New prep football coaches ready to tackle challenges

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New faces abound this year on high school football fields around Sonoma County — and it’s not just the student-athletes. Four new coaches take the helm at North Bay League and Vine Valley Athletic League league schools.

Terence Bell replaces Tom Harris at Piner, Hervy Williams replaces Bob Midgely at Sonoma Valley, Shaun Montecino tries to rebuild the Healdsburg program, and former Piner head coach John Antonio will lead his hometown Casa Grande team in Petaluma after Denis Brunk left.

All four have challenges ahead of them to win games, with all but Casa turning in losing records last season. Casa was 4-2 in league play but 4-7 overall.

Both Bell and Williams are teachers at their schools, which they say allows them time to build better relationships with the athletes, parents and administrators. Antonio, a police officer, is Casa’s school resource officer, giving him access to students as well. Like Bell, Montecino was a junior varsity coach before moving up.

Here is an introduction to this year’s new coaches:

Hervy Williams, Sonoma Valley

“I feel like my connection with the kids is a game changer,” Williams said. “Working on campus, seeing them day in, day out helps with recruiting. I am trying to reach out to the Latino community and make sure they feel comfortable on the football field.”

Williams said he brings new energy with which he hopes to reinvigorate the team, which finished 3-4 in the Vine Valley Athletic League and 4-7 overall last season.

A special education coordinator at Sonoma Valley, Williams was JV coach for the past five years. He said the football booster club has bought new jerseys for the team.

“We want to turn the whole program around so they will be proud to be Dragons,” he said. “We’ll start with a whole new look.”

Players are learning that fitness doesn’t happen overnight and they’re going to have to work at it, Williams said.

Last year’s varsity team started with about 25 kids, but dwindled by the end of the year. Williams said many of his JV team of about 45 last year have come out this season.

“I’m working with other coaches to share athletes since we’re a small school,” he said. “We create relationships with the kids, teach them that multi-sport athletes is what we need.”

Terence Bell, Piner

Bell, a Piner grad, played receiver at Santa Rosa Junior College and the University of Hawaii.

Returning home, he was a teachers assistant for two years and a full-time teacher for the past three years, being awarded Teacher of the Year honors last year.

He said he will use some of the same skills he hones as a special ed teacher to boost the football team’s confidence after last year’s 1-3, 4-6 showing in the North Bay League-Redwood Division.

“I see their potential, that’s the most important thing,” he said. “I’ve coached other places, but the potential here at Piner is crazy. If you can get someone in their corner, it can be great.”

Although practices only began Aug. 5, Bell said he’s seeing good signs from his Prospectors squad.

“We have the confidence back,” he said. “They’re learning how to win football games. You gotta learn the right things to do.

“But they’re also learning that it’s not all about football. That’s the best thing about football. You learn things you’re supposed to, like giving back and being active in the community. Then you put those things back into football.”

Bell walks the talk. He thanked his many teachers for helping him get to the place he’s in now.

“I know that my success is largely based on the community,” he said. “I intend to return the favor.”

John Antonio, Casa Grande

Antonio can really only be counted as a half-new coach of the VVAL’s Gauchos.

He was Piner’s head coach for five years, from 2011-2015, until the commute and time away from his Petaluma family forced him to step away.

He took that Prospectors team, which hadn’t won more than two games in a season in a decade, and led it into the North Coast Section playoffs in just three years. More recently, Antonio served as an assistant coach at St. Vincent in Petaluma.

“It really is a transition,” he said. The Gauchos went 4-2 in the newly configured VVAL last year and 4-7 overall.

“It feels similar to how it was at Piner. We need to do some rebuilding,” said Antonio, who will be Casa’s third coach in four years.

With 42 athletes on the roster the first week, Antonio feels like he has solid depth and talented underclassmen in the wings.

He said his team will be young, but big, with two linemen above 6-foot-3 and at least 285 pounds.

“Our numbers are good. We have depth,” he said. “I really feel good about this team.”

Shaun Montecino, Healdsburg

Of all the new coaches, Montecino may have the biggest challenge ahead of him.

The Greyhounds’ season ended abruptly last year after the first two games, losses of 40-1 and 61-0, and a team vote to disband the varsity squad. Only 18 players initially came out and six quit after the two defeats.

A Los Angeles native who grew up in the East Bay, Montecino is a 2011 Elsie Allen graduate. He played football at SRJC and at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas before returning to Sonoma County.

He studied criminal justice and is now a crisis stabilization officer for Sonoma County, essentially helping troubled residents in acute mental health emergencies.

The JV coach at Healdsburg for two years knows most of the athletes coming out this year — 31 so far.

His JV squad last season was about 45 kids and they kept playing even after varsity threw in the towel.

“I told them I expect a lot of hard work,” Montecino said. “You’re not going to get this type of advice after high school, so you should get it now.”

Practices are picking up, he said, as the team gets ready for their NBL-Redwood debut.

“We’re getting more excited, having more fun,” he said, adding that he took a page from his rugby coaching days at Elsie. “We don’t yell at them. We tell them what they did good and then what they can improve on.”

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @loriacarter.

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