Righetti High School graduate Tony Payne is the school's new football coach.
The Santa Maria Joint Unified School District issued a news release Tuesday morning announcing Payne's hiring, Payne told the Times in a telephone interview that night that he found out Monday evening that he is his alma mater's new football coach.
"It's a dream come true. Absolutely. I'm excited," said Payne.
Payne graduated from Righetti in 1995. "I played two years of varsity football there as an offensive tackle," he said. "I've been an offensive tackle my whole life."
In fact, Payne said, he was the offensive and defensive line coach for former Righetti coach Ed Herrmann. Herrmann and the SMJUSD came to what was described as a mutual parting of the ways as far as Herrmann's being the school's head football coach.
Herrmann coached the Warriors from 2013-17. He was out after guiding Righetti to the 2017 post-season after the Warriors went 1-9 the year before.
The Warriors went 5-6, including 2-2 in the PAC 5 League, in 2017, good enough to make the postseason. Righetti went out in the first round.
Payne said he had mixed emotions about taking over for Herrmann. "Ed brought in the Wing-T (formation) here, and I love the Wing-T," said Payne.
Righetti's new coach said he met his team for the first time as its head coach during seventh period Tuesday.
"We met in the weight room during seventh period weights," he said.
"The players were really excited (when Payne announced that he was the team's head coach), and that made me very excited."
Payne said, "The weight room is on fire right now. The pre-season is on fire. I could not be more excited about the group of athletes we have coming back."
Many key Righetti players from the 2017 team will graduate this spring. However, tight end-linebacker Caleb Thomas, the 2017 PAC 5 League MVP, is a junior. So is Brandon Giddings, the team's starting quarterback in 2017.
After he graduated from Righetti, Payne said, he played for Barney Eames at Hancock College during Eames' successful run there.
"From there, I got a full-ride scholarship to West Texas University," now West Texas A&M University, which is located in Canyon, Texas, said Payne. West Texas A&M competes at the NCAA Division II level.
Payne said he is in his first year of teaching at Righetti. "I teach Algebra II," he said. "I was in the Orcutt Unified School District for 12 years as a Special Ed. teacher."
He said he took a year off from teaching after stepping down as Orcutt Academy's football coach after the 2015 season. Orcutt Academy plays at the CIF Southern Section 8-man Division I level, and Payne was the coach the program's first four years.
He guided the Spartans to the playoffs in three of his four years at the helm, including 2012, Orcutt Academy's inaugural football season. The Spartans missed the playoffs in 2013 and qualified for the postseason each of the other years Payne was the team's coach.
His teams were a combined 1-3 in the playoffs. Payne guided the Spartans to Orcutt's football playoff victory, 31-26 over Canoga Park Faith Baptist in the first round of the 2014 playoffs.
Faith Baptist edged Orcutt Academy 56-50 in a wild, back-and-forth semifinal in 2017. Second-year coach Doug May, Payne's replacement, guided the Spartans to the semi.
Payne's inaugural year as Righetti's head football coach will also mark the school's inaugural school year as a member of the CIF Central Section.
Righetti, along with all the other PAC 5 football teams, all other PAC 8 schools in other sports and every Santa Maria Valley sports program except Valley Christian Academy, moved to the Central Section from the CIF Southern Section.
Payne's team will play in the Mountain League in the Central Section's Division 2.