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High school coaches can make lifetime impression on their players
Nov 2013 --LtR -- Walker Vick, Art Mathis, Tilton LT.jpg


High school football games begin Friday night.

But first, it never fails. There will be those Al Bundy dads in the stands reminding others he once scored three touchdowns in one game for Polk High.

I have a message for those dads: Clam up. You played. Your kid is now playing. Let them play.

Back to this Friday night’s opener  . . .

Many memories will be born Friday night. Additional memories will form the remaining weeks of this high school football season.

This is the time of year when I reflect on those special nights as a player (now 40-plus years ago), as a loyal student in the stands, the school dances afterward, etc.

It was those special nights that formed me (and others, I believe) for the future.

High school football coaches are very impressionable. Kids may not realize it now. I have to believe those impressions will resonate later in life, however.

Our coaches warned us: Playing football will prepare you for life.

And how it did!

While I played one year of youth football with the now defunct Ceres Chargers (Manteca did not have youth football back then) and three years of college football after high school, it was my Manteca High School football coaches who left strongest impressions.

Here is a glimpse of those individuals:

1975: Joe Jacobs Sr. and Joe Handy (9 wins, 0 losses; VOL champions)

·         Coach Jacobs, the late head coach, was influential in a variety of ways, namely his intensity. His talks to the team always mention the need for us to have “the Gs.” (Guts.) He was an “old school” Vince Lombardi type. He commonly wore black at games. He told us it was what one wears to a funeral. One game, he asked a couple of us to create fake scars on our face to scare the opposition. I don’t ever think he knew my name. He called me “Tippy Tip,” thinking, I guess, my last name was Tipton. I have lifelong friends who still call me “Tippy Tip.” Coach Jacobs was a genuine man, coach, and teacher to me.

·         Coach Handy was the yang of Coach Jacobs’ yin. He was a quiet, gentle coach who rarely, rarely ever raised his voice unless he was trying to get someone’s attention 40 yards away during a game. Coach Handy loved to tell us early in the season when we moaned and groaned about running that we should not have been on “that see food diet” during summer vacation. It took a few days for some of us to figure out just exactly what he meant by “see food.” (By the way, he was my favorite teacher, ever!)

1976: Jim Brown and Bob Leatherwood (9 wins, 0 losses; VOL champions)

·         Jim C. Brown. The “C” stood for champion, I thought. It should have! (Carlos was his middle name, actually.) He, as the head coach, was tougher on us because we had entered the season undefeated the previous year and he was not going to let that go to our head. He worked us harder than I have ever worked since. He had a special swagger about him. (I called it the walk of a champion.) He had a confidence that was contagious. He was no nonsense, but very fatherly. He often called me “Jeffery.” (Only Coach Brown and my mom call me that.) His sudden passing really hit many of us hard. He was impactful in so many ways. I think of him often.

·         Coach Leatherwood was equally a no nonsense coach. But every once in a while, during practices -- not often, but rarely -- he would say something witty and a little smirk would appear on his normally stoic face. He was an excellent tactician and constantly had us focused on technique and fundamentals. I will never forget catching a Randy Ross pass and running alone toward the end zone and turning around to taunt the Central Catholic defender behind me. After the touchdown Coach Leatherwood yelled at me to see him on the sidelines and said if I ever did that again I would never play again. Lesson learned. A lesson I still share to this day.

1977: Walker Vick, Art Mathis, Butch Linn, Mick Founts (7 wins, 3 losses; VOL champions)

·         Coach Vick was the head coach. To this day, I will not call him by his first name even though we were colleagues in the 1980s and 90s at Manteca High School. (It was tough enough just typing his first name for this column!) He was a wizard with the defensive game plan. You never wanted to upset him, and you knew when he was upset. His face would turn red, his jaw would jut, and he would light into you. Against East Union, during the annual rivalry game (when the rivalry still existed), we had just scored. I was the team’s kicker. I was so fired up that I wanted to kick the ball so far, but I missed my mark and the ball squirted past the EU return team and we recovered the ball as an “onside kick.” I ran toward the sideline opposite where Coach Vick was only to see him running toward me. “Oh no,” I thought, but he grabbed and hugged me and repeatedly shouted, “That’s my boy! That’s my boy!” (as if I had planned it).

·         Coach Mathis (see first name phobia above) was the most awesome position coach to have. He let us take rests while the other players were working hard! Seriously, he was a great teacher of the game, namely the defensive line. He was “old school.” He had a great sense of humor and had no problem making you the butt of his jokes (because he cared about you). He loved to prepare awards and special helmet decals, especially for the EU rivalry. He was also known for “taking a knee.” (Most of us who played for Coach Mathis during those years know the reference.)

·         Coach Linn was a gentle, quiet offensive coach who rarely ever raised his voice. He was like a scientist who study the opponent’s defense and formulated plans based on our personnel. He, like Coach Brown, left us too soon.

·         Coach Founts was just in his second year at the school and he brought a new degree of preparation and tenacity. He, too, was no nonsense, but introduced us to new methodologies of preparing for football in both the off-season and in-season. He was also buffed, and his tight shirts would let you know what muscle was moving and when. It was rumored that female attendance at practices and games swelled to an all-time high during his coaching tenure at Manteca High.

1978: Vick, Mathis, Founts, Brown (6 wins, 6 losses; VOL champions; Section runners-up)

·         The coaching staff that year have been mentioned above; however, it is worth noting that our senior class entered our final year of high school football with three league titles and a combined won-loss record of 25-3. We promptly lost our first four games of that season. We were faced with adversity for the first time in three years and the coaching staff that year displayed and modeled patience before we got back on our feet to claim the VOL title. Then as a 5-5 team, we shocked an undefeated team in the first round of the playoffs before falling to Ponderosa High School in the Section final. That staff could have folded the tent and looked forward to the next season, but they remained confident and never gave up hope. It was a great learning experience.

Coaches are so impressionable, and those impressions last a lifetime. In many respects they provide life’s lessons, as well.

Coaches, unfortunately, can also leave negative impressions, ones that can really scar or bruise kids forever. I don’t care for those coaches.

I am now on the other side of life’s mountain and really count blessings. I have lost so many people in life who made huge impressions on me. Coaches Brown, Jacobs, and Linn are gone. I never had the chance to say, thank you.

With this column, I honor those high school football coaches who left impressions on me and I remind current coaches that your job is greater than just wins and losses.

Thank you is too few of words and clearly not enough to show my gratitude. The educator and coach that I am today is because of each of you who molded me 40-plus years ago.