Rod Smalley, one of the greatest football players in Santa Ynez High School history, died on Jan. 1.
He was 50.
Smalley spent years as a football coach and school employee at Douglas High in Minden, Nevada. He was named the Santa Maria Times' All-Area MVP as a senior at Santa Ynez in 1989.
Santa Ynez' current head football coach Josh McClurg, a Santa Ynez High grad himself, was a few years behind Smalley growing up. McClurg says Smalley was idolized by the younger kids in the Valley for his toughness.
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"He was one of the hardest hitting, win-at-all-costs type of guys I've ever seen," McClurg said of Smalley. "Lots of energy."
McClurg was in the eighth grade while Smalley was staring with the Pirates varsity football team in 1989.
"That team of 1989 was one of the best team's in our school's history," McClurg said. "As an eighth grader, we idolized him and loved watching him play football."
Smalley had 144 tackles that season, playing under former longtime coach Ken Gruendyke.
"Rod's number of tackles were actually down this year because most of the teams we played wouldn't run against him," Gruendyke said in 1989.
Prober helped the Warriors to a share of the PAC 7 League championship, earned league MVP honors and was named the 2013 Santa Maria Times All-Area MVP that year.
The Pirates went 10-2 that season, the best mark since the 1969 CIF championship squad at Santa Ynez, which also went 10-2. The Pirates lost to Orange 15-14 in the quarterfinals of the playoffs in '89.
Smalley earned All-CIF honors three straight seasons at Santa Ynez. As a senior, he was a 6-foot-3, 215-pound linebacker, who earned a full-ride scholarship to UCLA as a middle linebacker. He also played in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Smalley and Jacob Fiske, the 1993 All-Area MVP, are the only Pirates to earn that honor since 1985.
On Facebook, Douglas High head football coach Ernie Monfiletto shared his memory of Smalley, who was a defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at the school in the small Western Nevada town of Minden.
“Rod was a friend, confidante and mentor to everyone. Rod was the ultimate father, and it was clear that his primary goal in life was to be a great dad and role model for his kids,” Monfiletto wrote in the social media post. “He had high expectations for his children and their success reflects that effort, they are his legacy!”
Smalley was a truancy coordinator at Douglas High.
Signs of Smalley's toughness were apparent at UCLA, where he played through broken wrists on each arm, according to the LA Times. The LA Times reported that the bone in his right wrist basically died, requiring a bone graft from his hip. Smalley also played through a neck injury during his senior season.
Smalley was named the N.N. Sugarman Perpetual Trophy for Best Leadership during his 1994 season at UCLA. He played briefly in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
McClurg relayed the story of Smalley playing with Matt Soensken, an Arroyo Grande High graduate who also played at UCLA. Soensken and McClurg both coached together at Nipomo High.
"Matt was on the offensive line and Rod was on defense," McClurg said. "Matt said the hardest hitter he ever faced was going up against Rod Smalley every day in practice.
"He kind of epitomized the Santa Ynez style of football. Rod was a big guy and he was mean and nasty on the field."
McClurg says Smalley's mentality and physical style of play is something that has lived on at Santa Ynez and can still be found in the DNA of the current program.
"We've shown our kids the film since I've coached here," McClurg said. "The '80s and '90s highlights -- our teams have always watched that. My plan when I took over here (in 2012) was to start bringing that back and Rod embodies that spirit."
Smalley is survived by his parents Roy and Karen; his three children, Madison, Christopher and Cole; and their mother, Wendy.
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Photos: Check out our All-Area football covers, dating back to 1985
Player of the Decade Round Two
No. 1 Cameron Walker vs. No. 9 Keith Datu
Walker the Warrior will face Keith Datu, of rival St. Joseph in the Elite Eight.
Walker was named All-Area MVP three times in his Righetti career: During his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
Kevin Barbarick once said of him: "Cameron is the best I've ever coached. And he has handled everything with such class. Cameron is so humble. He's a good person."
