Monday, August 25, 2008

Another Interesting and Somber Weekend


We put on the armor for the first time on Friday! Having 68 Freshmen all in pads together for the first time led to some funny moments.

Life with the Freshmen is interesting to say the least. Brian FitzGerald, our Offensive Coordinator was 30 minutes late getting to the practice field and I was about 20 minutes late myself. The reason? We had to teach about a dozen kids how to put on their protective gear on back in the locker room!

The zaniest thing that happened was a youngster who came up to us during our 10 minute, mid-practice water break complaining of trouble breathing because his shoulder pads were hitting his throat. Upon inspection, we instructed him to go into the rest room to turn his shoulder pads around, sure enough they were on BACKWARDS!

Installing Our Punt Formation

Organizing the Frosh Horde

Next Up... Field Goal

Coach Danny Solarez

He loves kids and is a GREAT motivator!

Angle Tackling Station

Brian's Open Field Tackling Station

J.D. was laid to rest Saturday.

After the graveside ceremony, a memorial was held for him at the Majestic Ventura Theater where he had worked part-time for several years. The theater was absolutely PACKED! The memorial, which included a great slide show and several touching testimonials on J.D.'s behalf, lasted for almost four hours and could have lasted another four.

He touched so many lives so deeply in such a short time.

Ventura Cronies on Sunday for J.D.

From 1:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, Ventura Cronies donated a significant portion of their revenue to the J.D. Probasco Memorial Fund. Again it was so packed that it took us at least one hour to get our food with overflow people sitting at makeshift tables on the sidewalk.

Grandma Florene's 86th Birthday

Laurie's stepmother, Florene, celebrated her 86th birthday this weekend so we invited her to our home for a BBQ.

Mike and I BBQing cipolata. Note the replica of Mt. Etna to the right.

Mike with his Grandma Florene

Grandpa Bill Gardner

Laurie and her Dad discussing the Dodgers' season.

Laurie hard at work in our kitchen.

The Meal

Chowing Down in Our Dining Room

"Happy Birthday to You, Happy Birthday to You..."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Very Sad Day

J.D. Probasco

The worst part about coaching great young men is when one of them is taken way before their time. This morning the Ventura County Star reported that J.D. Probasco had passed away of a rare blood disorder at the age of 23.

When Rick Scott, the former Buena H.S. Head Coach, asked me to join his staff as defensive coordinator in 2001, J.D. was one of the first guys I noticed. First because he was huge and then because of his infectious spirit and positive attitude. In 2002, J.D. was named the Ventura County Offensive Lineman of the Year for his great performance.

I saw J.D. at the Dallas Cowboys camp in Oxnard two weeks ago and we talked for about 15 minutes about football of course. He looked great and his always positive demeanor gave me absolutely no hint that he was ill.

He was a GREAT young guy and everyone who ever met him was better because of it! I'll miss him.

First Day of Practice

On Tuesday, August 19th we greeted 68 candidates to the 2008 Rio Mesa H.S. Freshmen Football Team. That is a lot of players indeed! About a third of the kids have no previous football playing experience making for a wide variety of knowledge and skill levels.

We will NOT cut any of these players for lack of ability because we know that players mature at different times. Today's third string player may become an all-leaguer by the time he's a Senior.

Warming up the old necks before practice

Agilities are also a big part of our warm up

The team gathers up for some "fired up" words from Coach Solarez before heading to technique work

It was a very good first day of practice but we do have a very long way to go before our scrimmage vs. Royal H.S. two weeks from this Friday.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Time for Another Season

The last ten days have been ones of experimentation, renewed friendships and preparation.


In Sicily, one of my favorite foods was cipolata. This concoction is simply green onions wrapped in bacon, barbequed and swabbed with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. It is simply DELICIOUS!

We fired up the outdoor gas grill and had at it. They turned out pretty good but not quite up to Sicilian standards. I'll need to keep refining my technique until I get this 100% right!


