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Sacuskie a full-time strength and conditioning coach for Cardinal
Scott Sacuskie, far left, whips East Union High football players into shape during the fall-sports pre-conditioning period last August. After six years as the program’s strength and conditioning coach, Sacuskie will join Stanford University’s football team with the same position starting March 28. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO
Mike James deserves whatever credit earned for East Union High’s varsity football success this past fall, but the former head coach prefers to deflect praise to the players and the rest of the coaching staff.

Yet, there is one in particular whom he loves to single out — Scott Sacuskie.

Sacuskie, James said, helped nurture new traditions as strength and conditioning coach, as teacher and as coordinator of the Link Crew leadership program on campus over the last 5 ½ years.

Like James, however, won’t be coaching football at EU next year.

After serving two years as strength and conditioning intern at Stanford, he recently accepted a full-time position at the prestigious university.

Starting March 28, he will be an assistant under Shannon Turley, Stanford’s sports performance coordinator for football, but will also head the wrestling team’s strength and conditioning program.

Sacuskie and his family sacrificed much to get to this point, and he’s been rewarded for it.

In January of 2009 he became a certified strength and conditioning specialist and started pursuing his master’s in kinesiology at Fresno Pacific University in May — all while interning at Stanford and working full-time at East Union.

“Since I was a little kid, it was my passion and my dream to coach at the collegiate level, but there were times I didn’t think it would come true,” he said. “It’s very surreal. Last week they handed me the keys. It’s kind of a weird thing for them to just hand you the keys to Stanford University.”

Last summer, he developed a friendship with former Oakland Raider Pro Bowler Steve Wisniewski, who introduced Sacuskie to then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh (now coaching the 49ers).

Then, he was a volunteer, but soon after, Sacuskie became a part-time strength and conditioning coach. His relationship with the football program continued to blossom from there.

Coach Harbaugh later invited Sacuskie to fifth-ranked Stanford’s Orange Bowl contest with No. 12 Virginia Tech in Miami. The Cardinal won 40-12 for its first BCS Bowl victory in 14 years.

“It was a huge thing for me,” Sacuskie said. “It’s one thing to watch it on TV, but it’s another thing to actually see a BCS game in person.

“The next thing I know, we’re talking about me filling a different role on the team.”

The 31-year-old Turlock resident (soon-to-be Santa Clara resident) may not have attended East Union as a student but he does have previous ties to the school; his mother, Debbie (Barnes) Sacuskie, and her side of the family are alumni.

He graduated from Downey High in Modesto in 1997, was an All-American tight end for Modesto Junior College in 2000 and played for and graduated from Portland State in 2003.

In 2005 he began teaching health and coaching at East Union. James said Sacuskie is a major part of the football team’s success in 2010.

 “I’d say 80 percent of it was coach Sacuskie, and 20 percent of it was the players drinking his Kool-Aid,” James said. “He’s magnificent working with the kids and he did wonders for our weight and conditioning program. He taught them how to be athletes.”

East Union went 7-4 last fall and stunned then-undefeated rival Manteca High in a 10-7 thriller in Week 10. The Lancers hadn’t enjoyed a winning record nor had they beaten Manteca since 1999, and they qualified for the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs for the first time since 1992.

James was voted the Valley Oak League’s Coach of the Year.

James’ successor, former defensive coordinator Willie Herrera, coached alongside Sacuskie for four years, and the two were teammates at Modesto JC.

“He’s definitely a guy that’s not easily replaced,” Herrera said. “Not only is he a fantastic coach who offers so much football knowledge, he’s a fantastic human being. He’s been a real good friend of mine since MJC, and guys like him don’t grow on trees.

“It’s one of those bittersweet things. We’d love for him to be at EU forever, but we’re all very excited for him. They picked the right person, and he’ll flourish at Stanford.”

With spring break wrapping up, Sacuskie has five days bid farewell to students and East Union staff members. He and his wife, Becky, and two sons (with a third on the way), Noah and Owen, hope to be settled into their new home in Santa Clara a week from now.

“The hardest thing is saying goodbye,” Sacuskie said. “It’s been an incredible stay at East Union. Every day I went there I was excited to get there to teach and to coach.

“I had the opportunity to work with some real special people, like coach James, who made the work environment ideal at East Union.”