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From first practice in pads, Rancho Buena Vista on a mission

08/08/2012, 10:46pm PDT
By Glae Thien, Special to the U-T

After helping coach a high school football state bowl champion, Paul Gomes has taken over a program that went winless a year ago.

— After helping coach a high school football state bowl champion, Paul Gomes has taken over a program that went winless a year ago.

Based on appearances, amid the clamor and esprit de corps in the weight room on the first day of fall practice this week, Gomes couldn’t be happier than at Rancho Buena Vista High.

The former Escondido coach, who spent the previous two years assisting at Santa Margarita, is back in the North County and back in charge of a prep team. In turn, for the Longhorns, there’s no looking back.

“It’s simple,” Gomes said. “I don’t know what happened before. I can only say what I’m going to do, and I explained to the players real quickly that they are going to be pushed past their comfort zone more than they ever have before.”

The message was delivered to 55 varsity candidates in spring practice as the first step toward RBV’s season opener on Aug. 31 at home against Del Norte and the chance to end a 16-game losing streak over two years.

“Are they now positive about what they’re doing?” Gomes said. “Yes. That’s the biggest key — to get kids believing in what you’re doing, and more importantly, believing in themselves.”

The Longhorns reached the San Diego Section Division I final in 2007 in their first campaign under coach Eric Jorgensen. However, over his five-year tenure ending last fall, they went just 14-38-1.

“No steps back, just go forward,” RBV senior running back Daviante Sayles said. “Coach Gomes will make us better than we’ve ever been before. He’s the top coach for us. He’ll get the job done for us, and we’ll do the same for him.”

Longhorns assistant head coach Shane Graham has such admiration for Gomes that he named his second son after him. Their association goes back to when Graham played at Thousand Oaks High while Gomes coached at his alma mater.

Graham later played on Northwestern University’s 1996 Rose Bowl team and eventually reunited with Gomes on the Escondido staff and again at RBV.

“Coach (Gomes) does what he says, and he says what does,” Graham said. “He’s always been that way.”

Gomes, 51, had a record of 59-46-3 at Escondido, taking the Cougars to the 2008 Division I final. He left to join his mentor, Harry Welch, at Santa Margarita in Orange County.

The current RBV situation compares to the one at Escondido when Gomes took over that program. Over the previous two seasons, the Cougars went 3-16.

“It’s very similar,” Gomes said. “I believe the RBV mentality is a little fresher at being better. So expectations of a turnaround may come rapidly, which is a good thing.”

After all, the Longhorns have tradition rooted in winning the 3-A section title in 1988 with their first senior class in its second year at the school. With the town split for two schools, rival Vista went 0-10 under icon Dick Haines that year.

Unfortunately for RBV, it would also go 0-10 on the school’s 25th anniversary.

“There wasn’t a lot of motivation or enthusiasm last year,” said junior Adam Le, a standout offensive lineman last season. “When we lost, it was like, ‘Darn.’ There were a few people who were downers. They didn’t care, some leaders. You expected them to boost everyone up, but they didn’t.”

The 6-foot-2, 285-pound Le anchors a sizable offensive line that includes 6-7, 380-pound junior Gregorio Baeza. Sayles and senior Nico Cortez key the backfield with senior Josh Hollenbeck a top receiver.

Along with a new coach, the Longhorns have a new quarterback as strong-armed junior Dylan Harris steps up from the JV to guide a balanced attack that differs from the school’s traditional rushing emphasis.

“I’m so looking forward to winning every single game,” said the 6-2, 200-pound Harris. “I really want to put this school on the map before I graduate. I just want to win.”

Senior linebacker Reese Conney returns to spearhead the defense for RBV, which has eight starters back overall.

A switch from the ultra strong Avocado West League to the Avo East should benefit the Longhorns. As part of the move, they will visit Escondido in league play on Oct. 12.

That also happens to be the Cougars’ homecoming, likely scheduled not for Gomes’ return but the likelihood of facing a lesser opponent. Then again, these aren’t last year’s Longhorns.

“I don’t like to talk about last season,” Cortez said. “Now, Coach will get on you, but only to make you better. That’s all he wants, everyone to get better, and already everyone has.”

For Gomes and the Longhorns, there’s no looking back.

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