Jon Osterhout’s lumberjack-like facial growth looked more promising than the still-recovering field at American River College.
Osterhout, the Beavers’ first-year coach, ran his hands across his beard late Saturday night after a successful debut despite early signs of chaos and confusion on a field he helps manicure and nuture. Osterhout laughed as he looked at the hard-to-miss gaffe on the football field. The numbers on the home sideline initially were sprayed on the wrong spots, so they had to be scratched out and redone.
The makeover was completed in time for opening night for the Beavers, who overcame a slow start to beat Modesto Junior College 37-27. Osterhout said everything remains a “work in progress,” though he expressed relief that the first game was behind him.
Osterhout, who dreamed of competing in the NFL trenches, played at Oakmont High School, was John Volek’s first recruit at Sacramento State nearly 20 years ago, became an All-American guard for the Hornets and got a taste of the NFL.
Then reality hit, his chances at an NFL career undone by two bum shoulders. The lost soul called Volek, his friend and mentor from the Washington Redskins’ training camp in the late summer of 2000.
“I told him to get on the first plane home and come by the school – ‘You’re coaching with me, right now, because you’ve got a job,’ ” said Volek, who left Sac State a dozen years ago. “I could tell back then that he’d be a special coach, and he is. He just has it.”
Said Osterhout: “I knew I’d get into coaching at some point but had no idea when or where. Coach Volek was there. Really got me started, and I’m so thankful.”
Osterhout didn’t anticipate coaching at American River, either, but he replaced another mentor and friend, Jerry Haflich, who helped turn the Beavers into a Northern California power in recent years. Haflich stepped aside after last season to address medical concerns. Several years ago, he was hit in the forehead by a golf club when a player lost his grip.
Osterhout’s résumé suggested he was ready, with assistant coaching stints at Sac State, Nebraska and American River. He can relate to players’ hopes and dreams because he lived them, too. And much like his players, Osterhout still studies; he’s completing his master’s in kinesiology.
Osterhout said he is fascinated by the challenge of community college coaching. Most of the athletes didn’t target community college and are eager to move up to a four-year program.
“They’re here because they need to grow physically or emotionally, or both, or they were overlooked, or they’re here for another chance,” Osterhout said. “This is a big part of a young man’s life. I like the role of helping them. It’s a great responsibility.”
Osterhout said coaching at this level is similar to coaching at Sac State or Nebraska. The coaches work the same long days and passionately pursue recruits. In an effort to balance family needs, Osterhout and ARC athletic director Greg Warzecka switched home kickoff times from 1 to 6 p.m.
“Coaches have families, kids, and why not let them have breakfast with them on a Saturday morning, then watch their kids play soccer?” Osterhout said. “We have enough of their time already. Shoot, I watched youth soccer (Saturday) before I got here. Loved it.”
Osterhout has surrounded himself with a veteran staff. Lou Baiz, his longtime coaching partner from Sac State, is the defensive coordinator, and former area high school head coaches Josh Crabtree, Ryan Gomes and Doug Grush also are on the staff.
Osterhout anticipates being a coaching lifer, possibly at ARC.
“He’s very good, unique,” said Warzecka, formerly the athletic director at UC Davis. “Jon has a sense of humor, but he’s also very disciplined and highly organized and demands it from his players. And he knows that the D-I grind can be a rat race. We’ve talked about that, how it can wear you out.”
Osterhout learned something else from Volek – support from a spouse can help keep a coach sane. Vicki Volek always supported her husband’s teams, as a team mom of sorts and a sounding board after a tough day on the job.
Osterhout met Allison Garh when she played volleyball at Sac State. Now they’re married with young children Hudson and Chelsea. On Saturday night, she led the pregame coaches’ tailgate party.
“I knew right away that she was the one,” Osterhout said. “See, I do know how to recruit!”