded style of previous coaches.
Price brought discipline to the team and didn’t allow his players to miss practice. As a result, many dropped out and only 40 tried out his first year—players who would have to start both ways. Still, the groundwork was being laid for a team that would evolve into a consistent winner for the first time in two decades.
After eight more wins in 1998 behind the leadership of Post Cup winner Carlos Flores and the legs of Terence O’Neal, who ran for a school single-season record 24 touchdowns, the program turned the corner in 1999 with the arrival of junior quarterback David Koral, who would flourish in Clarkson’s run-and-shoot system.
Palisades averaged 41 points per game in 1999 and Koral threw touchdown passes by the bucketful. He was aided by a talented and fast group of receivers led by senior Geoff McArthur, who set school single-season records for receptions (91), receiving yards (1,779) and touchdown catches (28) that still stand today.
Koral continued to put up video-numbers on his way to amassing a state-record 4,905 yards passin and a school single-season record 58 touchdowns.
In a 61-6 rout at Fairfax, Koral completed 46 passes, tying the school-record set by Perry Klein against Jordan in 1987. In the Dolphins’ regular season finale against Kilpatrick, Koral tied a national record with 10 touchdown passes in a 69-44 triumph—the most points the Dolphins have ever scored in one game and the most combined points in school history. Palisades’ aerial circus led to 534 points in 13 games—the highest total in program history as McArthur and Koral both earned All-City honors.
The team won 10 games and reached the semifinals of the Invitational playoffs—the deepest playoff run since making the 3A semifinals seven years earlier. Along the way the Dolphins scored 61 points en route to their third straight victory over crosstown rival Santa Monica and they scored 40 or more points eight times in 13 games. Still, the one prize they had yet to earn under Price was a league title.
That was the primary goal in 2000, when Koral again terrorized opposing secondaries with 4,057 yards and 44 touchdowns, including a national-record 764 yards in a September game against Grant. One week later Charles Ealy had a school-record three interceptions in a 28-0 shutout of Los Angeles.
After a heartbeaking 35-26 loss to Cleveland in the season opener the Dolphins reeled off eight wins in a row to set up a Western League showdown with Larry Wein coached Westchester, but it proved to be no contest. The Comets picked off six Koral passes and batted down five more at the line of scrimmage. Westchester unleashed its vaunted option attack to the tune of 314 rushing yards and 18 first downs in a 44-16 rout.
Still smarting from that loss the Dolphins traveled to the Valley to take on Birmingham in the first round of the City 4A playoffs the following Friday and were eager to spring an upset.
Jacques Lazarus returned a kickoff 99 yards to tie the score 6-6 and, then Koral connected with Ealy on a 22-yard strike to give Palisades a 13-6 lead. However, disaster struck on the next possession in the second quarter. Koral was knocked to the ground while attempting a fourth-down pass and broke his left forearm. His Palisades career was over. Clarkson called on receiver Greig Carlson to replace Koral at quarterback. The senior transfer from Taft threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Ealy to send the Dolphins to the locker room up 20-6.
Fifth-seeded Birmingham scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead and the teams traded scores for the rest of the game before the Patriots prevailed, 53-47.
Carlson not only rushed for two scores, but also completed 11 of 16 passes for 231 yards and three scores—accounting for five of the team’s seven touchdowns.
It was one of Palisades’ fastest teams ever, with tailback Lionel Gentry and a trio of game-breaking receivers in Ealy (73 catches for 1,366 yards and 15 touchdowns); Carlson (62 catches for 1,252 yards and 16 touchdowns) and Lazarus (69 catches for 792 yards and six touchdowns). Koral became Palisades’ career passing leader with 8,964 yards and 102 touchdowns before embarking on a college career that included stops at Vanderbilt, Florida State, Santa Monica College and UCLA. Ealy went on to Fresno State and UNLV; Carlson played for USC and Lazarus had stints at UCLA and the University of San Diego.
Palisades’ program was gaining national attention when Price opted to resign in February 2001. He became a defensive coach under Angelo Gasca at league rival Venice and he remains a coach to this day. He left a proud legacy at Palisades, leading the Dolphins to eight or more wins in each of his five seasons with five playoff berths and a 44-15 record. Price has the highest winning percentage of any coach in program history (.746) and was beloved by his players. In fact, seven players (including three starters) transferred to other schools when he resigned.
It would be 10 years before the Dolphins finished with a winning record (they went 7-6 in the first season under Perry Jones in 2010) and would not make it back to the upper division playoffs until 2012 under Jones. Tim Hyde took the reigns in 2013 and piloted the program to its first undefeated league championship in 32 years last fall.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.