The winningest coach in Sac-Joaquin Section history is back on the football field, directing traffic with a whistle and stopwatch.
With two bad hips and an artificial knee, Mark Loureiro freely admits he is closer to retirement than his glory days, but the longtime Escalon High football coach has unfinished business.
Under Loureiro’s watch, the small-town Cougars have become a public-school program with a section- and statewide reputation on par with the privates. Escalon has won eight section titles in 14 appearances, captured the CIF Division III State Bowl in 2010 in a driving rain, and finished the season ranked No. 1 in the state in 1993 and ’96.
I’m going to make a decision after this year. I’ve been doing this forever, so it might be time to give my body a break.
Mark Loureiro, longtime Escalon High football coach
All of that success looks good in the trophy case, but it doesn’t mask the frustration felt in the locker room.
Escalon has missed the postseason each of the last two years, accumulating a 9-11 record in that span, including 4-6 last fall. The Cougars lost two of their last three Trans-Valley League games to fall out of contention. It was the first time Loureiro experienced a sub-.500 finish.
“It grinds at me a little bit,” he said. “I’m hoping this team can snag a playoff spot and use that experience to their advantage the next two years. I don’t think this is a team that can get in and do major damage, but I think it’s a playoff-quality team and the experience could be good.”
Escalon won’t have the luxury of experience.
Loureiro has moved up three sophomores – playmaker Kaden Christensen and two-way linemen Jacob Walden and Damien Toms – and there’s a competition brewing under center between junior Lucciano Dutra and senior Steven Grossi.
“We’re going to be very young, and we’re improving every time (we take the field),” Loureiro said. “The 7 on 7s help us in the secondary. A lot of our passing is geared on play-action, but the kids are able to show what they can do.”
Christensen has a chance to be special. He is the playmaker the Cougars have sorely missed at the varsity level the last two seasons, a player that can impact the game in all three phases.
“He’s a gamebreaker,” Loureiro said. “He’s good in returns, really fast, a solid corner and he’s got good hands.”
And he’s accustomed to winning.
The Cougars have netted back-to-back TVL championships at the junior varsity level, winning 19 of their 20 games.
Still, Loureiro is cautious to anoint a frontrunner, especially in a conference as thorny as the TVL. He has been around long enough to know that JV titles don’t guarantee varsity success.
“We haven’t pulled up any sophomores in a few years, so that helps at the sophomore level,” Loureiro said. “But it also gives you sort of a false persona. I’m not taking anything away from those kids, but Hilmar and (Modesto Christian) had a lot of kids up. Had they been down, it might have been a different look.”
Loureiro is 274-62-1 in 28 seasons, and he won’t say just how long he’ll remain in charge of the Cougars.
It won’t be long, though.
“You get around kids, you get around the coaches, you get around the competition … all of that ignites the fire,” Loureiro said. “I’m going to make a decision after this year. I’ve been doing this forever, so it might be time to give my body a break.”
In many respects, Loureiro has already begun the transition, turning over more and more responsibility to the younger coaches on staff, like junior varsity head coach Andrew Beam, a former Cougar quarterback.
“It’s comforting to know that I’ve got good people ready to take the program over,” Loureiro said. “I want to make sure I leave this program in good hands since it’s been such a big part of my life. I’m feeling confident about that. A lot of the younger coaches are ex-players and have been involved the last three or four years.”