The place has a Grand Central Station feel to it with people coming and going.
On Tuesday afternoon, athletic director Suzanne Baker got a surprise visit outside her office at Capital Christian High School from three football players in practice gear. They asked for someone – anyone – to tape ankles and wrists as the regular helper had yet to arrive.
Jason Harper, longtime outreach director for the church, went with the wrists. Said Baker, “I’ll tape ankles, but please take your socks off to air out first.”
That’s how it works here. Everyone pitches in on a melting pot of a campus of 450 that includes students from all corners of the globe.
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Nestled off Highway 50, the school that opened in 1977 was once unknown on the regional sports map, noted for playing basketball on a carpeted floor. Capital Christian is cute kid cousin no more.
Despite its Division V status, 27 college football recruiters stopped by during a five-week spring period. From USC to Syracuse and points between, coaches paraded in to check out prospects of all grades.
“First thing most of them ask is what sort of character a guy has, and that’s speaking our language,” said Harper, the school’s chief strategic officer and character coach. “A USC coach told us that the game of the year in town would be Grant against Capital Christian because there could be 14 or 15 Division I (college prospects) on the field. I said, ‘Grant has that many guys?’ He said both teams combined, all grades. I went, ‘Whoa!’ ”
No. 8 Grant plays at No. 9 Capital Christian on Friday in a meeting that seemed unlikely a year ago. Established large-school programs of championship pedigree rarely take on small ones.
Capital Christian’s higher profile has also led to some speculation it somehow acted improperly in luring coach Casey Taylor, as well as questions about the amount of talent now on campus.
“If anyone has suspicions or doubts and thinks we’re doing something wrong, go ahead and look for it – we invite it,” Baker said. “We do things right here. There is appeal here. It’s like a small town. All eyes are on you, and that can be a neat thing.”
Taylor can relate to small-town intimacy. He led Del Oro to six Sac-Joaquin Section championships and four CIF State title games, winning one in 2015, over 15 seasons. He left Loomis for a new challenge.
“I’ve got one, too,” Taylor said with a laugh – a bit pained as he went over an injury ravaged roster. “We’re banged up, but no one cares. We just line up and go.”
The Cougars have 13 transfers for various sports this academic year, including football stars Evan Bennett (a lineman) and Maurice Gaines (a cornerback). Both are being recruited, as are running backs/linebackers D’Marcus Ross and Christian Simmons, defensive back Khalil Foye and lineman Shane Semeit.
Simmons will have surgery to repair a fractured fibula on Friday, suffered during Friday’s win over Modesto Christian – the school’s 200th victory.
Harper said Capital Christian, which has won three small-school section titles since 2009, will not become a haven for the disgruntled athlete who wants a change of pace, saying, “Life isn’t AAU ball and you just switch teams. You’ve got to learn to compete where you are.”
Despite his success at Del Oro, Taylor faced regular criticism – a man once threatened to shoot him, leading to an increased police presence at a championship game.
“I got used to it – all the social media talk, the blogs, the emails, the calls,” Taylor said. “I’m not numb to say it didn’t bother me. Some of it was scandalous, some of it laughable. You just keep working.”
On the spring day Taylor signed his contract with Capital Christian, his Ford Expedition began to take on water. He couldn’t stop rain from pouring in. The next day, he arrived at Del Oro, where he had to finish out the academic year as a physical education teacher, driving a Toyota Highlander. Taylor shot down speculation his new car had anything to do with a signing bonus.
“Also heard I signed for a million dollars,” he said. “Ridiculous.”
He said what sealed his move to Capital Christian was his 35-year friendship with Harper and the chance to build something grand. The Cougars will realign into a D-III league next academic year.
Taylor’s daughter, Jaden, is a freshman at Del Oro, and his fifth-grade son Jackson, the Cougars’ ballboy, attends Loomis Basin Charter School.
“It was really hard to leave Del Oro, where we did a lot – blood, sweat and tears,” Taylor said. “(Wife Janie) and I told Jaden it’s her choice where she wanted to go to school.
“The kids think that’s adversity,” he said with a laugh. “When I was her age, my parents had split up and I didn’t always know where I was going to stay that night. Her biggest adversity is her dad isn’t teaching at her school.”
At Capital Christian, Taylor mentors several athletes who navigate difficult home lives.
Gaines previously attended powerhouses Oak Ridge and Folsom before landing at Capital Christian, something he admitted he would have, “laughed at” years ago. Gaines said the Christian campus has helped him, and he scoffs at anyone who thinks it was purely a football move.
“It’s a better situation for me here,” Gaines said. “I made a lifetime decision. I’ve had academic struggles, but I’m back on track. You have to find the right fit.”