Strathmore High football coach Jeromy Blackwell struck a familiar sideline pose. Hands on his half-bent knees, Clark Kent glasses hanging on his crunched-up nose. Headset a little off to the side.
“Whose town?” he barked.
“Our town,” his Spartans barked back.
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If this town had a city government, Blackwell would be its mayor. His football team just won its third straight Central Section Division VI championship, 42-12 Friday night over Sierra Pacific. Next on the docket is a full-steam run at a second straight state championship.
Two years ago, we wrote that Blackwell is the sort of alumnus Fresno State should be hiring to its staff. We’ve changed our mind.
Let other coaches take bigger jobs in larger cities. Blackwell doesn’t need greener pastures to be a city-changing coach. He’s doing just fine making the grass muddier on his side of the county line.
Blackwell belongs in Strathmore, because our Strathmores need more Blackwells.
“I love this place,” Blackwell said.
And this place loves Blackwell.
Try to interview the 42-year-young coach, and all he wants to do is tell you how many varsity games senior Damian Valencia has played for him (56, a state record). He rattles off all his coaches’ names (talks too fast, can’t keep up). He pretends to just be here for the ride.
Don’t buy it. Blackwell is Strathmore, and Strathmore is now Blackwell. They’re going to name the stadium after this guy one day. We hope he’s still on the sideline when that day comes, waving off all the fuss because he has a sideline official to ride.
“He’s … intense,” quarterback Trace Pugh said, searching with care for the adjective that won’t have him running laps.
“Crazy,” said senior receiver Armando Rodriguez, who apparently likes a good jog.
“Nice shirt,” Blackwell told a kid wearing Spartans gear on the sideline between plays of, ho hum, only the most important game of the year.
Blackwell is crazy and intense and manic like that. He’s as much in the game today as he was as a Fresno State walk-on. Want to match Blackwell on strides? You’re going to need a bigger coffee mug.
Take the final 30 seconds of Friday’s opening half. Strathmore had just adjusted its lead to 21-12. Blackwell stood on the far end of the sideline box, all by himself – it’s safer that way, the way he intentionally waves his hands all over as if he’s having an involuntary seizure.
He has his kicker’s attention. He’s madly pointing toward the right end zone. Then, he’s waving in circular motions to kick it there, as if the kicker doesn’t grasp basic finger pointing.
The Sierra Pacific kick returner notices, and inches back toward the far goal line.
And then, the kicker pooches his kick in a wide-open space 35 yards away from the Blackwell-marked spot. Strathmore recovered, added a touchdown before the buzzer, and turned a 14-12 lead into a 28-12 stroll into the halftime show.
How can you not love a coach like that? He’s a history teacher who won’t stop making history.
Blackwell has 135 wins in 18 seasons at Spartans Stadium. He’s won 42 of 44 games since 2016. His current 12-1 chase for the title comes after losing 17 state-champion players to graduation, including his record-setting running back and all-league quarterback.
Rebuild? Blackwell doesn’t slow down long enough to start over again.
The California Interscholastic Federation even gave the man-child the Model Coach Award this year. How’s that for a kid who once described himself as a “ditch-bank Okie … is it OK to say that?”
Of course it is. This is your town, Blackwell. Hope you keep it that way.
1. We love stories of local high school football teams playing through tragedy, lifting a devastated town’s spirits. That said, what an amazing sacrifice by the Paradise High football team for sitting out the playoffs to focus on family and recovery first. Nothing but thumbs up.
2. Want to make this Fresno State hater soften up? You should have been in Chico on Tuesday, watching Paradise football players unloading water cases from the trunk instead of playing football. Danny Bettencourt’s home church burned, along with the homes of at least 100 church family members – including his grandfather, Pastor Steve Grandy. With kids like that, our planet may survive yet.
3. Travel softball team parent here. To those working the concession stands, selling $4 chili boats with a straight face before the 8 o’clock hour on a Saturday in Bakersfield … we salute your audacity, even if we regret this life decision by noon.