Perhaps one of the most gratifying feelings for a coach is to have a team that not only shares his or her passion for playing the sport, but also has an appreciation for all the details that accompany the experience.
Such is the case for the focus of this week’s Coaches Corner, longtime Williams football coach Dan McDonald and the connection he has to his 2014 and 2015 teams.
McDonald’s 2014 squad finished the season 11-1, capturing the Mid-Valley League crown, but fell 20-14 in a second round playoff heartbreaker to East Nicolaus, despite having downed the Spartans earlier in the schedule, while in 2015, led by a group of returners, the ‘Jackets went 8-5 and made a run into the section title game.
While McDonald takes pride in the fact that the 2014 Yellowjackets were one of the last Northern Section teams to defeat East Nic, he treasures the memories of his group’s drive and enthusiasm for everything related to the sport of football.
“Those boys had great chemistry and I appreciated and enjoyed the effort they put into the preparation each week. They loved the smell of the freshly cut green grass in the fall and they always came ready to play on game day,” recalled McDonald who spent 13 seasons as the ‘Jackets’ head coach before stepping down after the 2018 season, although he remains the school’s athletic director.
It was this crew of players, according to McDonald, that defined the “swarm” mentality; a tradition that lives still lives on among the current crop of players in Williams.
2014 was a prolific year for the ‘Jacket offense, highlighted by the Northern Section’s rushing and scoring leader, Fernando Rodriguez.
A player that McDonald characterized “as tough as they come,” Rodriguez broke the school record for rushing garnering 2034 yards, finding the end zone 24 times and ultimately accounting for 54 percent of the Yellowjacket offense.
Rodriguez, literally ran wild in his senior season, averaging 10.6 yards per carry, while posting a 391 yard game against Trinity, three 200 plus yard games and eclipsing the 100 yard mark five times.
To accrue such numbers a running back needs a strong line, and the ‘Jackets had just that, anchored by a pair of juniors in Luis Davalos and Martin Solis.
Another stalwart in the backfield was senior Damian Garcia, who McDonald also ranks as “one of the toughest young men” he has ever coached as he gained 615 yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the year.
Garcia was just as impressive from his linebacker position where he made a team high 122 tackles, as was Luis Davalos, a lineman, who finished with 92 tackles, as the two spearheaded a defense that yielded just 144 points to opponents.
In 2015, the ‘Jackets also featured a potent ground game this time producing a pair of thousand yard rushers in Lewis Davalos and Ricky Ruvalcaba.
Lewis Davalos finished fourth in the section with 1085 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Ruvalcaba was fifth gaining 1046 yards.
On defense, Lewis Davalos led the section after making 18 sacks, while cousin Luis Davalos was the ‘Jackets’ top tackler recording 88.
Upon looking back, McDonald specifically wished to commend the accomplishments of Lewis Davalos, who went on to play at Feather River College and then received a scholarship to Kentucky Christian University where he was named to the 2019 Kentucky Collegiate All-Commonwealth Team and as such was recognized by the Kentucky Football Hall of Fame.
Nevertheless, over the two season span, it was the perfect combination of ingredients for the Yellowjackets as they advanced to the second round of playoffs in 2014 before seeing their bid to be the first ‘Jacket team since 1997 to go undefeated end, although they came back strong in 2015 to make a run into the section championship game.
In November of 2015, Williams was riding a four game win streak after shutting out county and division rival Colusa in the first round of the playoffs and earning the right to face No. 1 Winters in the semifinals.
With quarterback Pete Ornelas out due to injury and the center Solis pressed into duty at quarterback, the Yellowjackets got a touchdown from Lewis Davalos that proved to be the difference then relied on a newly employed 4-3 defensive scheme with a slight twist to contain the Warriors’ fly sweep offense and ensure the 8-0 victory.
Yet despite a gritty effort in the championship game, the Spartans once again proved to be too much as the ‘Jackets finished on the short end of 28-8 score.
When all is said and done however, those seasons were not defined by the playoff losses, but the rather by the spirit by which they were played, something made clear by McDonald who reiterated how much these groups of players meant him by saying, “I love those boys of fall.” ♣