When Ramsey Lambert arrived at Santa Monica High School as the new football coach earlier this year, he didn’t know where his predecessor had ended up.
He found out soon enough.
Travis Clark had resigned from the position to take the helm at Lawndale, setting up an anticipated Ocean League battle between the Vikings and their former coach at 7 p.m. Friday at Santa Monica College.
Lambert, who took the Samohi job after spending one year at La Canada, said he doesn’t want his players to be distracted by the sight of a familiar face on the opposite sideline.
“They haven’t really mentioned it,” he said earlier this season. “I’m sure it’s in the back of their head, but they’re doing a good job of hiding that from me. We need to be mentally focused. [Clark] is going to have those guys ready.”
It remains to be seen whether this year’s matchup will yield the same close game that the teams produced last season, when the Clark-led Vikings lost 20-19 despite standout performances by quarterback Isaiah Johnson (262 yards and two touchdowns) and wideout Corde Sweets (193 receiving yards and two scores).
The narrow loss was part of a 5-6 campaign during which Samohi finished behind El Segundo and Lawndale in the conference standings before losing in the first round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
It turned out to be the final season with the Vikings for Clark, who compiled a 41-28 overall record in six years at his alma mater. He led the program to two league titles and five postseason appearances during his tenure.
“That’s my home,” Clark said. “Santa Monica will always be my home. I’ll always be a Viking at heart. I purposely put [this matchup] in the back of my mind, and I’m just trying to treat it as a regular week. I’m really excited to see some of my old kids and friends. But I’ll be weird to be on the opposite sideline.”
Clark has enjoyed success at Lawndale (5-1, 1-0 in the Ocean League), which dismissed previous coach Rick Mathiesen after a 6-5 campaign in 2014.
The Cardinals have won five games in a row since falling to South Torrance in their opener, topping Culver City 48-41 on the road Friday to start conference play.
“I’m taking all the things I’ve learned,” Clark said, “and I’m having a wonderful time.”
Meanwhile, there’s much more than nostalgia at play for the Vikings (0-6, 0-1), who are still looking for their first win of the season after falling 20-6 to Hawthorne in their league opener Friday. It was the program’s first loss in the series since 2004.
A grueling nonconference slate exposed shortcomings for Samohi on both sides of the ball, as the team was outscored 262-20 in five games.
The Vikings weren’t able to keep pace with Redondo Beach-Redondo Union in their opener, giving up 468 yards of offense.
Los Angeles-Cathedral overpowered them on offense (seven touchdowns), defense (four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles) and special teams (92-yard kickoff return).
Simi Valley-Grace Brethren shredded Lambert’s team with its running game to the tune of 356 yards and four scores, also disrupting the Samohi offense with 4.5 sacks and an interception.
Against Valencia, the Vikings logged just two first downs all game and ceded eight touchdowns before halftime. And their passing defense was porous a week later against Pomona, which scored six touchdowns through the air while averaging 33.4 yards per reception.