I got the chance to hit the links at The Lakes Golf Course in Ventura one last time before the football season starts. I joined Carl Melhorn and Brian FitzGerald, both Rio Mesa H.S. teachers, for this afternoon of fun and friendship.

The very model of consistency, I shot a 53 - 53 = 106. With a little better luck or skill I could have broken the magic 105 barrier!

Renewed Husky Friendships

Saturday saw us at the home of Mike and Sue D'Antuono for a celebration of their 30th year of home ownership of the old Gillette Hunting Lodge in Altadena, California. That's Mike in red and my MUCH better half Laurie on the left. Mike was wrestler in his college days at the University of Washington where I first met him in the late 1960's.

Mike's maternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S.A. from the Sicilian town of Caltanisetta. Laurie and I visited and took pictures of their family's home town back in February. Apparently they were a big hit with Mike and his mother.

There is nothing like getting together with some ex-Huskies for an afternoon of war stories! On the left is former WR Pete "Spear" Claridge and on the right is DB Loren Brucker whose home in Newport Beach we visited last week. Former OL Paul Sabolic chimed in with some stories of his own about both UW football and his recent 3 week family visit to Europe.

As always it was great time to swap tales, find out "what ever happened to..." and just enjoy people you really care about.


On Sunday we celebrated my mother's 84th birthday in San Marino at one of her favorite restaurants, The Colonial Kitchen for brunch. Our waitress was Rosa who my sister, Marilyn, who set up the affair specially requested. Next to Rosa is our son Michael's fiancee, Vanessa, and in pink is the belle of the ball, Ascuncion "Chuny" Contreras.

That's my sister Linda on the left.

In Sicily, Jason frequently talked about being a tourist in your own town. This was one of those moments for me. Our family moved into our house on Chelsea Road in San Marino in 1958. The Colonial Kitchen has been in it's location all 50 years and is only one very long block from their house. While everyone else in my family has been frequent visitors to this restaurant, I had never been inside their doors!

Well, once inside I ordered their Titan Breakfast. In great American tradition, it was so much food that I did not finish it!!!

I've been missing this boat for a LONG time.


The 2008 Rio Mesa High School Freshmen Football season is just around the corner so we had to have a Frosh Staff meeting at Cronies Sports Grill to prepare. I will be the Head Coach and have 5 GREAT assistants to work with! Together we have OVER 160 years of coaching exoperience.

On the left is John Reardon, former Rio Mesa Head Coach and still the second winningest coach in Ventura County history. John will work with the offensive line and linebackers.

Behind me is Danny Solarez, former Hueneme H.S. Head Coach and a long time Spartan assistant. If Danny can't fire you up then you are emotionless. He will work with our offensive backs and trouble shoot on defense where needed. He is a master at teaching young players how to tackle.

Across from Danny in red is Brian FitzGerald. Brian is our Athletic Director, incredibly successful Head Track Coach and a former Spartan running back. He will be our Offensive Coordinator working with the QB's and DB's.

Across from me is Ralph Lemos another former Spartan player. He is in his 14th year coaching at Rio Mesa and will also work with the OL and DL.

The first coach on the right of the picture is Mike Muro. He has coached at Rio Mesa for over 30 years and is great in his attention to detail. He will work with the OL and Linebackers.

We should have a lot of fun as a staff and hopefully all of this knowledge will get transferred to our players.

Standing is Bob Gregorchuk, Rio Mesa's Head Football Coach, at our program's staff meeting Sunday afternoon. He has to oversee a 17 man coaching staff that will work with about 155 players on 3 teams, NOT AN EASY JOB. Here he is covering many of the last minute details that will have an effect on our 2008 football experiences at yet another BBQ.


Monday we started handing out equipment to the Freshmen. The Varsity and the Junior Varsity teams had already handed out their equipment the previous Thursday and Friday so the Equipment Room was a little bare by the time we got to issue gear.

Ask any football coach about his least favorite part of the season and I would bet that 90% will say the day you issue gear! The six of us are in that 90%!

Here Brian FitzGerald is seen recording what equipment each player has been issued, collecting money for Spirit Packs and making sure that each player's Parent Permission/Proof of Insurance/Physical Exam Form has been turned in correctly filled out.

