Like most rivalries, the storied meetings between Walnut High and Diamond Bar High Schools should be captured on black and white 8mm film for posterity. At the very least, it should begin like all good stories do with, “Once Upon A Time…”
OK, OK. The rivalry began in 1986, not 1686. Nevertheless, this is a 25-year football challenge that is enjoying a resurgence because not only is pride on the line, but possible playoff implications.
The teams will duke it out Friday night in a 7 p.m. Hacienda League game at Walnut High School.
And both sides are dying to get their hands on the perpetual “Branding Iron” trophy, awarded to the game’s winner every year. Walnut has it, Diamond Bar wants it. Simple, right?
“It’s a real cool thing. The kids really respect each other,” said Diamond Bar football coach Ryan Maine, who last played in the Branding Iron game for the Brahmas in 2001. “When I was there, we were in different divisions and didn’t play each other so it wasn’t as intense. When they readjusted the league, it got big again. Now it’s for a playoff spot, too.”
The natural rivalry between the schools was built in 1982, when the Walnut Valley Unified School District split Walnut High in half to fill the newly-built Diamond Bar High. Now, as both schools have grown, the football programs and traditions associated with the game have as well.
“The thing is, to create a rivalry, there has to be a lot of history,” Walnut coach Mike O’Shields said. “For us, we started up the tradition of the Chuck Wagon, which is a big BBQ for our our players and their families. We cook tri-tip and chicken and the cheerleaders perform. By Friday, it’s a big school pep rally and we’re ready for Friday night. The whole school gets into it.”
On the field, both teams have struggled with consistency this year, but have some players that are turning in excellent seasons.
Diamond Bar (2-4) is led by quarterback Henry Omana. His favorite target, George Katrib, has broken almost every school career and single-game record at wide receiver in his three years on varsity. This year, Katrib has over 600 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
Their running game has been slowed by senior Jamaal Clayton’s ankle injury, but Maine said sophomore Tyler Brown has been impressive in filling in at running back.
Despite its record, Walnut (2-5) has had success with a balanced offense. Last week, tailback Devon Brown rushed for 163 yards in the Mustangs 38-26 victory over Rowland. Quarterback Chris Mendez has thrown for more than 1,000 yards this season, spreading the offense among receivers Aaron Alvarez, Kyle Parisi and Cody Lepp – each with 20 catches or more.
“It’s the one game of the year that we don’t have to worry about getting our kids emotionally up for the game,” O’Shields said. “It’s what a true rivalry should be. I know a lot of the coaching staff and they’re great guys. It’s a good interdistrict rivalry and good for both schools.”
Sometimes, however, it all comes down to the trophy.
“Walnut has won two years in a row,” Maine said. “We’re dying to get that thing back.”