Photos by Susan Coulter, Clarissa Johnson & Tim Lunney, & program history from Matt Heersema


By Brian Reed-Baiotto, Sports Editor

Rio Hondo Prep’s Mark Carson is obviously a really good football coach.

The numbers speak for themselves.

But far more important than any success on a football field is the fact that Carson is also a great man, husband and father.

Carson graduated from Rio Hondo Prep in 1993, and his first job was that of special teams coach for the Kares junior varsity program.

And from 2004-2016, Carson served as RHP’s defensive coordinator.

Rio Hondo Prep is a very small and close community.

The Arcadia school averages anywhere between 100-120 students between the ninth-and-12th grades.

That translates into not having excess athletes, and in most cases, very few D-1 caliber football players.

But somehow Carson and his staff have put together a seven-year run that boasts an 80-percent winning ratio.

And just 10 days ago, he led the program that he loves to a CIF Southern Section Division 9 championship.

It was their first CIF title since 2012, and the Division 9 championship was the highest in school history.

Rio Hondo Prep also won 13 games, which was most among the 27 programs that 210 Prep Sports covers.

West Covina, the CIF-SS Division 10 runner up, was second with 11.

For all they accomplished and the way he runs that program, Mark Carson has been named the 210 Prep Sports Football Coach of the Year.

The Kares went 13-2 this season, and to win that CIF championship, RHP needed three consecutive road victories in the playoffs.

After edging St. Margaret’s 28-26 in the D-9 opener at Kare Park, RHP claimed victories at Orange (22-13), Vista del Lago (31-14) and a 29-27 thriller at Santa Monica.

In that title game at SMHS, Carson had a tangible impact on the outcome.

With the game tied at 21-21, Rio Hondo Prep put together a drive that saw Noah Penunuri score with 1:07 to play.

The Kares took a six-point lead and quarterback Alex Mustain was all set to kick the extra-point attempt.

But Santa Monica jumped offside.

When the ref moved the ball to the 1-yard line, Carson changed his mind, went for two, and got it.

He could have never imagined how crucial that decision would be.

The Vikings drove 80 yards, and on the last play of regulation, Wyatt Green tossed a TD pass that pulled Santa Monica to within two.

But because RHP went for two just over a minute prior, the Vikings were forced to do the same.

Unfortunately for Santa Monica, Nathaniel Shine would bat the two-point pass attempt to the ground and the Kares joined their coaches and fans in a raucos celebration.

What made that 2-point decision so gutsy was the fact that RHP had gone for two earlier in the game and failed.

Carson, though, stayed the course, and it paid off big time.

Over his seven year run as head coach, sticking to his guns and the game plan have resulted in a record of 58-15 overall, and 13-5 in league.

Since 2019, RHP is 44-7, and that 86-percent success rate is best among all of this site’s 27 football programs.

The program is disciplined, intelligent and scrappy, and they are a reflection of their coaches.

RHP knows they have to do everything right to beat teams with far greater talent.

But just as important as the on-field execution of an effective game plan is having a family-like chemistry and understanding that each athlete is playing for all of his teammates and coaches.

And that doesn’t happen over night.

During the summer of 2023, Carson and staff members took a 26-day trip with 44 boys (35 were football players) across the United States.

And it wasn’t just an exercise in team bonding.

They spent time in New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Georgia, South Carolina, Ohio and Illinois.

The trip included visits to Universal Studios Orlando, and a football camp at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

In New York, they took in a Yankees game, Times Square, Central Park, and the 9/11 Memorial.

RHP walked the battlefield in Gettysburg, which is where Abraham Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address, and a location that turned the tide in the Civil War.

In Washington DC, they saw the Lincoln, Washington, Korean War, 9/11, WWII, Vietnam and MLK memorials.

It was an experience that both educated and brought the boys together.

They had to learn how to get along and their communication skills were put to the test while spending 24/7 with each other.

Carson is also a man of great faith, and his student-athletes have said that he and his staff are always there to help them build a more personal relationship with God.

What is very cool about Mark Carson, though, is the fact that you don’t have to share his level of faith to earn his respect and friendship.

Carson could not do any of this without the love, sacrifice and support of his wife of 18 years, Claudia Carson.

Claudia and Mark have four daughters named Paige (15), Camille (13), Hope (11) and Elle (8).

“This would not be possible without Claudia’s support. She teaches at Cherrylee Elementary in El Monte and volunteers at the Kare Youth League (Rio’s youth sports program), so she has a lot on her plate as well. She does an amazing job taking care of our family and she and I still manage to go out on occasion during the season. I’m blessed.”

