Clovis News: Sports

Fresno's finest go for prep football titles

They are tied by the past and present, but not much else, really.

Donnie Arax was the 5-foot-6, 200-pound bullish offensive guard with honors at Bullard High in 1981 who went on to play at Fresno City College, but no more because, well, "I was 5-foot nothing."

Tim McDonald was the 6-3, 180-pound quarterback/safety who earned All-America honors at Edison in 1982, then more at USC, then more in the form of Pro Bowl recognition six times in the NFL.

Arax was a gym rat of football, but without options.

McDonald was a gifted west-sider with endless choices.

But, ultimately, it has come down to tonight -- one of the most rewarding dates in decades for Fresno Unified sports:

*Arax as coach of Bullard in the Central Section Division I championship against Centennial.

*McDonald as coach of Edison in the D-II title game against Frontier.

Two alums who returned to their roots with visions and missions.

And now the two, standing on the threshold of gold in a wonderful reversal for the district only a year after Edison staggered through a grade scandal involving a star player, Bullard dived into the controversy by blowing whistles, and bitterness brewed among the programs throughout the season.

This season -- as opposed to last year's game, which closed with harsh words among players, coaches and administrators -- the Knights defeated the Tigers 17-14 in a clean, double-overtime classic at Chukchansi Park.

And many of those same players, coaches and administrators shook hands, wished each other luck and pointed to a future that is now.

Bullard is 12-0 and 2 hours from the first section football title in the school's 54-year history.

"What winning it would mean to me, obviously, in addition to the kids, coaching staff and school," Arax says, "is winning it for all the people who remained committed to the same ideals; the people who stayed in this part of town and rejected the lure of moving north and to the northeast. That's what it's for."

Edison is 9-4, coming off a 26-25 conquest of a top-seeded Tulare team that hadn't lost in two years, and attempting to land its first section championship under McDonald and the school's first since 2002.

"We've had enough drama the last few years to last a lifetime," McDonald says. "So to have things unfold the way, it has unfolded this season is pretty special. We have fought as a staff to keep the kids together and make them understand that doing things the right way will always pay off. And we pretty much got a buy-in from the kids.

"Also, after the things that have gone on in the past, our district and people at Edison found a way to support our kids and not divide them. And that's made all the difference in the world."

Just when he thought he had escaped all drama, however, McDonald experienced some more this week, resulting in the dismissal of three unnamed players.

He said they broke team rules, without elaborating.

"Our kids are in it or not," he said, "and these three obviously are not. So, we'll go out with the kids who want to be part of something special and win the football game."

Arax: Bullard blue came true

It was 1984, Flora Arax had died of cancer and her youngest of three children, Arax -- in his own word -- was "floundering" at the age of 19.

His uncle, Mike Mamigonian, sat him down and asked him what he wanted to do with his life.

"Coach," the nephew said.

"Then," Uncle Mike said, "get your stuff together."

While attending Fresno State, Arax was hired by McLane coach Kevin Hirayama as an assistant in 1984. And it was then that a couple of incidents helped begin shaping Arax's coaching career.

First, Arax, as a "nut" offensive line coach, had to learn to temper his approach after nearly losing his entire front via mutiny.

And, second, he was suspended two weeks by Hirayama after missing a weekend film session.

"At that point," Arax says, "I kind of made a commitment to outwork everyone."

He would assist at a few others schools before becoming a head coach at Kerman and Reedley.

But, all along, he had his eyes on Bullard.

"That was always the focus, always the place I wanted to end up," he says. "There's something about driving the same streets and running into the same people you've known for 30 years; that's pretty special to me. It's kind of a limited view of the world, but, for me, it works."

Arax is 45, 74-38-1 in 10 years with the Knights, and without wandering eyes.

"Hopefully, at 50, I'm throwing [batting practice] to my kid [Ara], and he's hanging out with me at practice," he says. "I want to build something really special here that's long-lasting."

McDonald: Light came on at USC

It was 1983 at USC, long before he completed his playing career, that McDonald's heart began pulling him back to Edison.

"I was one of those kids who went off to college feeling like a real good student, but when I got there, feeling like I really wasn't prepared," he says. "I had been in the west-side bubble. And I remember being on that campus thinking if I ever got the opportunity to go back home, I want to make sure I do my part with any kid I'm associated with -- sports or not -- in helping better prepare them for college."

Current Tigers Tevin McDonald, the coach's son, and Wesley Flowers are two-way standouts who have committed to UCLA. And two-way lineman Rykeem Yates is being recruited by UCLA, Fresno State and Nevada.

The coach's oldest son, T.J., is a freshman football player at USC. And the coach's youngest child, Taryn, is a sophomore at Clovis West and an outstanding high-jump prospect.

McDonald, 44, already traveling with wife Alycia virtually every weekend to watch USC or UCLA games, isn't saying whether a seven-year career at Edison will be extended following tonight.

He says that will be discussed soon with his wife and staff.

But he knows this: "Football has always been a part of my life for so long I don't know what I'd do without it. In some shape or form, it will always be part of the family, and pretty much year-round."