When Paul Golla interviewed for the Bakersfield High School football job on a gray, foggy February afternoon in 2005, he was floored by the tradition. Like a forearm to the forehead.
Everywhere he looked there were reminders of the Drillers’ storied past. Golla was an easy visual sell with the rustic locker rooms, an 8,000-seat stadium and a grass field in an era of field turf.
“They took me to the stadium,” Golla recalled Monday night, “and there’s the old billboard. All the league championships, the city championships, the section championships, the state championships. I’m looking up there at all this and thinking, ‘wow. This is incredible. We’ll just add to it.’ ”
And he has. In his ninth season in Kern County, Golla has won four Central Section titles, and last Friday, he added a Southern California Division I Regional plaque to the bloated trophy case. Bakersfield plays Del Oro Friday night for the CIF State Division I Bowl title in Carson.
Of all the teams that seem destined for this event, given the history of California football, Bakersfield heads the list. The Drillers won six state championships in the 1920s, the last in 1927, before the state playoffs were disbanded. It was long believed that the state playoffs were called off because Bakersfield was going to run away with every title.
The CIF reintroduced the state tournament in 2006 with a bowl format because a true playoff with so many schools in so many divisions might stretch into January or beyond. This marks Bakersfield’s first trip to the state championships in the modern era.
How rich is the tradition? The Drillers (12-2) are the winningest team in state history at 748, with Long Beach Poly second at 732. Bakersfield’s 36 section championships are a state record. It has 21 perfect seasons.
“From 1927 to 2006, when the CIF Bowl games began, Bakersfield was the last team to truly win a state football title,” said Mark Tennis, editor of Cal-Hi Sports. “The Drillers are still the last team to win an actual state playoff.”
Frank Gifford played for the Drillers in the 1940s before embarking on a Pro Football Hall of Fame career with the New York Giants. And it’s not just athletes who called Bakersfield home. Merle Haggard attended Bakersfield High. So did the late Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was California’s governor from 1943 to 1953.
“I love all of that,” Golla said. “That’s what’s so special about this school. They expected this, to be good. To be the head football coach at Bakersfield High is a special thing – the tradition, the alumni, what it all means. I can’t tell you how many e-mails and calls I’ve gotten last week and this week. This place is excited.”
Golla said the Drillers are an old-school team led by a new-generation athlete. Quarterback Asauni Rufus keys Bakersfield’s triple-option, run-heavy attack, mostly looking to run or pitch out, but he’s also dangerous as a passer. He is a Nevada scholarship commit, and a 3.5 student taking honors courses.
And Rufus speaks like a leader on how football inspires a campus. In regards to winning another section title, Rufus told the Bakersfield Californian: “I think our class, we definitely sparked this school. This school has had legends come through here, and they’re the head of the school, but I think we made our footprint.”
Bakersfield has rushed for 4,489 yards, with Rufus leading the way with 1,647 and 29 touchdowns. He has passed for 11 touchdowns with just one interception.
“He’s amazing,” Golla said of his quarterback.
Golla, 42, grew up in the High Desert region of Southern California and attended the University of Mary in Bismark, N.D. He was coaching in Victoria, Texas, when he learned of the Bakersfield job. Golla doesn’t use a cellphone, but jokes that he survives because he does know how to use the Internet. And he’s poured himself into this job.
“Football is a grind, and if you don’t like the grind, then you have to get out of it,” Golla said. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job, and who knows how many hours. Sometimes you wake up at 3 in the morning to check that film one more time. But that’s why you do it. You love it.”
Golla said he’s a fan of football in the Central Valley, from Bakersfield through Fresno and up through Sacramento and Placer County, home of Del Oro.
“It’s a great, tough brand of football,” Golla said. “I enjoy watching Del Oro play on film. Their toughness and grit, it’s what makes football great in the Valley. We can relate.”
CIF STATE BOWLS
At StubHub Center, Carson
All games on CSNBA