Central Catholic High School’s football team was back in the spotlight Tuesday, some five months after winning a second consecutive CIF Division IV state title, as the coaches and players received their championship rings during a ceremony in the school’s gymnasium.
The Raiders defeated Bakersfield Christian 36-23 on Dec. 20, completing a two-year run in which they won 29 of 32 games, two Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV banners and two state crowns.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, school president Jim Pecchenino, 2002 graduate Byron Storer, school chaplain Rev. Michael Brady, athletic director Billy Hylla and head coach Roger Canepa spoke during the 45-minute ceremony. They took turns praising the team’s accomplishment and reminded the players the traits and values that drove them to success would serve them well in future endeavors.
However, Canepa added some spice to the festivities when he invited everybody back next year for another ceremony.
“We’ve already got two; we might as well go for three,” Canepa said. “Don’t you think?”
In 2012, the Raiders dominated Santa Fe Christian of Solana Beach 66-7 in the state finale behind the backfield duo Ray Lomas IV (who was on hand for Tuesday’s ceremony) and Rey Vega. Last year’s team wasn’t as talented as the previous squad and had the added burden of heightened expectations. Nevertheless, the Raiders delivered.
The 2014 team will face even greater expectations, not to mention a promotion into the Division III Valley Oak League.
“Now, everybody really wants to get us,” Canepa said. “But our kids know what it takes, and I think that’s what really did it for us this year – our kids knew what it took because they did it the previous season.”
Sam Mundt was a sophomore on the Raiders’ first state title team. He’s one of a handful of players who have the chance to win a third.
“Definitely, we feel a little bit of pressure, especially going into a new league,” said Mundt, whose brother, John, was a senior on the 2012 squad and now plays at the University of Oregon. “But we’ve got the talent and the ability to do it. And I feel like it’s a mindset; we’ve done it and we know how to do it.”
Denham, who was scheduled to catch a red-eye flight back to the nation’s capital Tuesday night, was himself a football player at Morro Bay High School. He extolled the virtues the game teaches.
“Work ethic, working together as a team and acceptance,” Denham said when asked what football can teach athletes who enter high school as children and leave as young adults. “You enter high school at a young age, and you build the relationships that will last a lifetime.”
Storer, who graduated from Central Catholic in 2002 and went on to play at Cal and with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was invited to speak by Canepa, who wasn’t even Storer’s high school coach – that honor fell to Mike Glines.
“Coach Canepa called me and told me they were trying to put something big together for the kids,” said Storer, who coached the past four seasons in the NFL for Tampa Bay and San Diego but has since taken a position with Storer Coachways, the family business. “Of course, it was an honor and a privilege. This is a big deal for the school and the community.
“I knew the team had won back-to-back state championships but didn’t know much more than that. I did a little research, and I found out they’re a special group of guys.”