After more than 10 years of coaching high school football at the 11-man level, Gabe Espinoza is about to start his first campaign as an 8-man football coach.
Espinoza took over as Orcutt Academy's head varsity football coach after Ben Alberry, who took the Spartans to the 2018 CIF Central Section 8-man semifinals, left to take an assistant's job at Pioneer Valley.
"I was set to be Ben Alberry's offensive coordinator," at Orcutt Academy, said Espinoza during a recent OA practice. "Then Ben took a position at PV, and the job just sort of fell into my lap."
Most of Espinoza's football coaching time has been at Santa Maria High School. "I coached 10 years, and coached at all three levels (freshman, junior varsity and varsity)," he said.
Espinoza was a special education instructional assistant for seven years at Santa Maria. "Last year, I decided to take a year off from coaching," he said. "I finally got my full teaching credential, and I taught special education at Ralph Dunlap Elementary School," during the 2018-19 school year, Espinoza said.
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"I will be a special education teacher at Orcutt Middle School this school year."
Even though Espinoza took last year off from coaching, he had a clear concept of what offense he wanted to employ at Orcutt Academy when he stepped in for Alberry.
"I'm adopting Matt Andree's offense here," said Espinoza. Andree is Santa Maria's veteran offensive coordinator. Espinoza was a lower level coach at Santa Maria, his last coaching job before he came to Orcutt Academy, when the Saints' varsity made it to the CIF Southern Section Division 12 championship game in 2017.
At Orcutt Academy, "We'll run multiple sets, but our main base will be a kind of Wing-T, (emphasizing the quarterback option)," said Espinoza.
Espinoza's Santa Maria varsity went 1-9 each of Espinoza's two years as head coach, in 2013 and 2014.
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"I wanted get my teaching credential as quickly as possible, and I didn't think the position I was in at that time at Santa Maria was the ideal way for me to get there," Espinoza said.
"I would have liked to stay (as varsity head coach) though. I guess you could say I was let go."
After his last varsity coaching season at Santa Maria, Espinoza said he was a varsity assistant coach at Righetti for a year. Then came a lower level coaching stint at Cabrillo before he returned to Santa Maria.
Alex Sutton, with 1,282 yards, was Orcutt's rushing leader as a sophomore last year, and he returns. "Alex will be a two-way guy for us. He'll be a linebacker on defense," said Espinoza.
Orcutt's new coach will have to find a replacement for graduated quarterback Max Daniels, who threw 20 touchdown passes and ran for 16 scores last year. Daniels passed for 918 yards and rushed for 667 last year.
"Bryce Cofield and Zander Clark are battling for the job right now," said Espinoza. Cofield is a senior. Clark is a sophomore. Cofield was primarily a running back last year. Clark played mainly on defense.
The Spartans will open Aug. 23 at Van Nuys Fulton.
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Now, Espinoza is optimistic about his new team's prospects.
"Our goal is to win a (sectional) championship," he said.
"I would have liked us to have 30 guys out, but we have between 20 and 25, good numbers for eight-man. And we have a lot of linemen. If we can get six (defensive) guys blocked, and get a read on the other one, I like our chances with our back going one-on-one (against a defender)."