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Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead

The following article was posted on October 25th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 34 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 34

Santa Maria High School football finds 
its edge again after years of losing

Grit on the gridiron

By PETER JOHNSON


TEAM LEADER
Junior quarterback Blake Truhitte (No. 2) is leading a revival of Santa Maria High School football, throwing and running for 28 total touchdowns this season.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BLAKE TRUHITTE

When the Santa Maria High School football team notched its first league victory last season, it seemed like a routine milestone.

But then head coach Dan Ellington checked the history books.

“I didn’t realize, but that was the first league game Santa Maria won in five years,” the third-year Saints football coach told the Sun. “Then we beat Righetti, our crosstown rival, for the first time in 22 years.”

Santa Maria football (4-4) is indeed coming out of a prolonged dark age. This year’s Saints, led by junior quarterback Blake Truhitte, senior running back Bobby Ruiz, and senior middle linebacker Frank Lopez, has positioned itself to claim a Northern Division League title, which would be its first in many years.

The Saints thumped Templeton High School, 52-21, on Oct. 13, and an Oct. 20 win over Morro Bay High School has all but secured them a spot in the CIF playoffs.

“We came into this year and we knew we wanted to win a league title,” Truhitte told the Sun. “We’ve been working since the summer on that.”

Truhitte’s and his teammates’ ambition and investment embodies the massive change taking place in Santa Maria football. For the better part of two decades, losing seasons and constant coaching turnover defined the Saints program, straying from the school’s historical reputation.

“In the 1970s, ’80s, and through the ’90s, Santa Maria football was, at times, dominant in the area,” Ellington, a Santa Maria native, said. “Then in the past 20 years, it took a downward spiral, to say the least. They didn’t have a winning season for close to 15 years.”


ALL FOR ONE
Santa Maria High School football captains Isiah Garcia, Blake Truhitte, Robert Ruiz, and Gabriel Bravo (left to right) walk to the center of the field before a recent game.
PHOTO COURTESY OF DAN ELLINGTON

When Ellington took over the helm as coach, his first task in turning things around was generating excitement about football in the school again.

“When a program like that has been beat down, kids don’t want to participate,” he said. “When I came over, the biggest challenge was to try to get kids interested in football.”

Ellington called the timing of his arrival a “perfect storm.” Shortly after he got to campus, the school received funding to renovate some of its sports facilities, including a new weight room. The spankin’ new facilities, along with new leadership that included incoming athletic director Brian Wallace, were critical to revitalizing football.

“In football, the weight room is where it starts,” Ellington said. “The kids see all the things, and I think they’re excited. Over my three years, the environment has changed so much at that school, it really has.”

Once more student athletes started enrolling in football, the next step was to build a culture and mindset of discipline, commitment, and confidence.

“Our kids have to believe in themselves,” Ellington said. “I came in, and I got a coaching staff around me that wanted to get the kids to believe in themselves again. We looked for little victories.”

Each season since has seen marked improvement, both in the locker room and on the scoreboard. That’s not lost on the team’s leaders like Truhitte.

“[When I joined the team], the varsity guys, none of them really wanted it,” Truhitte said. “Our team now, and the JV and freshmen, what’s changed is guys are more hungry. They see what we can do here. They buy into it, and they’re working hard.”

Now Santa Maria is in a position this fall to make some real noise in the Central Coast football scene. Rolling out several seniors, with key players about to return to action after suffering early season injuries, the Saints are ready to hit their stride at the right time.

It all starts with Truhitte behind center, a quiet, lead-by-example multi-sport captain who has passed for 16 touchdowns and ran for 12. Truhitte’s backed up by Ruiz at tailback—the team’s “emotional leader,” according to Ellington. Linebacker Frank Lopez leads the Saints in tackles and is also a state finalist wrestler.

“I think we can be league champions this year,” Ellington said, “and then go pretty far in the playoffs.”

Ultimately though, for Ellington, victory’s already arrived. Santa Maria has a viable, competitive football team again that students want to play for and take pride in. That’s enough for him.

“I want the kids to care more about the team than themselves. We wanted to get that competitive spirit going and the desire to play hard and commit to the team,” he said. “Just to build a program that kids will now start rolling through and it will be a competitive sport, a good program—that’s the goal.”

Sports contributor Peter Johnson can be reached at pjohnson@newtimesslo.com.




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