Righetti's Tony Payne has been named the Santa Maria Times' All-Area Coach of the Year.
Now, in January, that may not seem like too big a surprise.
But, back in November, the odds of Payne being named the All-Area Coach of the Year for the second time in his coaching career seemed incredibly low.
Back then, Righetti was still reeling from a brutal regular season, where the Warriors went 1-8. Their lone win was against Pioneer Valley, which finished the regular season winless.
Payne, however, took his coaching game to another level once the playoffs started. With an advantageous placement in the CIF Central Section Division 5 playoffs, Payne guided his team masterfully, making all the right moves as the team won four CIF-CS playoff games in convincing fashion to capture the school's first CIF football title.
In fact, when Righetti beat Madera Liberty 34-7 on Nov. 26, it was the first time any of the four 11-man football programs in the Santa Maria Valley had ever won a CIF championship.
What did it feel like to make history this fall?
"I feel shocked, but at the same time I knew that it had to be this team," Payne said after beating Liberty back in November. "It had to be this team to make history and that's what they did. This is a team of destiny and just an amazing group of young men. The love in their hearts and the commitment they made to our program couldn't be denied, and it wasn't."
That bit of history is clearly deserving of the Coach of the Year honor. But, when digging deeper, Righetti's achievements this season become even more impressive.
The Warriors won the divisional title despite losing their starting quarterback in the middle of the season to a torn ACL. The Warriors also did that without a core group of players from a 4-1 spring record that transferred out. Righetti lost starting quarterback Joaquin Cuevas and safety/receiver Chris Miller, perhaps their best player, to St. Joseph.
The Warriors also had to deal with other injuries besides losing starting quarterback Brad Claborn. All-Area offensive lineman Malachi Broome missed nearly the entire regular season with an injury. Austin Rice, another lineman, missed a bunch of time, as did linebacker Ryan Lopez.
But, as the playoffs started, Payne found a way to right the ship. He implored the offense to turn to a power run game led by Ryan Boivin. The Warriors dominated in the trenches against the Division 5 competition and Boivin scored six rushing touchdowns in four playoff games.
Payne also found a way to make his team play for each other and to not give up on the season, not an easy task after entering the playoffs with a 1-8 record.
"We kept going through hell every week, together. That makes you grow, and then Friday nights we get paid," senior Cooper Bagby said after the Warriors beat Liberty for the CIF title. "We just have each others' backs and that's a big thing. There's no fake guys on this team. We're all straight up, yeah, we just have lots of love for each other."
The Warriors didn't just win a CIF Central Section championship either. They also became the first team from the Santa Maria Valley to win a state regional game and play in a state title game. The Warriors went on the road to beat Irvine Northwood 14-7 for the CIF State Div. 5-A SoCal regional title. They then lost to Atherton Sacred Heart Prep 16-0 in the state final.
Payne also didn't let anyone detract from his team's accomplishment. There was a sense Righetti's CIF title was invalid because they were placed in a lower division in the first year of a new playoff format.
"I told you, we don't care what anybody thinks," Payne said after a 34-18 win over Coalinga in the quarterfinals of the playoffs. "We're not apologizing for our seeding or anything like that."
There was also plenty of competition for the All-Area Coach of the Year nomination. Right on Payne's heels was Santa Ynez coach Josh McClurg. The Pirates went 8-3 this fall and finished second in the Pacific View League standings. McClurg was named the All-Area Coach of the Year in the spring season when the Pirates went 4-1. McClurg's Santa Ynez teams went 12-4 in 2021 and captured a marquee win in the fall, beating Lompoc for the first time since 2009.
Payne was previously named the All-Area Coach of the Year in 2018 when the Warriors advanced to the CIF Central Section Division 2 title game.