Running back Jemeil Jackson and coach Ron Hamamoto have had a big hand in Monte Vista's success this season.
Considering the recent history of Monte Vista and Sweetwater, it is remarkable that one will be crowned champion after Saturday’s San Diego Section Division IV title game at Mesa College.
Monte Vista has won just two football championships, in 1995 and 2003. Sweetwater has won three titles, but the last came 29 years ago.
Before this season, the Monarchs were 33-60-1 since their last championship a decade ago. In that same time the Red Devils had gone 22-67-1.
“Coach puts all that in the past,” senior running back Jemeil Jackson said of Monte Vista coach Ron Hamamoto. “He makes us forget about it, and now it’s the present and future. We don’t like to think of all the negativity.”
While top-seeded Monte Vista (7-5) is trying to forget about its recent history and block out distractions, second-seeded Sweetwater (8-4) and its players are embracing the school’s past and its role in the community.
“Winning that trophy would mean everything to us — not only our team, but our whole community and our whole city, because we’re the only high school in National City,” Sweetwater junior wingback Antonio Garcia said. “It would mean everything to them.”
Though the teams’ attitudes may differ, the sudden turnarounds at each school have been strikingly similar, starting with the coaches.
Monte Vista hired Hamamoto before last season, bringing in a coach who won a division title in 1994 at USDHS and who reached the playoffs 12 out of 15 years while coaching Rancho Bernardo and Lincoln.
Sweetwater hired Brian Hay before this season. Hay came within two points of winning a division title in his first year as a head coach in 1997 at Banning High in the Southern Section. More recently, in 2011, he led Mar Vista to the Division III semifinals.
Hamamoto and Hay have installed nearly identical offenses — Monte Vista uses the wing-T and rarely throws the ball while Sweetwater runs a double-wing attack and throws even less.
Both coaches are quick to point to others when it comes to taking credit for success.
“I’m really thankful that we have some good coaches and players here,” Hamamoto said. “It’s not just me. It’s everything put together, and I think the bottom line is there’s some pretty good players.”
Hay echoed that sentiment.
“There was already a lot of talent here, and it’s hard to screw up talent,” Hay said. “And a lot of the success is because I have a great staff that works hard and pays attention to the work.”