Sunday, August 31, 2008

Frosh vs. J.V. Scrimmage and the Husky Opener

WEEK #2 of R.M.H.S. Freshmen Football

This was our first full week in pads and it continued to amaze me with the, shall we say, interesting interactions with these 14 year olds.

Girdles: At Rio Mesa we issue snap-in hip and tail pads. They are red in color and quite stylish. These are a new style to most of our players and a few still want to wear the girdle-style hip and tail pads they were accustomed to in Pop Warner football.

With this as a background, I had a young running back approach me before practice in our locker room and ask me where he could put on his girdle. I responded that, of course, you can change here in the locker room. He looked at me with a puzzled look and said "But they're girdles, where can I change?" Again, I said "Here in the locker room." His response? "But I'll have to get naked!" I resisted the impulse to laugh out loud, told him he would be O.K. and he was able to get them on without incident.

Aroma: It took eight days of practice, but on Tuesday when I opened the freshmen locker room, the uniforms and pads had finally reach their full level of fermentation.

Devil Worshipping: Thursday was Picture Day so we had to issue the game jerseys and game pants to all 71 players on the team. As you may know, according to high school, college and pro rules, offensive linemen must were jerseys numbered between 50 and 79, no exceptions! One of our linemen took number 66, a great number in my opinion.

On Friday, #66 came up to me in the locker room asking to change his number to #85 at his Mom's request. I thought it might be a legacy issue with her, something like it was his Dad's  or uncle's old number. It took about 5 minutes for him to finally understand the 50 to 79 number rule and he finally picked another lineman's number. Only later did I find out that his Mother is very religious and did not want her son wearing the "Devil's Number". I didn't have the heart to tell her that the number she should be concerned about is really "666".

Frosh vs. J.V. Scrimmage: On Friday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. we scrimmaged Rio Mesa's J.V. team for about 90 minutes. We started out slowly as our players were a little flustered playing against their older, somewhat more experienced brethren. After the initial shock, we calmed down and competed quite well the rest of the way but we still have a lot of work to do.

At U.S.C., one of their main program success points is "Competition Tuesdays" where their first offense goes against their first defense for 15 minutes every week of the season. Based on Friday's scrimmage, we will go full bore to a take down, 1's vs. 1's for 15 minutes against the J.V.s every "Competition Monday" the rest of our season.

Freshmen in White, J.V.'s in Black

Freshmen tend to be short

The view from the visiting stands,
R.M. varsity in red to the left

Can you feel the intensity of Frosh football

Offensive Huddle

Offensive Coordinator Brian Fitzgerald, in the white T-shirt, with Line Coach John Reardon instructing the offense, while Linebacker Coach Mike Muro and I discuss my inability to get into a hitting stance.

Sunset at John Reardon Field

Shaking hands after the scrimmage 

"What a BEAUTIFUL day to play American football!"




I love college football SO much more than pro football probably because colleges never move to another city and abandon their fans like the Los Angeles Rams did.

The University of Washington Huskies opened the 2008 season Saturday night with a PAC-10 game at the University of Oregon Ducks. As always, my hopes were high for a Husky return to the top levels of BCS bowldom.

Mike and I preparing Cipolatas to enjoy during the Husky's first victory.

Vanessa and Laurie enjoying a glass of wine during the Husky telecast.

Husky Half-time Meal

UW QB Jake Locker #10

The Huskies competed for the first three quarters trailing 24-10 but were blown out in the 4th quarter finally losing 44-10.

The Dawgs home opener is this coming Saturday at Noon vs. BYU. The Cougars are favored to win the 2008 Mountain West Conference championship.

It may be a REALLY long season for my "Purple Gang".

Sunday, August 24, 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...