Matt Costa booms of good cheer every day. Including Mondays.
He bounces off the walls at Pleasant Grove High School, where he aims to jump-start the Eagles as the first-year football coach.
Pleasant Grove went 0-10 last season. It was misery sandwiched by heartache and anguish. But Costa is quick to remind that he’s not rushing into Elk Grove as a savior, just someone to offer a semblance of stability.
“Am I having a good time? Dude, a great time!” Costa said Monday afternoon. “The kids are awesome. The faculty is awesome. The school is awesome. It’s like working in a Zen garden.
“But I tell the kids that I’m not Miss Cleo, and I can’t predict a 10-0 season. What we are going to do is focus on the process of getting better every day. That’s a start.”
That narrative is the mandate for coaches across the region who are trying to elevate struggling programs: crawl before walking, never mind sprinting. There are more suffering programs – low numbers, few wins, battered morale – than there are powerhouse programs.
So how to jump start? Coaches don’t grab face masks and scream to get after it any more. Positive reinforcement is the way to go. Bark at members of a one-win team before the first practice and that player may bail for good.
And football matters because success can resonate through a campus. It’s the most significant identifying sport at a school and it helps kick off the academic year.
At McClatchy, Malcolm Floyd is giving it another go with the Lions. He doesn’t have to do this, but he feels compelled to coach.
Floyd was a star athlete at McClatchy in the late 1980s when he went by Malcolm Seabron and he played receiver in the NFL. He coached the Lions from 2008-2012, when success was scarce but not his intent and energy.
The Lions last made the playoffs in 1996. McClatchy endured a 36-game losing streak early last decade but the old school endures.
“I need to be here,” Floyd said. “This is home, where I got my start, and it would be unfair for me to sit out and not help get this program going. I’m not the best coach in the world, but I need to give back to McClatchy. No one applied for the job. And football teaches so many life lessons, like overcoming obstacles, how to be a good man, a good citizen in life.”
Floyd mentors troubled youth on campus. He implores all teenagers to get involved, to enjoy this stage of life. His daughters – Carlie and Jamie – are McClatchy students and big football fans.
“They like the idea of me coaching again, but they don’t think I was ever ‘The Man’ here,” Floyd said with a laugh. “They say, ‘please not another story!’ ”
In Yuba City, Brennan McFadden was secure enough in his own skin to reach back to an old mentor in an effort to surge ahead.
River Valley went 8-3 in 2015 under McFadden and made the playoffs, then dipped to 3-7 last season. McFadden was delighted that the school hired his Nevada Union coach – and one of the greatest to do this – in Dave Humphers to teach and coach. This will be a co-coach situation. Humphers is sitting on 195 career victories from his storied run in Grass Valley.
“Dave’s a second dad to me,” McFadden said. “My mom (Louise) and Dave taught together at NU for years. I can remember being 3-4-5-6 years old and getting dropped off for morning football workouts. I’m thrilled to have him. And it’s not about me. It’s about the kids, getting better, learning.
“It’s what he taught so many of us, how to be successful in every-day life, to be productive. It has nothing to do with wins and losses but it has everything to do with wins and losses, and we’ll all learn from one of the greats.”
Optimism abounds for other struggling programs, be it in the San Juan Unified School District, or in Placerville, Shingle Springs, Placer County, Yolo County or throughout Sacramento County.
This includes Florin, Laguna Creek and Valley in the Elk Grove Unified School District. Each has had a taste of success over the decades, and each has suffered immeasurably.
A bond measure has resulted in new on-campus all-turf football fields – under construction – for Florin, Laguna Creek and Valley, a sure boost. McClatchy is also gaining an on-campus practice turf, prompting Floyd to say, “We’re finally entering the 21st century!”
Costa can speak of 0-10 recovery, having gone from winless to a playoff team in short order at Kennedy.
“We can’t focus on winning and losing games at Pleasant Grove,” he said. “We’ve got to focus on goals we can control, like how many yards rushing we need, and hitting process goals will lead to good results. It’s never easy going 0-10, living with that, but the motivation of not going 0-10 again, of being hungry, it’s here. I see it every single day.”