WATSONVILLE—There was no doubt one day that Joe Gregorio was going to take over as the head coach of the Watsonville High football team.
It was never a matter of if he would take the job, but the big question always remained of when he would actually jump on the opportunity.
Gregorio, who is also the school’s vice principal, said in March that the day has finally arrived after he announced that he’d be taking over the program starting this upcoming season.
“I love Watsonville High School kids, I do,” he said. “I do have a strong connection to the school and to our community.”
Gregorio will take over for former coach Anthony Valdivia, who was relieved from his duties after spending the past three seasons at the helm and posting an 8-17 overall record.
Watsonville High Athletic Director Marcus Northcutt and principal Maria Clara Fernandez went through the process of searching for a new coach.
Yet, it became evident that the applicant pool just wasn’t the right fit for the time being and that Gregorio was named the interim coach.
In 2004, Gregorio started off as head coach at St. Francis before leaving in 2010 to take over as head coach at Pajaro Valley High from 2011-16. His chance of becoming the skipper at Watsonville came in 2018, but then the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to his plans.
Northcutt remembers when Gregorio first came on the scene as a physical education teacher and he was already involved with coaching. Then he was promoted to assistant principal but was still helping out the football program.
“I have to be honest, if he didn’t get promoted to administration he would have been our coach most likely, anyway,” Northcutt said.
Northcutt said they were in a tough situation and wound up with just two applicants. The last time the school opened up the football job it had up to seven applicants.
“The reputation of Watsonville football has seemed to have been damaged a little bit and/or the pandemic seems to have taken some kids away from wanting to play sports,” he said.
Northcutt mentioned the numbers are low and they’ve had more disciplinary issues than typical. He felt they needed a strong presence and a unique person such as Gregorio to get the program back on its feet.
Gregorio helped the Grizzlies program beat crosstown rival Watsonville twice and for the first time in the school’s short history in a 21-6 victory over the Wildcatz on Nov. 15, 2013.
“[Gregorio’s] a heck of a football coach just by itself,” Northcutt said.
Northcutt said Gregorio will hold the title of interim head coach because he’s not sure how it’ll pan out, calling it a trial basis for next season.
Gregorio said he talked to his family and the school’s administration along with key stakeholders, who all came up with a plan for this year. He ultimately wants to build the culture and the program to where it’s a spot where they’ll be successful moving forward.
“That’s the goal and ultimately we’re giving the students all the resources and the tools to be successful in life through the football program,” he said.
The new skipper emphasized they want to focus on the whole student by following the guidelines set by Pajaro Valley Unified School District, which means keeping an eye on attendance, grades and behavior in the classroom.
“All those key aspects transfer on to the field,” Gregorio said. “If you’re on time for class, you’re on time for practice. If you’re completing your tasks in your classroom, you’re following the drills in football.”
Gregorio—who once upon a time suited up for the Wildcatz—was the junior varsity head coach last year. He’s been connected to the program, making the transition easy for him in terms of knowing returning players and the systems that are already existing.
The goal from here on out is to build upon what was already established and then get the Wildcatz to a spot where the players are being successful.
Gregorio said they talked about inclusivity and building adult skill sets to be successful in the future along with learning to be a leader and ways to set goals.
“All those things that makes great Wildcatz,” he said.
Watsonville will host a 7-on-7 alumni game and fundraiser barbecue at Emmett M. Geiser Field on May 26 at 5pm. The entry fee is $20.