By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Bill Wight calls it his dream job.
Wight is the new football coach at Elsie Allen High School.
Football coach at Elsie — a dream job? The Lobos lost every contest they played last season. The average score: 50-9. The last time the Lobos won a game was in September 2013, when they beat Willits. And you’d have to look a good bit back in the record books to find the last victory before that.
So when Wight, who has played for and coached under Montgomery High legend Jason Franci, who played some college ball at Sonoma State University before their program was cut, and who most recently spent a decade coaching youth and high school teams in Idaho, says his recent hire as Elsie’s head man is a dream job, one has to wonder.
But I want to believe him.
The Lobos seem to.
“The vibe this year is different,” said senior David Armenta, who expects to play linebacker, running back and kicker this season. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
But I had to ask: What is it like, how do you keep your head up, keep working hard without ever experiencing victory? Why is this season going to be any different?
“I come out here because I love playing football,” he said. “Nobody likes losing, right? I want this to be like when we step on the field, them to be like ‘We have a game on our hands.’ ”
Receivers coach Randy Speakes, who spent last year on the sidelines for the Santa Rosa High Panthers, has seen his fair share of workouts and practices. He said that this group of Lobos is the best he’s seen suit up for Elsie Allen in 10 years. They do anything he asks, and then some.
Wight said the same.
“They are just good athletes that are willing to work really hard,” Wight said.
And these kids have been battled tested in a way few can imagine. Some have never won a varsity game.
With that as a baseline, they then had to endure spring practices that went from bad to are-you-kidding-me?
Wight had applied for the head coach job but settled for offensive coordinator when another guy got the gig. But Wight walked in May because he didn’t like the direction the new guy was taking with the Lobos. Then the new guy abruptly quit.
I asked some of the Lobos about it and they just shook their heads. They’d talk about how things look today instead of how they felt yesterday.
But Wight got the call — would you be willing to come back?
Morale was decidedly low. Few guys were showing up to spring workouts under the old coach. He was down to eight guys some days.
Wight, who now wears Lobo navy blue, just called them “challenges.”
“The eight that showed up there the whole time? They work their butts off. They will do everything we tell them,” he said.
More guys came out, old guys returned. Don’t get me wrong, practices aren’t bursting at the seams with bodies, but 20 guys is better than eight. And players are working on a few of their buddies to come out.
Summer passing league at Santa Rosa Junior College has given the Lobos a whiff of success. Wight calls that exposure to success “a godsend” for players’ attitudes.
“If they can see they can catch a pass against Newman, the Ranch and the JC, they are pretty excited,” he said.
None of what he walked into is a great surprise to Wight. He’s a Sonoma County football guy who kept an eye on the local scene even when he was in Idaho. He knows the Lobos have never had a winning season. He’s well aware that everybody invites Elsie Allen to be their homecoming game.
“Then I get over here and the kids are awesome, they are the nicest kids in the world,” he said.
Francisco Anguiano, a senior who will play running back and safety, is fine with being nice, but he wants to win. More than that, he wants to compete.
“We might not be beating them but we are out there competing,” he said. “It won’t be 80-point blowouts.”
His larger goal?
“To change the culture of this school and how we play sports,” he said.
Wight remembers, just after he’d left the SSU squad, talking with Franci about coaching. It was the mid-’90s and Franci told Wight Santa Rosa City Schools was planning to build two more high schools — the schools that would become Elsie Allen and Maria Carrillo.
“It was always my dream to be a football coach,” Wight said. “I was going to be the first head coach at one of them.”
“I kind of ended up, 20 years later, where I was supposed to be,” he said.
The Lobos believe.
I want to believe, too.
You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or email@example.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield.