About the only thing that isn’t crisp and tidy here is the beard.
It’s a hearty thatch of growth that sprouts from the jaw of Jon Osterhout, a Bunyon-esque look grown out of superstition more than appeal.
Osterhout, the football coach at American River College, insists this is a “no-shave” season. He said this week has been akin to “drinking out of a fire hose.” But the football folks on College Oak Drive are in giddy scramble mode as the Beavers prepare for their place in regional college history.
ARC (10-2) plays Fullerton (11-1) on Saturday for the California Community College Athletic Association State Championship in Yorba Linda. No area football program has won a community college state title, though Sacramento City finished No. 1 in a national poll in 1980 and ’81, well before there was a state playoff format.
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The calming presence amid the chaos is Osterhout. Practices are fast and active. Scores of four-year college coaches stop by to pore over the roster, as the Beavers have become a recruiting hotbed. ARC players and assistant coaches credit Osterhout for the program’s recent success, including competing for Northern California championships three times since 2012.
“I can’t do it without those guys,” Osterhout insists.
He added: “It’s four walls and me here a lot, but when we get all the coaches here, we really grind and work. We also know quality of life is important. We don’t need guys spending the night here in the coach’s office, not for a stipend. We’re all about family at home, too.
“This place isn’t for everyone. We hold guys accountable beyond football – life decisions. We’re not going to sugarcoat a player to recruiters. We tell players if they can stay on the yellow brick road to success, we can help get you that stamp of approval and move you on.”
This place isn’t for everyone. We hold guys accountable beyond football – life decisions. We’re not going to sugarcoat a player to recruiters. We tell players if they can stay on the yellow brick road to success, we can help get you that stamp of approval and move you on.
American River College football coach Jon Osterhout
Osterhout learned the family model from coaches who continue to mold him. He played in the trenches for Bob Vukajlovich at Oakmont High School and for John Volek at Sacramento State, where Osterhout was an All-America offensive lineman.
“Great men, great coaches,” said Osterhout, who had assistant coaching stops at Sac State and Nebraska. “Volek was like a second father to me, and it wasn’t just football. It was real life. I use those principles now.”
The transient nature of community college athletics makes coaching a challenge. Division I programs regularly snatch ARC players after one season. Recruiting local players is a nonstop process. And blending athletes from across the region can be difficult.
But it continues to work at ARC. Griffin Dahn has passed for 2,111 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he’s rushed for 492 yards and nine TDs. Ce’von Mitchell-Ford has rushed for 665 yards and Wadus Parker 365. Damen Wheeler has 512 receiving yards. Defensive lineman Anthony Luke has 66 tackles. All are being recruited by four-year programs.
“We all want to move on from here and do good things, and this is a great place to start,” Luke said.
ARC has a wealth of coaching experience beyond Osterhout. Defensive coordinator Lou Baiz held the same position at Sac State. Onetime area high school head coaches include Josh Crabtree (Sheldon), Ryan Gomes (Cosumnes Oaks), Doug Grush (Bella Vista) and Mike Morris (Rio Linda). Jerry Kushner was also a longtime assistant at Sac State.
“We could tell when Jon was at Sac State that he was talented, special, and that coaching would be a natural transition,” Kushner said. “He’s a very impressive guy. I’ve had a lot of Division I college coaches tell me that they’ve never seen a JC run like this.”
Osterhout’s favorite team is the trio at home: wife Alison and young children Hudson and Chelsea. It’s a family laugh-fest during breakfast when the coach has to pull leftovers out of his beard.
We could tell when Jon was at Sac State that he was talented, special, and that coaching would be a natural transition. He’s a very impressive guy. I’ve had a lot of Division I college coaches tell me that they’ve never seen a JC run like this.
American River College and former Sacramento State assistant football coach Jerry Kushner
“My wife’s not a fan of the beard,” Osterhout said. “Especially when there’s cereal stuck in there. I met her at Sac State in 1999. She played volleyball. Thank goodness the kids have her looks.”
Osterhout’s beard may not have a fan in Alison, but he’s a fan of his wife. He is moved by her breast-cancer plight. Alison is a year removed from her last chemotherapy treatments. Osterhout said he embraces her extra tight every morning and night to remind her of his love and admiration for her.
“She’s amazing,” Osterhout said. “It’s difficult being a coach’s wife when the coach is (at the office or at practice) seven days a week, but she inspires me. And when the season’s over, I’ll cut and shave the beard again. She’ll love that.”