Carson is also deeply indebted to his coaching staff, which includes Randy Johnson, Rocky Seto, AJ Corsini, Will Torrico, JT Parker, Ed Drain, Dave Drain, Andeson Lang and Jack Van Cleve.

“With this group, I feel any recognition I get should go to them. It should be the coaching staff of the year award. All these guys are smarter than I am, and all great coaches in their own right. We work hard, but we enjoy being around each other, so it’s fun going to work every day,” Carson said.

Lastly, I asked Carson to answer the following questions: In your own words, what does an undersized RHP team have to do each week to beat opponents with superior size and raw skill? Besides the CIF title, what was your favorite moment of the season? And please name some guys other than Nate Curtis and Noah Penunuri, who are the 210 Prep Sports Football Players of the Year.

Said Mark Carson: “We have to have trust in one another, player to player, coach to coach, and player to coach. With our running game, we have a unique style of football, and to win, we have to stay true to that. Be disciplined, take care of the ball on offense, get it on defense and hit. That’s it. Any coach will tell you – it’s about the journey, but if I had to pick a favorite moment I would say after our loss to Brentwood. That’s a great team and they took it to us, but our guys grew and learned a lot from that week. We had the attention of the team and rather than point fingers or let doubt creep in, the guys rallied. It’s got to be our offensive line, led by our offensive line coach, Dave Drain. They’ve been our most outstanding unit. Matthew Brewer, Colby Johnson, Elijah Gavia, Zach Burl, Ivan Tkach and TE Joshua Taflinger have been invaluable.”

On a personal note, I would like to thank Harry Joe for his amazing stats and game info that he sends me after every RHP game, and the skills and time it takes from their Friday nights of Susan Coulter, Tim Lunney and Clarissa Johnson to send me their weekly photos.

To view a photo gallery of Carson, click on the Facebook link here: Facebook


RHP junior, Nate Curtis: “Our coaches were a huge factor in the victory, because they put all the pieces together and got us ready for each and every game. And they made the right adjustments and play calls. It’s really exceptional what they were able to do because we are certainly not the most talented group of guys on the field. Additionally, they play a large role in our lives through the lessons taught via football or the biblical wisdom coach Rocky gives us at our team huddles.”

RCHS sophomore, Noah Penunuri: “Our coaches are the leaders of this team, always keeping us motivated and making sure we’re pushed to our best. They mean a lot to us players and we really appreciate their support and commitment to us.”

RHP senior, Joshua Taflinger: “The RHP coaching staff is better than anyone could ask for. They are all amazing leaders who know how to criticize and lift up their players. This helps the team grow in a way that was amazing. They not only care about our growth as athletes, but as humans also. They constantly are trying to help us become the best person we can be.”

RHP senior, Colby Johnson: “Coach Carson and the RHP staff mean a lot to all of us on and off the field. On the field, they are our leaders and they help us to be the best athletes that we can be to benefit the team as a whole. They always remind us to think of the entire team because no one individual is more important than everyone as a whole. Off the field, they are our mentors and we can talk to them if we have any problems. Most importantly, they advise us in our spiritual lives to live for God and to honor Him in everything that we do. They set great examples for us because they live good Christian lives and volunteer a lot of their time and effort for all of us.”

RHP senior, Alex Mustain: “Without Coach Carson we go nowhere. He is the greatest coach ever. He has soo much energy and is very supportive and is always looking to make you a better player. He is the best coach I have ever played for and he has shown me so many things, and not just about football, but also for my spiritual life. I’m so grateful for him. The rest of the staff is great too. I have no words to express how grateful I am for Coach Johnson’s coaching. He has taught me soo much in the time that he has been coaching me. I’ve done my best to pick up everything he has given me. I appreciate the time he has taken to give me coaching at an accelerated rate. I appreciate all the time he has put in to me. I appreciate all the coaches and what they have done for me, improving me as a player and a person. I love all of them past words.”

RHP junior, Caeden Holcomb: “Coach Carson and the RHP coaching staff are phenomenal at what they do and have a history of success themselves. What’s really special is that all of our coaches besides Coach Seto (coached for the Seahawks when they competed in back to back Super Bowl games, and they won one of the two) all have been through the successful RHP program growing up and know what it takes to win. Coach Carson and RHP’s coaching staff want to win more than anything and I believe they coach us up really well and let us know what we have to do to win a championship. Off the field is where I think our coaches also do a great job of being involved in our lives, whether it’s checking up on us to make sure we are protecting the team or even helping us grow spiritually.”

