Nothing illustrated the grit and determination of this group more than the face of Chuck Pfau.
Thick trickles of blood snaked down the cheek and chin of the Del Campo High School linebackers coach Monday afternoon, and he left it to dry that way. Pfau had offered quick-hit pointers on tackling, sans a helmet, serving as a motivational jolt to the Cougars.
“I wanted to get them going,” the otherwise understated Pfau said with a smile.
They’re going, all right.
Ranked 13th in the area by The Bee, Del Campo (6-1) is prolific on offense, tough on defense and collectively bonded by a deep sense of family. There are seven active or retired law enforcement officers on the coaching staff and an honorary coach of sorts who worked for decades in the United States Secret Service. Pfau has worked SWAT duty as a Sacramento County deputy sheriff, where helmets of a different sort are often required. Head coach Mike Dimino, a retired CHP officer, brings discipline and structure to practice.
Police and football – it’s a lifestyle. We have a feeling of togetherness here, toughness. And the coaches are like dads to us. There are a lot of life lessons.
Nick Brand, Del Campo lineman
“Police and football – it’s a lifestyle,” said Del Campo lineman and Sacramento State commit Nick Brand, who sports a deep gash of his own on the bridge of his nose. “We have a feeling of togetherness here, toughness. And the coaches are like dads to us. There are a lot of life lessons.”
Many of the Cougars fall in line with brothers, cousins, uncles and fathers who have played football at the Fair Oaks school. This includes quarterback Ben Purcell, one of six three-year starters for the Cougars.
Purcell climbed through the football ranks, going from water boy, to ballboy, to player. It was the same path traveled – in order – by Ryan Dimino, Cameron Purcell and Tyler Dimino. Ryan and Tyler Dimino are the sons of coach Dimino, Ryan earning Bee Player of the Year honors in 2009 and recently graduating from UC Davis. Tyler, the junior varsity team’s starting quarterback, is the heir apparent to Purcell. Cameron Purcell is Ben’s older brother and now attends Western New England as a criminal justice major.
A 3.8 GPA student, the 6-foot-2 Purcell expects to be in college – somewhere – next year. But he’s in no hurry to leave Del Campo.
Purcell has passed for 2,200 yards and 26 touchdowns in seven games this season behind an offensive line consisting of Brand, Sam Kendall, Stephan Poe, Tyler Robinette, Mike Scott and tight end Tariq Mitchell.
Ben’s as good as I’ve coached, and I’ve coached some great ones.
Steve Kenyon, Del Campo offensive coordinator
“Ben’s as good as I’ve coached, and I’ve coached some great ones,” said Del Campo offensive coordinator Steve Kenyon.
“I take my role here personally,” Purcell said. “Getting better, getting my teammates better, I love the pressure. I grew up wanting to do this.”
Purcell helped rally the team when tragedy struck the program on the eve of the season. Del Campo assistant coach and Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy Carlos Diamond Francies died in August trying to prevent someone from drowning in Lake Tahoe. Del Campo players bear RIP stickers on the back of their helmets honoring Francies, a Cordova High graduate.
“We attended a candle-light vigil,” Purcell said. “We met for lunch as a team. That loss really brought us together.”
In 1983, Mike Dimino met with Gary Miller, Purcell’s grandfather, to talk about which career path to pursue – secret service or CHP. Miller was one of 15 secret-service agents hired in 1964 after the release of the Warren Commission report that examined the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. A former player at Sac State, Miller went on to protect presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.
Miller has been a mainstay in the Del Campo football program for 30 years.
“Gary’s been a mentor for me,” said Dimino, now retired from the CHP. “I miss my friends at the CHP, but I don’t miss the funerals. Too many funerals.”
Miller beams when talking family and football, but wife Sandy and Ben’s mother, Michelle Purcell, can hardly stand the anxiety of games. The pair don’t watch as much as they fidget, hiding behind the snack bar or simply shielding their eyes.
“They’re missing a good show,” Miller said with a laugh.
Miller endured some lean years with Del Campo in the 1980s when there were more losses than victories. He was there during the program’s turnaround under then-head coach Steve Kenyon in the mid-1990s, and he’s witnessed Sac-Joaquin Section title teams under Dimino in 2006 and 2009. This Del Campo squad could be the best yet, with Kenyon back this season calling the offensive plays.
Dimino replaced Kenyon 13 years ago and now the old friends work side by side. Kenyon, a biology teacher on campus, said he returned to football to work with players such as Purcell, and because nothing quite beats a football family and winning.
“Oh man, great time,” Kenyon said of the season.