It started with Dawson Hurst.
The third-year varsity standout for Del Oro High School wanted to sport a different look for his senior season. Dye the hair? Shave it? Nah.
He went with something out of a 1970s B-list film: a thick blondish mustache that still garners guffaws.
The trend spread, but since there wasn’t time to grow the real thing, Golden Eagles players on game nights now go with eye-black and paint on a Fu Manchu to match assistant coach Bill Sherman (who has the real thing) and to one-up Hurst.
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“We go by ‘Mustache Mojo,’” said Del Oro head coach Jeff Walters. “Gotta have fun with these guys. Football is intense enough.”
Said Hurst, a receiver, defensive back and special-teams performer, “I started growing the mustache before the season, and girls would say, ‘shave it!’ and the guys would say, ‘keep it!’ Now we say, ‘keep it until we lose.’”
Del Oro, ranked second by The Bee, enters its bye roaring along at 6-0 with hopes of a Week 10 showdown against top-ranked Folsom. The next challenge is Oct. 5 when No. 6 Oak Ridge comes for a visit. But football can be sweaty, hard drudgery.
The Golden Eagles have won championships since the 1960s, including 18 trips to a Sac-Joaquin Section championship game since 1989 with 11 banners (and four trips to a CIF state final with one title this decade).
To help ease tension, to let the players know they care, Del Oro coaches ordered up a bowling showdown on Monday in Rocklin, drafting Golden Eagles players and then engaging in a spirited tussle.
“We want them to have experiences to remember 20 years down the line.” Walters said. “We have some good bowlers and some guys who need work.”
“It’s something to take the edge off,” Sherman added. “We can run them into the ground in practice but why? Some fun things like this keeps the guys engaged. You can only do so much football.”
Said assistant coach Greg Krieger, “They’re people, kids, not chess pieces to just move around in games. So let’s enjoy.”
High school teams are allowed 18 hours a week of time with their coaches, be it practice or conditioning. This includes bowling. Time well spent, coaches and players said.
It’s safe to say Del Oro wouldn’t compete for any make-shift section bowling titles. These are football players. Carson Jarratt has passed for 745 yards and nine touchdowns, five to Hurst; Sheldon Conde has rushed for 514 yards and nine scores; and Johnny “Rocket” Guzman averages 110.7 all-purpose yards, having scored on kickoff and punt returns.
Players heap praise on the linemen and defensive stoppers, too.
“We’re one big family, and we all get along off the field, too,” said lineman/linebacker star Tatuo Martinson. “Conde is a great athlete and football player but not a good bowler. He’s a gutter-bowl guy. Hurst? He’s a baller and a bowler.”
The Hurst name is synonymous with Del Oro.
Older brother Mason was The Bee’s Player of the Year in 2016 as the driving force of versatility for a state championship team. He is now on scholarship at Cal Poly, which has also offered Dawson Hurst a scholarship, as has UC Davis.
The thing about having older brothers who were football stars is they serve as a comforting resource, but there’s also a degree of pressure to not just walk in those shadows but to create your own.
“I feel it — the pressure is there,” Hurst said. “Everywhere I go, people know who I am, the family football name. But I like the pressure. It means I mean something.”
Sherman, the assistant coach, said pressure makes or breaks people. He felt it as a star player for a 13-0 team at Del Oro in 2005, and he answered the call by earning Bee Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was the head coach at River Valley High in Yuba City but jumped at the chance to return to Loomis.
And he grew his mustache to “back Dawson so he wasn’t doing it alone — and he needs help!”
“This is why I came back — to coach at home,” Sherman said. “Del Oro gave me everything I have.”
Walters also came full circle. He’s a Del Oro graduate who got his coaching start at the school. He coached Liberty High of Brentwood to new heights before replacing Casey Taylor as Del Oro’s coach before last season.
How’s that for pressure? The Golden Eagles thrived in his 15 seasons before he left for a new challenge at Capital Christian. Del Oro reached the section finals last season and returned 16 starters for another run. So now Walters is feeling his own pressure to succeed with a team that finally feels like his own.
“Oh, there was pressure,” Walters said of the coaching grind. “But that’s part of coaching. We all want to do well. I always dreamed of coming back here. You’re in a coaching situation anywhere where you’re under the microscope. That’s why it’s good to mix in some fun, too, like bowling.”