San Luis Obispo's football team went 2-18 in the two seasons before Emilio Corona took over the quarterback position in 2018.

In his two seasons at the helm of the Tiger offense, Corona guided San Luis Obispo to an 18-6 record. The Tigers won a PAC 4 League championship and made the CIF Central Section Division 3 semifinals in 2019.

To sum it up, SLO won just 10 percent of its games in the two seasons preceding Corona's arrival and over 80 percent of their games with him leading the offense. 

That uprising wasn't solely Corona's doing, but he was clearly the face of the Tigers' turnaround. 

"It feels great to be able to take a program that struggled and watch the transformation," Corona said Thursday. "We went from a program that was almost expecting lot lose to a winning one."

Corona threw 56 touchdown passes in his 24 varsity games, throwing 38 touchdowns in his senior season last fall.  

"We were a tight group," Corona says of his now former high school teammates. "I played with most of my receivers since the sixth or seventh grade. We're childhood friends and really connected on the field. It's always way more fun playing with your buddies and that was a big factor (in the turnaround)."

But Corona wasn't just a pocket-passer, he was a true dual-threat quarterback. He rushed for 847 yards and 14 touchdowns last season and 800 yards and 10 more scores his junior campaign. 

The Tigers went 10-2 last fall, winning the PAC 4 League title. Corona earned league MVP honors after accounting for 52 total touchdowns. 

For his work in leading the Tigers' resurgence, Corona has been chosen as the 16th and last finalist for the Times' Player of the Decade award. 

Corona says his team's 2019 playoff win over Madera, a 49-28 victory, and a 28-21 win over rival Arroyo Grande last fall were two highlights from his career in black and gold. He also noted a pay-back win over Nipomo last fall as another night to remember.

"My favorite win would be our playoff win against Madera. There was a big home crowd and an awesome atmosphere," Corona said. "We played well and it was a cool feeling to get a playoff win, something that everyone there hadn't seen in awhile. Then definitely A.G. my senior year was a huge win for us. No one at SLO, including our administrators or teachers, thought it would happen.

"Also, for me, beating Nipomo was big because in my junior year we played them for the league championship and I was basically on one ankle with a high ankle sprain. It was a tough game but we got some revenge my senior year."

Corona's career numbers: 281 for 508 passing, 4,635 yards, with 56 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He carried the ball 189 times for 1,762 yards and 25 more touchdowns. 

Corona is now done with football. He is currently playing in a wood bat league in San Diego, preparing to leave for the University of Washington this fall on a baseball scholarship. Corona was also a standout point guard on the Tiger basketball team. 

"I’m just focusing on baseball from here on out," Corona said. "No basketball or football. It's really interesting because I've always been training for three sports. Now I have one focus. I have an off-season which is crazy for me. I'm usually playing games the whole year. It’s been fun and it's definitely going to be different during the football season when I'm just a fan."

Speaking of standout players past and present, Corona says he was motivated by two older players during his freshman year while attending Mission Prep: Joe and Tim Miller. Tim Miller is now a linebacker at Cal Poly. 

"They were a big thing at Mission. They were really dedicated and spent hours and hours watching film and I really saw what it took to be a great player," Corona said.

Cleared for takeoff: Cabrillo and Lompoc athletes set to return to campus July 6, with tight restrictions

Corona also played with someone who he thinks is already the Central Coast's next star player: Thomas Cole, an offensive lineman in the class of 2021 who has committed to play for UCLA.

"I've got nothing but great things to say about Thomas," Corona said. "Just off the bat, you’d never know that man had about 20 or 30 offers. He's so humble. I wouldn't be surprised to see him pay in the NFL. I'm super excited to watch that kid play at UCLA."

Corona joins the previous nominees: Santa Ynez quarterback Mike McCoy and receiver Gabe Prendergast; Paso Robles receiver Bailey Gaither; Mission Prep running back Patrick Laird; Righetti lineman Caleb Thomas; Arroyo Grande's Garrett Owens, Seth Jacobs and Bradley Mickey; Lompoc's Toa Taua, Ainuu Taua and Lavon Coleman; St. Joseph linebacker Fenton Will; Nipomo receiver Nick Kimball and quarterback Matt Albright and former Santa Maria quarterback Blake Truhitte.

Now that all 16 finalists have been announced, readers will have the opportunity to vote for Central Coast Player of the Decade in a bracket format beginning Monday. The list of finalists was compiled by the sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News, which polled area coaches and former players.

Player of the Decade: We're looking for the top player of the last 10 seasons

The sports staff at the Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record and Santa Ynez Valley News is looking for the top football player from Northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County over the last 10 seasons of high school ball.

See who our nominees are thus far.

Senior Spotlight Series: Celebrating the area's top senior student-athletes

Our 'Senior Spotlight' series is aimed at highlighting senior student-athletes who have had their final year of high school disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak. The athletes featured here were their school's nominee for Athlete of the Year or Student Athlete of the Year for the Northern Santa Barbara County Athletic Round Table's end-of-year banquet that has been canceled due to the outbreak.


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