Former RHP star & current Citrus College running back, Jonathan Guerrero: “Mr. Carson and his staff put a lot of work into making sure we are prepared to play on Friday nights. Whether that’s making sure we are conditioned or putting new plays in playbook, they make sure that we are on top of things and getting the work that we need to put in. But we’re also taught to be accountable by making sure we are watching film. Mr. Carson wants us all to succeed and does his best to make sure we do what’s right. Coach Carson and his staff only want what’s best for all of us and they treat us like family. Watching the program win a CIF championship at Santa Monica was very satisfying, because of the hard work the players and coaches put into this season.”

RHP’s Unofficial Sports Information Director, Matt Heresema: “Coach Carson and his staff understand tradition while at the same time thinking outside the box. They use football as a tool to teach kids accountability and also to grow in their spiritual journey through Christ. He demands they constantly compete in everything meaning hydrating, getting sleep, balancing your studies, and accepting responsibility for all your actions. Mark pushes his players to be men, the type of men you would approve of to pick your daughter up for a date, but also the same guy that you could depend on in a street fight to defend those who couldn’t defend themselves. In summary, I think a constant theme is accountability and believing you can always do more.”

Rio Hondo Prep’s 2023 Schedule & Results:
8/19: RHP 45, Francis Parker 14
8/26: RHP 47, Poly 21
9/1: RHP 45, El Monte 15
9/8: RHP 42, Marquez 14
9/15: RHP 42, Boron 6
9/22: RHP 29, Torrance 9
9/29: RHP 28, King’s Academy 13
10/13: RHP 35, Viewpoint 7
10/20: Brentwood 34, RHP 13
10/27: RHP 38, Campbell Hall 7
11/3: RHP 28, St. Margaret’s 26
11/10: RHP 22, Orange 13
11/17: RHP 31, Vista del Lago 14
11/24: RHP 29, Santa Monica 27
12/2: Mission Oak 29, RHP 14

Most Wins in 210 Prep Sports Coverage Zone:
RHP (13-2)
West Covina (11-3)
RCHS (10-2)
Maranatha (9-2)
Bonita (9-3)
Covina (9-3)
Muir (9-4)
St. Francis (8-3)
Upland (8-3)
San Marino (8-3)
Damien (8-3)
Etiwanda (7-4)
Los Osos (7-5)
Monrovia (6-4)
Ayala (6-5)
Duarte (6-5)
Glendora (6-5)
Chino Hills (5-5)
Arcadia (5-5)
Azusa (5-5)
Charter Oak (5-9)
La Salle (4-6)
South Hills (4-6)
La Canada (4-6)
Claremont (1-9)
Alta Loma (1-9)
Pasadena (0-10)

Rio Hondo Prep Records Under Mark Carson:
2023: 13-2 overall, 2-1 in league
2022: 8-2, 2-1
2021 10-2, 2-1 (Fall Season)
2021 3-0, 0-0 (Spring Season)
2019: 10-1, 3-0
2018: 7-4, 2-1
2017: 7-4, 2-1
Totals: 58-15 overall, 13-5 in league

MaxPreps State Rankings:
RCHS (21)
Damien (32)
Upland (42)
Etiwanda (62)
St. Francis (91)
Ayala (106)
Chino Hills (128)
Bonita (157)
RHP (184)
Muir (201)
Glendora (203)
Northview (205)
Charter Oak (211)
Covina (269)
West Covina (300)
Los Osos (323)
Monrovia (417)
South Hills (456)
San Marino (463)
Arcadia (524)
Maranatha (543)
La Canada (556)
La Salle (559)
Alta Loma (610)
Claremont (688)
Pasadena (853)
Duarte (955)
Azusa (971)

Enrollment Numbers of Area Schools w/Football Programs:
RHP: 170
Flintridge Prep: 500
Maranatha: 527
La Salle: 628
Duarte: 772
St. Francis: 800
Damien: 836
Poly: 850
Muir: 936
Covina: 1,149
Azusa: 1,206
Northview: 1,268
San Dimas: 1,297
Charter Oak: 1,315
Monrovia: 1,617
South Hills: 1,620
Bonita: 1,830
WCHS: 1,923
Marshall Fundamental: 1,979
La Canada: 2,024
PHS: 2,184
Glendora: 2,325
Claremont: 2,354
Ayala: 2,639
Los Osos: 2,867
Arcadia: 3,031
Upland: 3,251
RCHS: 3,398
Etiwanda: 3,660

Enrollment of RHP’s Playoff Opponents:
St. Margaret’s: 1,234 (K-12)
Orange: 1,740
Vista del Lago: 2,028
Santa Monica: 2,806

Rio Hondo Prep Championship Years:




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