Jeff Walters rolled out of his Placer County home on Friday morning, collecting his senses and marbles as he gulped down coffee.
It was so early – 5:45 a.m. – that Del Oro High’s first-year football coach could have caught the newspaper delivery.
Walters did a double take at what greeted him before he reached the car. Two signs, each moving the coach. One read “Pride Matters Coach W” with a baby bib draped on the corner with the words, “Future DO Eagle.”
The other welcomed Walters and his kin into the Del Oro family fold.
Welcome aboard, indeed. Some coaches across the country get their houses toilet-papered or shot at. At community programs like this, where tradition abounds and “family” has extra meaning, you tend to receive warm greetings. And the momentum continues.
Ranked fifth by The Bee, Del Oro served notice that it remains formidable despite a mass loss of players to graduation and punctuated by the departure of longtime coach Casey Taylor to Capital Christian.
Great programs sustain and overcome and plow into new eras, and Del Oro’s pedigree is the very definition of great: 11 Sac-Joaquin Section championships in 16 appearances since 1989, the first era under co-coaches Bob Christiansen and John Fletcher, then Larry Wyatt and Taylor after.
Starting eight juniors on offense, Del Oro on Friday beat Cal-Hi Sports state-ranked No. 14 Cathedral Catholic of San Diego 22-12 in Loomis as Josh Gazzaniga tossed two touchdown passes, Brice Edwards rushed for 90 yards and Dawson Hurst 74. Andrew Birch made 14 tackles, while Tatuo Martinson dominated at tackle and linebacker.
All of this played out in front of a typical festive setting: the band, the student-section Black Hole, the home gathering of generations of fans and followers.
On Sunday, there was another score of sorts. Walters and wife Lindsey welcomed a new addition. Logan Brice Walters was born, all 8 pounds, 1 ounce and 20 inches of him. The dad/coach said the little lug offered a game face worthy of a nose guard.
“The doctor called him, ‘Bruiser,’ ” Walters said. “The kids think I’m bionic since I don’t sleep. A lot going on.”
Walters added, “It’s all been amazing. I’m a fairly emotional guy and when I saw those signs at my house, I had tears. Just a wonderful feeling to be welcomed like that.
“And in the game it was a phenomenal effort. It was old-fashioned Del Oro football – ran the ball, good on defense and special teams. The mesh of these kids and the chemistry, it’s so inspiring to be around a group of kids and a community like this. It’s home.”
Walters, 32, played sports at Del Oro and got his coaching start with the Golden Eagles. He coached Liberty in Brentwood to two playoff showings in four years, a quantum leap for a program that reached the postseason just three times since 1914.
Del Oro players and coaches cheered Walters in the post-game setting Friday. Assistant coach Dan Gazzaniga described the scene as “ecstatic.” Walters said he is thankful to his coaching staff in making the transition so smooth: 21 of last season’s 22 assistant coaches remain with Del Oro in some capacity. The gray beards include Steve Birch (16th season), Jason Sauve (12), John O’Sullivan (11), Greg Kreiger (10), Gazzaniga (8) and Bill Sherman (6).
Walters’ father, Kent, remains a fan. His mother does, too, only from a different vantage point. She died from cancer when Walters was 10. His oldest daughter, 5, bears her grandmother’s name, Jena. Jayden is 3. The girls are already volunteering to babysit.
Transfer talk – Of all the transfers to dot the landscape, the one who made the most immediate impact was Marshaun Hunter. The one-time Elk Grove player caught three of Tyler Dimino’s four first-half touchdowns in Del Campo’s 41-14 victory at Merced. Hunter said after the game that he spends as much time with Dimino as he can talking football, watching film and lifting weights.
Sizzling debut – Preston Eklund, stalled last season with injuries, dazzled Friday by completing 30 of 47 passes for 358 yards and four touchdowns, and he ran for one to lift Whitney past Davis 50-28.