Our Varsity wears the Michigan Wings on their helmet, a tradition started in 1993, John Reardon's last as Head Coach at the school. Only the Varsity gets to wear the Wings with the two lower level teams wearing plain black helmets.

For some reason the helmet company sent us four helmets with Ram's horns. We have to send them back and get the correct ones in exchange but I really wanted to get one for Gregorio back in Catania to top off his practice gear ensemble!

Brian took a moment to relive a typical moment from his Spartan playing days back in the 1970's as a running back.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Weekend in the O.C.

Laurie and I spent a WONDERFUL weekend in the heart of Orange County, Newport Beach.

Sandy and Loren Brucker

I first met them as a sophomore at the University of Washington in the fall of 1966!

Loren was in need of tutoring in a Spanish class and I was in need of a roommate to share expenses after the football season was over and we would no longer be living in the athletic dorm/Crew House on the shore of Lake Washington.

Loren wound up being my roommate for the rest of my college days and Laurie and Sandy would also room together for two years!

They now live in a BEAUTIFUL home on the "Peninsula" of Newport Beach near the Fun Zone.

Sandy and Loren's son Ryan

The main reason for our visit was Ryan's 30th birthday party. How is it possible that he still isn't the "little guy" who used to play with our Andy and Mike? 

Ryan's son Jack and his bride Karli

Ride 'em Cowboy!

At the end of the evening, Jack made the announcement that he was going to be a big brother!

Congratulations Karli and Ryan on your second child due in April!!!

Blessed Brian FitzGerald?

As opposed to Italy, where an area as large as the "Peninsula" would have at least 30 Catholic churches, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel is the only Catholic church to be found!

Mass lasted OVER one hour and included a sermon against the International Olympic Committee's choice of Beijing as the site of the 2008 games. I almost became a Protestant...

I was stunned to find this stained glass window as an ode to a known Agnostic.

The Balboa Fun Zone

The Ferris Wheel was closed for repairs, thus the missing seats. The Fun Zone here was a BIG part of my youth hanging out as a teenager back in the '60's. Lots of nostalgia here for me.

We decided to rent a boat and cruise
Balboa Bay.

Duffy Boat

We rented this electric powered, low speed, blue topped Duffy Boat for the adventure!

As you may know, Balboa Bay has been a hot bed of pirate activity for years now so we decided to bring a swashbuckling enforcer with us just in case.

The obvious choice was Cameron, who is Loren and Sandy's niece's son. Cameron brought his grandparents, Bob and Lucy along as backup.


Loren checking out this HUGE blue yacht.

While Cameron skippered the boat, we came upon this yacht owned by the former Prime Minister of Yugoslavia...NO JOKE!

The Wild Goose belonged to John Wayne

The Wild Goose has three decks.

During World War II, the Wild Goose was actually used as a mine detector because it is made of wood and would not set off Japanese magnetic mines.

A GREAT Day to Work on Your Tan

The orange storm fencing is, IN THEORY, supposed to keep the seals off your boat.

You see all sorts of vessels in the bay.

What the heck is this University of Arizona boat doing here?

Somehow I think Jason had something to do with this...

Thursday, August 7, 2008


It was Wednesday and football practice has not started for Rio Mesa while our son Mike had a day off from his work as a transporter at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks...

Part 1 - Major League Baseball

The Dodgers were in St. Louis but the Giants were hosting the Atlanta Braves in a 12:45 p.m. National League baseball game. Neither one of us had attended a game in the Giants new AT&T Park so it was GAME ON!

We left Casa Contreras at 5:40 a.m. for the 375 mile drive up the El Camino Real Highway 101 to San Francisco. After a couple of pit stops, we arrived at the Park at 11:30 a.m. and were greeted by a girl with extra parking passes who gave us one for no apparent reason other than being at the right place at the right time thus saving us untold millions in potential parking fees.

