SHASTA LAKE — The scoreboard read Central Valley — 6, West Valley — 0. The halftime clock dwindled.
As Central Valley emerged from the team room, Falcons coach Aaron Richards walked over, leaned in and said “I spent my entire senior year looking at a poster in the weight room that said ‘Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ ”
An overwhelming underdog entering Friday’s game against unbeaten West Valley, Richards’ message was clear: West Valley — Richards high school alma mater — had underestimated his Falcons. And the Falcons were ready to make them pay.
In the end, the Eagles capped their 5-0 season with a 19-13 overtime win.
But CV’s “hard work” outplayed West Valley’s talent that figured the outcome was a foregone conclusion prior to the opening coin flip. It’s an understandable reaction on the Eagles’ part — complacency sets in when your program hasn’t lost to a team since the seniors were just starting in the Pee Wee ranks.
Richards won’t make excuses for the loss. He’s fond of reminding those around him sports are not full of moral victories.
“I don’t like losing at anything, but that was incredible,” Richards said, impressed with his team’s heart and grit.
There are however, lessons … especially in high school athletics.
Perseverance. Determination. Persistence. Teamwork. Family. All the things that make playing and coaching fulfilling.
And that’s a testament to Richards, the second-year Falcons’ head coach. It’s a testament to Orben Fredrick, the offensive coordinator who squeezes the most out of the talent surrounding him. It’s a testament to offensive line coach John Harrison and DB coach Jason Hill, as well as junior varsity coaches Billy Soksoda and Brandon Andrews, who worked with the big club after the JV team was absorbed into varsity.
It’s the dawn of an awakening on the Shasta Lake campus that’s reminiscent of when Matt Hunsaker came to CV from Big Valley.
A new attitude. A new identity. A return to the school’s – and town’s – blue collar toughness, one that built Shasta Dam, the cornerstone of the Central Valley Project.
CV can’t erase a 4-46 mark in the six seasons prior to Richards’ arrival. But he’s forged a new identity, a new standard.
“It’s the same thing over and over, my kids don’t quit,” he said after Friday’s game. “I don’t know what it is, they don’t give up. They’re going to fight you tooth and nail until the very last second.”
Richards knows a thing or two about winning. A West Valley product, he was part of the Eagles’ 2004 Northern Section title team that stands as one of the best teams over the past two decades. The ‘04 squad sliced through the North State’s best, scoring 524 points and allowing 81 en route to an 11-1 year that culminated with a 42-7 section title win over Paradise. Along the way, the Eagles made quick work of Chico, Foothill, Shasta, Oroville, Las Plumas and the entire Northern Athletic League schedule. The lone blemish was a 16-15 road loss to Sutter, a notoriously difficult place to travel.
The CV coach learned how to win – and the value of hard work – playing alongside guys like Manny Magana, Jordan Atwell, Noble Johnston and Matt Nichols. He saw how his coach, Greg Grandell, built the Eagles program through hours in the weight room.
Richards continued to learn and grow playing at William Penn, then coaching there as well as Humboldt State and Dixie State.
His path had led him to Central Valley … a campus hungry for not just a winner, but respectability.
I spent two years on campus as a teacher and coach. The Central Valley family is just that … a welcoming environment where you do indeed become part of the Falcon family.
Old-timers like Don Spurgeon, who was there in the Falcons’ fledgling years, to CV lifers like former principal and superintendent John Strohmayer to newbies like me and Aaron Richards, once you’ve spent time on campus you see what a special place it is. From academics to athletics and all the extracurriculars, CV doesn’t care where you came from … only that you’re there now. In 20 years of covering the North State, I’ve remained friendly with hundreds of kids I’ve seen grow up through sports or teaching, and a large percentage of my absolute favorites rocked the CV Red and Blue.
If, in two, four or 10 years, Richards and the Central Valley Falcons have built a small-school power, those teams must look back to the strange, COVID-shortened spring season in which their predecessors posted the school’s first winning record in eight seasons.
They must pay homage to guys like Willie Mowry and Kade Crowell, two leaders who beat the bushes looking for players to fill out the roster prior to the crazy, COVID-delayed season.
One of those players, Jonny Mack, hadn’t played since his freshman season. On Friday, the bruising back had 112 yards rushing on 18 carries. He was out there because he believed in Mowry, Crowell and Richards. He knew there was something building at Ron Hale Memorial Stadium.
Richards knew Friday’s matchup against his alma mater was a Herculean task, that it would take a near-flawless effort to topple the Eagles. He remained defiant, offering to open the door and wish you well on your way out if you didn’t believe it could be done.
And for 48-plus minutes, his 34-player roster, coaching staff and Falcon faithful saw it happening until it didn’t.
But make no mistake. It will … soon. And when it does, everyone who’s ever chanted “Falcons, Falcons, Yes, Yes, Yes,” will smile.