Justin Reber is coming home, or pretty close to it.
The Sacramento native resigned his position as football coach at Saddleback Valley Christian High School in San Juan Capistrano on Monday to take the vacant job at Rio Linda. Mike Morris stepped down as coach in December after 14 trips to the playoffs and two appearances in the Sac-Joaquin Section championship game in 23 seasons.
Morris, Rio Linda’s athletic director who headed the search, vowed to stick around the program in any role the new coach needs.
“It’s a great opportunity for me because it’s a huge step from coaching small schools to this, one of the best anywhere,” Reber said. “The hardest part will be filling the shoes of Mike Morris. He left a big legacy. He is Rio Linda football. We’ll try to keep him involved coaching something – long snappers or throwing a ball to a receiver in practice.
“I’m not a big-ego guy. I’m not threatened by having Morris around. You want that legacy around because I want to take this program to the next level.”
Reber’s desire to elevate the program impressed Morris during the interview process.
“Reber came across exactly the way I wanted the new coach to come across,” Morris said. “I didn’t want to hire the next me. I wanted to hire a guy who will be better than me, and Reber wasn’t afraid to say that he wanted to move the program to the next level. It would’ve been very easy for him to fluff me.”
Morris said he is “thrilled” with the hire, stressing the success of a football team often helps set the mood on campus. Morris said he agonized over the thought of a disastrous transition period after a wave of good momentum in recent years.
“It’s obvious that after 23 years here, I have an emotional attachment to this school and this job,” Morris said. “If I turned the program over to someone I didn’t think could do it, I’d cry.”
Reber in 2011 badly wanted the vacant coaching job at his alma mater, Capital Christian, calling it “my dream job.” Reber, 33, was promoted from assistant coach to interim head coach at midseason in 2010 to restore order to a program in sudden turmoil. He earned a Golden Empire League Coach of the Year honor.
In that offseason, Capital Christian pursued Del Oro coach Casey Taylor, who considered the job but declined. By the time Capital Christian re-approached Reber, he was already on his way to Southern California. At Saddleback Valley Christian, Reber won three conference championships in three seasons. It wasn’t uncommon for players to quit during the team’s rigorous offseason conditioning program, as some players declined to commit to the grind.
At Rio Linda, Reber inherits a program that has a passionate Friday night following of students, alumni and area residents. The Knights have large rosters. Players land on the college recruiting radar. This includes junior tailback Marcel Brown, a Bee All-Metro pick who rates as one of the best in the state.
“We’ll use Marcel Brown – a lot,” Reber said.
Around the bases