Pajaro Valley High promoted defensive coordinator Casey Neligh, left, to head coach of the Grizzlies' football team for the upcoming 2023 season. (Juan Reyes/The Pajaronian file photo)

Pajaro Valley High School announced Thursday that football defensive coordinator Casey Neligh was promoted to head coach of the program for the upcoming 2023 season. 

The 38-year-old Salinas High alumnus took a big leap in his life after he proposed to his fiancee, Pajaro Valley High School activities director Julie Brusa, in February at a school rally.

Fast forward to four months later, he’s now taking over an entire football team. 

“It was just time,” Neligh said. 

Pajaro Valley athletic director Joe Manfre stepped down at the helm after taking over as head coach in 2020. The Grizzlies finished with a 2-8 overall record and were 2-4 in the Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia Division standings.

Manfre said the goal was to have a head coach such as Neligh come on board because not only does he get along with the students, but he’s also a teacher at the school.

“Seeing that person every day on campus really helps out,” Manfre said. 

Manfre said Neligh brings a type of energy that resonates on the sideline and pointed out he’s extremely knowledgeable of the game, which the players gravitate toward especially because he never sugarcoats things. 

“If you came to a game last year, you would see him jumping up and down on the sideline when there were good plays being made on offense or on defense,” Manfre said.

Neligh’s first taste of coaching was at Monterey Peninsula College in 2010 under legendary head coach Mike Rasmussen. 

In 2014, Neligh became Pajaro Valley’s defensive coordinator for the varsity team and head coach of the girls’ basketball program for three years. 

He left to become an assistant football coach and the head coach of the girls’ hoops team at his alma mater in Salinas where he stayed five years before making his return to the Grizzlies Den in 2022.  

Manfre said he loved being the head coach but he realized trying to juggle coaching duties and his responsibilities as athletic director was turning out to be more than he could handle.

“I felt it was the perfect situation to hand it over to somebody that I trust and that I know what their intentions are, and it was just time,” he said.

Neligh said nothing is changing other than leadership in the direction of the program. He wants to create a championship mindset and winning ball games is a small measure of success. 

But at the end of the day, the first year Grizzlies head coach wants to create champions for society and in the community.

Neligh is bringing along a coaching staff with six of them who played under him at Pajaro Valley including Max Arvalo and Russel Pablo, who were former teammates in 2018.

He also brought assistant coach Nick Arellano, who coached alongside Neligh during his first stint at Pajaro Valley and each have a Central Coast Section championship under their belts. 

Arellano won a section title at Aptos High in 2004, while Neligh was at Salinas when the Cowboys won in 2003. 

“When you’re talking about creating champions, everything that we do has to be with a championship demeanor,” he said.

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A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.


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