High School Football

Sanger football empire holding firm under Chuck Shidan

The Shidan home here a couple of Rory McElroy tee shots southeast of the high school finds Christmas lights that hang year-round, two school-red lawn chairs on the porch, a large brick planter in the middle of the front yard and plenty of green foliage.

There’s nothing flowery, pretentious or phony, just a warm, effective appearance that screams of the institution-like prep football coach who lives there.

The old-fashioned, large-bulb Christmas lights, says Chuck Shidan, are illuminated for holidays, birthdays and, by gosh, “big football wins.”

Those have been aplenty among 185 total in a 26-year Apaches career that extends at home Friday night in Tom Flores Stadium with a County/Metro Athletic Conference showdown against Edison.

A typically large, red-splashed Sanger crowd will be there to inspire a 5-1 team that’s ranked 10th in the Central Section while marching on yet another path toward Division II title contention.

Flores – the venue’s namesake, school graduate and former NFL quarterback great – will be there to flip the pregame coin.

Matt Johnson, the Edison coach, will be there to beat Shidan, yet not before saluting him: “He’s the ambassador, the Bobby Bowden, the Joe Paterno of our area. There’s something to be said about small-town football as opposed to the metropolitan style. In Sanger, that’s a party, that’s a show, from every barber shop to every pizza joint, and Chuck is responsible.

“He’s definitely, obviously, a guy who motivates kids, keeps their energy on the sidelines and gets everything out of his players.

“He’s ‘The Man.’ 

And more, says Bullard’s Donnie Arax, yet another CMAC rival coach who quaffs the Shidan Kool-Aid and with an appreciation and understanding that runs much deeper than the 185-109 career record – ninth-winningest in section history, says historian Bob Barnett.

“Every year, we put better talent on the field than them – every year,” says Arax, his voice rising. “And every year, it’s a dogfight. No one – I mean, no one – plays tougher than Sanger. And they don’t just play tough football, they play smart football. Here’s the deal: Watch Sanger in Week 2 or 3 and you say, ‘They’re OK.’ Watch those guys in Week 9 or 10 and they’ve made dramatic improvement. Chuck is just a great high school football coach, bottom line.”

Arax also notes Shidan’s empire was constructed following a troubling decade in the program, going 36-64-1 in the ’80s.

“We all know what Sanger football has become with the big crowds; it’s a special community thing there,” Arax says. “But a lot of people forget that did not exist before Chuck.”

For all his success and administrative support that he says has been “off the charts,” it’s hardly been a push-button operation for Shidan, a 1975 graduate of the school.

He’s had but six players advance directly into major-college football on scholarship while also dealing with unmistakable white-flight demographics at a school whose booming 2,850 enrollment is 79 percent Hispanic.

Meaning: While their pool of players to draw from has increased, the Apaches’ physical appearance has decreased.

Josiah Arreola (5 feet, 7 inches, 170), Josh Garza (5-8, 180) and Angel Alvarez (5-10, 180) are prototype Sanger players, and three of their leading tacklers.

They are in good hands, Sanger 15-year Principal Dan Chacon says: “Chuck is all about giving kids a chance to dream big and believe in themselves, no matter the odds, size, speed or talent. As a principal, he makes my job easier. He produces great leaders – not renegades, not rogues – and they influence other kids at a time you want the school to move a certain direction in the fall.”

Shidan finds most gratifying the program’s “consistency” and his homegrown staff’s ability to “adapt and change” as dictated by skill and physical ability.

For example, his offense – while always run-based – has evolved from I-formation to wing-T and, in the past four years, to triple option. And the defense, four years ago, shifted from a 4-3 “sit-and-read” alignment to a 3-4 “attack” scheme that blitzes virtually every down.

“We kind of reinvented ourselves four years ago,” Shidan says of an overhaul that followed a 4-7 season in 2011 – his only losing record in the past 20 years.

“Many programs are good for a couple years, then they come and go,” says Shidan. “I’m really proud of our consistency. Obviously, we’d like to win more Valley championships, but so does everybody else.”

He’s won three (1998, 2001, 2003), and all in what was once called the Yosemite Division Small Schools Division.

While allowing he’s on the 17th hole of his career, Shidan – a month from turning 58 – either doesn’t have a specific retirement plan, or isn’t sharing it. He did say for certain he will not still be coaching by the time his sixth-grade son, Sam, plays in high school.

This he did say when asked if he could have forecast his Sanger career: “Never in my wildest dreams.”

How it began – Shidan, raised on the raisin farm of his father, Harold, in neighboring Del Rey, played defense at Sanger under the late Buck Martin.

He then graduated and earned his teaching credential at San Francisco State. He remained in the Bay Area, launching his coaching career as an assistant at El Camino High while substitute teaching there for three years.

He then returned to Sanger – “Which I hadn’t planned on doing” – and was hired as a history teacher in the district’s continuation high school, and began what would be a 10-year role as the Apaches’ varsity assistant under three head coaches, Fred Ratzlaff, Roy Tanimoto and Tosh Nitta.

Shidan was hired by then-Principal Ron Schiller and then-athletic director Gary Gustin to take over the program in 1990, the same year he would marry the former Patricia Flores and purchase the home on Circle Drive.

The open-door policy there routinely attracts players, coaches and friends, all part of the intimate world of Chuck Shidan.

“I love being around him; people want to be around him,” says Patricia, also a Sanger grad. “And there’s no faking it with that guy. What you see is what you get. He’s just an honest man.”

When asked what he wants his legacy to say, Shidan says: “That we consistently competed, worked as hard as we could and, most of all, anyone who played for me had fun.”

Count on it, says senior quarterback Michael Castillo: “When I look back in 20 years, what I’ll remember most is how Coach set us up to succeed, what a great coach he was and made football an enjoyable game to play.”

Andy Boogaard: 559-441-6400, @beepreps

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