Walker averaged 21 points and 11-plus rebounds a game as a senior and played all five positions on the floor during his prep career. He averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds a game as a junior, splitting the All-Area MVP award with Cabrillo's Chad Brodhead, another nominee for Player of the Decade..
Walker played at Stanford for two seasons.
He'll go against former Knight Keith Datu, a 6-foot-7 post who scored about 1,500 points with the Knights, adding nearly 1,000 rebounds and over 300 blocks.
During his senior season, Datu averaged 19.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.3 blocks a game. Datu played in 118 games as a Knight, scoring 1,448 points with 935 rebounds and 305 blocks, adding 75 assists and 73 steals.
No. 10 Gage Gomez vs. No. 15 Aaron Abayari
This matchup features two players who scored major upsets in the first round.
Gomez, the No. 10 seed, edged Case Bruton, the No. 7 seed to advance here. Gomez, now a freshman walk-on at UCSB after graduating in 2020, was one win away from leading his school to its first ever state championship before his prep career ended at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, which wiped out the entire slate of state title games.
Gomez averaged 21 points, 6.7 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game as a senior. He knocked down 120 3-point shots during his senior season.
The former Arroyo Grande High sharpshooter will take on another efficient scoring threat in Abayari. The former Conquistadore shooting guard averaged 25.4 points a game as he led the Conqs to their fourth consecutive Los Padres League championship in the 2014-15 season.
Abayari was the LPL MVP that year. He was also voted the All-Area Offensive Player of the Year. Abayari senior season at Cabrillo included an unbeaten run through the LPL with a 12-0 record, despite Cabrillo losing the previous season's co-All-Area MVP Chad Brodhead.
No. 3 JoJo Walker vs. No. 11 Chad Brodhead
Walker, one of the most electric players the area has seen in not only this decade, but the 21st century goes against Brodhead in the second round.
JoJo Walker missed his freshman season of high school ball with a broken leg, but still went on to score 1,867 points in 93 career games at St. Joseph, averaging just over 20 points a game.
As a senior, he averaged 23.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 2.1 steals per game. He averaged 18.7 points a game during his junior and sophomore seasons.
Walker was named the All-Area MVP in 2015-16 as the Knights won the CIF Southern Section Division 5AA title. He was named the CIF-SS Division 5AA Player of the Year.
Brodhead averaged 24 points, five rebounds and five steals a game in leading Cabrillo to its third straight Los Padres League title in 2013-14. He easily crossed the 1,500-point barrier at Cabrillo. He scored about 700 points during his senior season.
Brodhead was a lanky, talented wing player at Cabrillo, able to dunk, shoot, score and pass. He was the only player to loosen Cam Walker's strangle-hold on the All-Area MVP, earning co-MVP honors with the Righetti star in 2013-14.
No. 12 Gabrys Sadaunykas vs. No. 13 David Terrones
Sadaunykas will face Terrones in the second round. The former St. Joseph standout was only there for two seasons, but certainly left a legacy with the school.
A native of Vilnius, Lithuania, Sadunykas spent his junior and senior seasons with the Knights, playing in 18 games and averaging 9.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists as a junior.
As a senior, he bumped those numbers up to 16.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists a game to earn earn PAC 8 League MVP honors and help the Knights capture a CIF Southern Section championship in the process.
Terrones, a hard-nosed guard under intense coach Gary West, earned his reputation as an elite competitor after leading Cabrillo to a remarkable turnaround during the 2009-10 season.
After going 9-18 overall and 3-9 in the Los Padres League the year prior, Terrones and the Conquistadores won the LPL title with a perfect 12-0 mark. They finished 21-6 overall. He led Cabrillo in points (20.6 per game), assists (6.7) and steals (4.2) that year.
Terrones topped the 1,000-point mark at Cabrillo and was a four-year varsity player who earned All-CIF honors as a senior. He scored over 530 points in his senior season alone.
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