Brandon Giddings and Caleb Thomas are back to lead the Righetti Warriors.
Giddings, the senior quarterback, and Thomas, the senior defensive tackle, tight end and 2017 PAC 5 League Most Valuable Player, will be surrounded by many familiar faces as the Warriors take the field for their 2018 high school football season.
But the season will also see a lot of change.
The Warriors have a new head coach, Tony Payne.
They’re moving to a new section, league and playoff division.
Righetti is one of the Santa Maria Valley and San Luis Obispo County schools that have moved to the CIF Central Section (CIF-CS).
The Warriors have been assigned to the Mountain League and will compete for a spot in the CIF-CS Division 2 playoffs.
Old PAC 5 foes Arroyo Grande, Atascadero and Paso Robles will join Righetti in the Mountain League along with St. Joseph out of the former Los Padres League.
Come playoff time, the rest of the Mountain League will be competing in Division 1.
Righetti joins Pioneer Valley and Nipomo in the hunt for the Division 2 playoffs.
Payne is no stranger to Righetti.
He was an offensive tackle for the Warriors in the 1990s, graduating in 1995.
"It's a dream come true. Absolutely. I'm excited," said Payne after being named head coach.
Returning to the Central Coast after college, Payne was a Special Education teacher in the Orcutt Unified School District for 12 years before switching to math (“I teach Algebra II,” said Payne) back at his alma mater.
Payne was also the first head coach of Orcutt Academy’s eight-man team, leading the Spartans to the playoffs in three of his four years.
After stepping away from football for a year, Payne was back on the sidelines in 2017 as Righetti’s offensive and defensive line coach.
"I've been an offensive tackle my whole life," said Payne, during LCCN's Media Day.
After winning only one game in the 2016 season, the Warriors went 5-5 in the regular season, making the 2017 CIF-SS playoffs.
Payne is hoping to build on that momentum.
“I think we have a realistic shot at making the playoffs again,” said Payne. “That would be wonderful.”
Despite graduating 28 seniors, including running back Damien Robles, and star receivers Jalen Davis, Austin Dasis and Julian Leon, and defensive linemen Chad Zimmer and Jason Gutierrez, Righetti has 29 returning players who are entering their senior seasons.
“On offense, it begins with Brandon. He’s a veteran, he’s quite a leader, he’s going to be fantastic,” said Payne. “And Caleb was the best player in the league. He’s a stud at defensive tackle and tight end. Anthony Porcha is back as our strong safety and wide receiver. Caleb and Anthony — it helps when you have the two best defensive players in the area.
“Adan Solis is coming back as our tailback — he’s as tough as they come. Avery Fondern is moving into the starting lineup as a wide receiver, running back and defensive back. Avery has already stepped up his game. I see him as a shutdown corner and a slot receiver on offense.”
The Warriors will also welcome Valley Christian Academy transfer Adam Aldana. The running back will have to sit out part of the 2018 season as part of the transfer process.
The offense will run a Pistol Wing T.
“It’s an old school offense with a twist,” said Payne. “Ed (former head coach Ed Herrmann) started it last year and it’s the perfect offense for our group of athletes. Offensive coordinator Jeff Persson is a master of this offense. It’s a variation of the old Wing T. It’s based on deception but we keep it simple and let our athletes do what they do best.”
The base defense will be a 4-2-5.
“Shawn Ramirez is our defensive coordinator,” said Payne. “The 4-2-5 is kind of a hybrid defense but it allows us to move the defense backs around to where we need them the most.”
Payne is quick to name the other players he sees as keys to making the Warriors go.
Cristian Mondol and Andrew “Papa” Martinez will anchor the offensive and defensive lines. Juniors Jake MacKinnon will clog the middle as our nose guard and provide strength along the offensive line with Henry Aguilar beside him on both sides of the ball,” said Payne. “Our wing duo of Isaiah Gayfield and Kidasi Nepa (the only sophomore on the squad) can do a little bit of everything – they run well, catch the ball, block — they’re real team leaders. They look like twins out there.”