On the drive to San Francisco I started to think about all the major league baseball stadiums I have seen games in and upon returning home I have come up with the following list of 23 stadiums in 15 major league cities:

Anaheim - The Big A
Baltimore - Memorial Stadium
Boston - Fenway Park
Chicago - Old Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field
Cleveland - Jacobs Field

Denver - Coors Field
Detroit - Tiger Stadium
Los Angeles - Wrigley Field, Los Angeles Coliseum and Dodger Stadium
New York - Shea Stadium and Yankee Stadium
Oakland - Oakland Coliseum

Philadelphia - Veterans Stadium
Phoenix - Bank One Ballpark
San Diego - Jack Murphy Stadium and Petco Park
San Francisco - Candlestick Park and AT&T Park
Seattle - Sicks Stadium, Kingdome and Safeco Field

AT&T Park looked very inviting from the outside.

I liked the way they tied in their history in New York as well as their time in San Francisco. 

McCovey Cove

Located right behind the right field wall, any home runs that land in the Cove are called "Splash Hits". We didn't see one yesterday but they have a scoreboard on the right field wall telling everyone that there have been 45 Splash Hits so far this year.

The statue of Willy McCovey is located across the Cove from AT&T Park


We were down the right field line, five rows from the Atlanta Braves bullpen.

A sunny day inside AT&T Park

Tim Linecum, #55, pitching for the Giants

With no small level of pride, Mark Johnson has informed me that Tim Linecum was a record setting pitcher at the University of Washington before being picked #1 (10th overall) by the Giants in the 2006 draft! I've been out of the country and am somewhat out of the loop still.

He went 8 innings, struck out 8 batters, scattered 5 hits while running his record to 12-3 on the season. Aaron Rowland drove in all three runs as the Giants won for the 48th time in 2008, by a score of 3-2.

Good game that lasted a quick 2 hours and 14 minutes, beautiful day and a great setting for a ball game!

Part 2 - Major College Football

Because the game ended just before 3:00 p.m., we decided to take a chance and pull off the highway about an hour into our trip home to see if the San Jose State University Spartan's football team was practicing, THEY WERE!

Why not stop at Stanford or California instead? Easy, the Spartan's Head Coach is Dick Tomey who was Jason's Head Coach at the University of Arizona for three years. Also, three former Rio Mesa H.S. play for the Spartan's.

Dick Tomey

What a class act, I first saw him in action when he was an assistant coach at UCLA in the 1970's. Besides Arizona and San Jose State, he was also the Head Coach at the University of Hawaii.

I mentioned Jason and the great season he had in Catania and Dick got a big smile on his face and proceeded to tell me what a great guy Jason was at Arizona and how much he enjoyed coaching him!

It was also nice when he mentioned how much he likes players from Rio Mesa H.S.!!!

Jared Strubeck, Rio Mesa H.S., Class of 2005

Jared is a Senior Place Kicker, #10 kicking a Field Goal above

He is a 4 year starter at SJSU as a kicker and has enjoyed a great career. His kicks were booming over the net behind the goal posts.

Josh Harrison, Rio Mesa H.S., Class of 2007

Josh is a redshirt Freshman Wide Receiver, #1 running a pass route above

Josh is battling for a starting position and had a great practice! He caught a 40 yard pass over a defender, shook him and raced another 30 yards with the ball for a 70 yard TD play, the only score of their 20 minute scrimmage.

Ina Liaina, Rio Mesa H.S., Class of 2008

Ina is a true Freshman Linebacker, in his stance in the middle above

Ina missed most of his Senior season in 2007 due to a broken foot. Like most true Freshmen, he is going through an adjustment period at this point and will have to work much harder to move up the depth chart to avoid red shirting.

Mike, on the left, and I evaluating the Spartans and our ex-players

San Jose State has a VERY positive coaching staff and they are really stressing that the players must learn to compete at a high level every day in every practice!

They open at home on August 39th vs. U.C. Davis and then travel to play Nebraska on September 6th.

We finally arrived back in Camarillo at about midnight after stopping for dinner in Pismo Beach at a very good Italian restaurant, Giuseppe's Cucina Italiana.