Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Football lifer John Volek speaks from heart, soul

Former Sacramento State football coach John Volek, center, is shown here following a Hornets victory over Humboldt State on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2002.
Former Sacramento State football coach John Volek, center, is shown here following a Hornets victory over Humboldt State on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2002. jvillegas@sacbee.com

John Volek spoke from the heart Sunday evening during a discussion of the joys of competition.

Volek, the keynote speaker for the annual Sac-Joaquin Section playoff football dinner on Sunday at Sacramento State, sized up the gathering of high school football teams as he settled behind the lectern at the Alumni Center.

Then the former coach grinned. This was his kind of crowd: linemen in jerseys, skill players yielding to the bigger players at the buffet line, coaches waddling and creaking as he does when they walk, after years of football wear and tear.

Volek has been involved with football for more than 50 years, as a player, coach and administrator. He played at Placer High School and Sierra College, a lineman in the trenches, of course. He capped his career as dean of athletics at Sierra after coaching at Sac State for eight years, but he’s still involved in football as a speaker and by serving on boards for scholarship foundations.

Forever a fan, too, he talked about how retirement has given him and his wife, Vicki, time to attend games involving sons and grandsons across the region.

For 50 years, I’ve kept my hand in the dirt. So I challenge you young men: consider teaching and coaching as a profession. You won’t get rich, but you’ll get happy.

Former Sac State football coach John Volek

“Watched 29 games this fall,” Volek told the crowd with a laugh. “Seven grandsons, a coach at El Dorado High (Joe). I’m the luckiest guy. My wife thinks I’m nuts, but she’s there with me, and she’s totally into it, too.

“For 50 years, I’ve kept my hand in the dirt. So I challenge you young men: Consider teaching and coaching as a profession. You won’t get rich, but you’ll get happy.”

Volek said his heroes growing up didn’t wear capes or masks or don a bold “S” on their chests. His heroes were his football coaches – Jug Covich, Bill Flake, Buzz Ostrom and others. Volek said football taught him accountability, loyalty and sacrifice.

He stressed those points Sunday, reminding that those traits helped Folsom and Elk Grove have 13-0 seasons, leading to Saturday’s Division I title showdown at Sac State, and helped set up a rematch of league rivals, with Rocklin and Del Oro playing Friday at Sac State for the Division II championship.

“Football is family,” Volek told the crowd. “You know everything about your teammates. You might have teammates who don’t have anything in their fridge at home, so you share your breakfast with them, share your lunch with them. You give them a ride home, you give them a hug. This game stays with you for the rest of your life, so embrace it.”

Volek shared a story about his son, Billy, who was 40-1 as a quarterback for Clovis West in Fresno, then played four years at Fresno State and 12 seasons in the NFL.

He’s 40, I’m 69, and he made more in one contract than I did in a lifetime, but we’re both very happy. He told me Friday, ‘Dad, high school football was the best time of my life. It meant more to me than Fresno State, the NFL.’

Former Sac State football coach John Volek, on his son Billy

“He’s 40, I’m 69, and he made more in one contract than I did in a lifetime, but we’re both very happy,” Volek said. “He told me Friday, ‘Dad, high school football was the best time of my life. It meant more to me than Fresno State, the NFL.’

“Billy’s four best friends now are from high school. They’re in each other’s weddings, and they want another bachelor party (for the last unmarried of the friends). They like to bring their dads along, too. Isn’t that an odd sight?”

Volek’s message resonated with the coaches, many with sons on their teams or serving as ballboys, or daughters who wear school-color paint on their faces on game day.

Volek closed by reminding players they will always have one another, beyond their final practices and games.

“What are you all trying to do now?” Volek said, scanning the room, meeting attentive eyes. “You’re trying to hold onto your season. You’re trying to hold onto your locker, hold onto your helmet. Don’t let it go.”

Sac-Joaquin Section football championships

  • Division I: Folsom vs. Elk Grove, Saturday, 6 p.m., Hornet Stadium, Sacramento State
  • Division II: Rocklin vs. Del Oro, Friday, 7 p.m., Hornet Stadium, Sacramento State
  • Division III: Central Catholic vs. Oakdale, Friday, 7 p.m., Lincoln High School, Stockton
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