Nate Harris traveled to Europe last September with his wife, Fran, and daughter Helen. They saw the sights in England, France and Italy, a celebration tour for Helen earning a doctorate degree from Stanford.
"What an amazing experience for someone who taught history for so many years," said Harris, who retired from teaching at Highlands High School a year and a half ago. "We saw St. Paul's Cathedral, the Colosseum, Westminster Abbey, the Eiffel Tower. For a kid from Del Paso Heights, it reminded me that life is beautiful."
The experience so energized Harris, 62, he decided it was time again to coach football and take on another reclamation project at West Campus.
Harris, who had a Delta League championship team at Highlands in 1985, has a reputation for making downtrodden programs respectable.
He assumed the reins of a Sacramento High team that had been 3-37 in its four previous seasons and turned the Dragons into a competitive 5-5 team in 1997. At Kennedy, he took a junior varsity program that had been dropped the season before because of a lack of participants and produced a 44-player-strong unit that also finished with a .500 mark.
Then in his third coaching stop in 2009 at Highlands, after many seasons of woeful performances, Harris led the Scots to a 6-6 record and a playoff appearance. The Scots are a small-school power under Harris' former assistant and quarterback, Matt Cokley.
At West Campus, Harris inherited a program that entered the season with a 28-game losing streak, the second longest in the state, before the Warriors beat Cristo Rey 21-14 in Harris' debut Friday at Burbank High School.
West Campus, one of the area's top academic schools, has had only one winning football season and has yet to reach the playoffs since the school formed its sports program 10 years ago after its students previously competed for Hiram Johnson.
But Harris sees potential.
"I've gotten great support," said Harris, who replaced Marlon Thomas, who died in the spring after suffering an aneurysm. "This is probably the neatest group of kids I have had since my '85 group. The parents are enthusiastic, and our administration has bought us new uniforms and helmets."
Harris has 31 players on the varsity, though some of the sophomores could end up on the JV team if there are enough freshmen who turn out when school opens Sept. 4.
Harris' staff includes nephew Ricky Bragg, the former Burbank football star and Kennedy coach; Carroll Webb, who played for Harris at Sac High; and former Grant and Buffalo Bills player Dave Kilson.
Only eight players just three seniors return from last year's 0-10 squad.
"The jury is out on us, but we can't accept anything but the best from these kids," Harris said. "Right now we've got horses. We're just not sure how long they want to race. But if they do, we'll be competitive."