WATSONVILLE—Pajaro Valley High athletic director Joe Manfre is entering his second season as head coach of the football team.
When he took over the program, the process of having to coach in an abbreviated Covid-19 season was still a whirlwind to him.
Manfre said this season has been another emotional roller coaster for him, watching schools post on Twitter of not being able to play because of Covid-19 protocols.
The Grizzlies’ junior varsity team was in the same boat after it couldn’t play Watsonville High because of a similar situation.
“You’re waiting for that phone call to be like, ‘Hey, you guys aren’t playing this week,’” he said. “But, we’re pushing ahead and moving forward as much as possible.”
The Grizzlies, who last season finished 1-4 in the Santa Cruz Coast Athletic “B” Division, have been hit by the injury bug early and other players have been forced into quarantine because of Covid-19 protocols, too.
Their offensive line has been affected the most, with senior Eric Viveros and two other linemen sitting out. Fullback Nolan Villa is out with a leg injury and senior linebacker Manny Rodriguez can’t return until he’s cleared from Covid-19 protocols.
Yet, it’s on to the next man on the roster and Manfre believes they’re still in good shape as they try to move forward in what he’s calling a “weird” season.
“I like this group of kids. They work really hard, they like each other,” he said. “I like coaching them, I wouldn’t trade them for anybody else.”
It’s been a tough first two weeks for the Grizzlies. They dropped their first two games of the season, including a 35-22 loss at home against North Monterey County on Sept. 4.
Senior running back Isaac Ortiz got a chance to play in front of a home crowd that included students for the first time since they played in the new stadium in March.
“It feels great to be out here and to be able to play football with my brothers and teammates,” he said.
They were shut out, 32-0, by cross-town rival Watsonville two weeks ago, but Ortiz said that the team has shaken off its early-season jitters.
“I think it got into our heads, that first week, and we were able to pick it up going into North Monterey,” he said.
Ortiz had two touchdowns in last week’s game against the Condors. He said despite the loss they executed a lot better and were focused from the start. One thing he wants to see is his teammates come closer together as a team and begin building a bond.
“If we fight together, anything is possible,” Ortiz said.
Junior running back Juan Macias, who scored once in Saturday’s game, said he also wants to see the team become a closer group on and off the field.
“I like the competition, we have fun and we can come together to have a strong season,” he said.
Macias said they’ve been “turnt up” in practice these past couple of days and they’ve been giving it their all in preparation for their game against Pacific Grove High on Friday at 7:30pm.
The Grizzlies got together after practice Thursday for a team dinner and time to bond. It’s important to Manfre for the players to take the time to get to know each other, especially because they’re already two games into the season.
Manfre said a lot of times, just like in life, they rush through a lot of things and they take a lot of things for granted. He was telling this year’s senior class that it was just yesterday they were freshmen.
“We don’t really stop and slow down, and actually understand the importance of what’s happening,” Manfre said.
Last year during games they weren’t allowed to use the locker rooms whether it was a game on campus or on the road. Manfre said it might not sound exciting to others but that’s also a time for players to bond.
“They got to be in that locker room, play music and do things that every other high school gets to do,” he said.
Manfre told the seniors that they can go as far as they’ll lead the team. He reminded them that any good program will have some juniors and a sprinkle of sophomores, but the majority of the time it’s because of senior leadership and dedication.
“I told this group, we’re going to go as far as you’re going to take us,” he said.
Manfre said the first two games haven’t gone as planned but they’ll continue to move forward. He added the good thing about the football season, and sports in general, is that there’s always another day to improve.
“There’s not always another game but we have eight more games to play,” he said. “This week’s another opportunity to get better.”
The Grizzlies will have one more non-league game against Gilroy High before they jump into Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia Division play.
Pajaro Valley will battle for a league title with just four other schools this season after Marina High and The Harker School opted out for not having enough players to field a varsity team.
They’ll play Greenfield High and Stevenson School twice but only one will count as a league game. The Grizzlies will wrap up the season and league play with a meeting against St. Francis High at Cabrillo College on Nov. 6.
As cliche as it sounds, Manfre emphasized that they just want to take it one game at a time and see where this roller coaster ends.
“It’s going to be interesting, to say the least, but after everything that’s happened this past year and a half, I’m just glad to be out there and I know the kids are glad to be out there,” he said.