With the Friday night lights darkened amid the COVID pandemic, the fourth installment of Coaches Corner turns to the heyday of Maxwell football and the recollections of coach Robert Wilson to bring some action on the gridiron back to life.
For 24 years, Wilson was a fixture on the sidelines in Maxwell, spending 10 years at the junior varsity level and one year as a varsity assistant before taking over the varsity duties.
From 2001-2013, Wilson compiled a record of 116-39 and .748 winning percentage, which ranks him near the top of the all-time winningest coaches in the Northern Section, a fact not lost on former player and longtime coach in his own right, Sonny Badaluco who expressed deep respect for Wilson’s accomplishments and dedication.
“I think his record speaks for itself and while he was never a ‘rah-rah guy,’ you could tell he loved the game. In a town like Maxwell, he had to do almost everything himself while constantly worrying about numbers, grades, equipment, facilities, etc. He did all that and was one of the county’s most successful coaches in terms of wins,” said Badaluco.
In his 13 seasons as varsity head coach, Wilson led the Panthers to the championship game nine times, coming away with three section titles, while falling short in four of those contests by less than a touchdown.
Ultimately however, Wilson selected those three championship teams as his most memorable, highlighting the unique characteristics that allowed them to dominate the competition.
Wilson began his reflections with his 2010 team, an offensive juggernaut that racked up over 5,000 yards and 500 points to finish 12-1 overall, 6-0 in the Mountain Valley League and despite playing up a division, claimed the NSCIF D4 crown with a 14-6 win over Quincy.
To say this group of athletes was driven is an understatement, with Wilson describing them as “super competitive,” recalling how they “hated to lose at anything, even in practice” as well as the way they “pushed each other to up the level everyday.”
Quarterback Tyler Wells was the driving force on offense as he led the Northern Section in passing and in the process set a school record with 2,529 yards and 33 touchdowns through the air.
Nearly half those yards came on connections to the section’s top receiver, Steven Perry, who made 56 catches for 1,083 yards.
Yet the Panthers were certainly not one dimensional, as running back Brett Cabral led the ground attack accruing 1,565 yards and 18 touchdowns.
That season, Maxwell was equally strong defensively, with a secondary featuring Perry, Cabral, Lane Pearson, Sammy Alcaraz and James Bowen that led the nation in interceptions with 34.
Also playing a significant role for the 2010 team that yielded just 120 points on the season, was Aaron Wilson and Derek Munch, who with 159 and 148 tackles respectively finished first and second in the Northern Section in that category.
A second standout team coached by Wilson was his 2006 squad, which after dropping a conference match up to Big Valley went on an eight game tear, demolishing its Evergreen League and Division V playoff opponents to capture the section crown.
One of the keys to the Panthers’ success in 2006 was their ability to win the battle in the trenches as Wilson remembered, “We had an unbelievable line. We could run against anyone and no one touched us after that loss.”
At the heart of that line were seniors Zach Urrutia and Matt Dermody who opened holes for running back Kane Lausten, who gained 1,966 yard on the ground for an average of 9.83 per clip and scored 204 total points to lead the section.
Another of the team’s leaders was Brandon Ottenwalter, a dual threat at quarterback, where he rushed for 437 yards and 10 touchdowns in addition to throwing for 503 yards.
Ottenwalter also spearheaded the defense leading the Panthers in tackles with 132, although a pair of juniors in Hunter Stillwell and Brian Hammer also made significant contributions correspondingly making 110 and 108 tackles.
Dermody also proved to be a menace to opposing teams, recording 14.5 sacks which was second in the Northern Section.
Concluding Wilson’s look back at his former teams is his 2013 crew, and the one he says was his most focused squad of players.
“That group had a goal set from day one, and that was to win the section,” Wilson recollected. “We lost our first two games, then won 11 straight to take the section.”
Leading the way that season was senior quarterback Blake Vierra, who in addition to throwing for 1,380 yards and 15 touchdowns, ran for another 1,017 yards and scored 19 times.
Junior running back Brian Burg also eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark, while senior Eddie Rangel made his way into the end zone 10 times behind a line that was anchored by fellow senior Zach Troughton.
Over their final 11 contests, the Panthers outscored their opponents 388-116 capping the season with resounding 35-7 win over Fall River in the Division V championship game, Wilson’s final at the helm.
Yet Wilson is a Panther through and through and should high school football teams return to the field this season, he is slated to end his seven year hiatus to serve as the offensive coordinator, working along side new Maxwell head coach Lane Davis. ♣