Hangin' with coach Cooper: Granite Bay's state champion football coach gets ready for 2014 seasonBy: Keith Jouganatos■For the Press Tribune
2014 Granite Bay football schedule
Sept. 5 vs. Casa Roble
Sept. 12 at Freedom
Sept. 19 vs. Vacaville
Sept. 26 at Folsom
Oct. 3 vs. Aptos
Oct. 10 at Oak Ridge
Oct. 17 vs. Nevada Union
Oct. 24 at Woodcreek
Oct. 31 vs. Rocklin
Nov. 7 vs. Del Oro
Ernie Cooper didn't hesitate.
When asked how much he missed coaching football, one-to-10, his answer came like a quarterback snap.
"10, without question,” Cooper said.
It's safe to say the Granite Bay High faithful missed him just as much.
For 32 years, Cooper walked the sidelines during chilly fall Friday nights under the lights, donning green, grey, white and his trademark reading glasses.
He won a division I California Interscholastic Federation State Bowl game in 2012, but he’s just as proud of the great relationships he’s formed with his former players.
The day before an interview with the Press Tribune in late July, he played golf with players from his 1995 team. He spoke fondly of a parent of a 2003 football graduate that remains a booster for the school.
“The great thing about Granite Bay is that it’s not just me,” Cooper explained. “I have an amazing staff, amazing parents and amazing kids that continue to do most of the work and make my job way easier.”
As early as 2010, Cooper he said he began to feel the need for a break to take some time away from the game and spend it at home.
"I knew leading up to the 2012 season, that for about a good three to four years, the break was much needed,” Cooper said. “I just felt drained and felt that it would be refreshing for my mind and body.”
Cooper told the school and his team in June last year that he would not be returning to coach the upcoming football season. Skip Albano took over as interim Head Coach.
Though he admitted the break was desperately needed, Cooper said breaking the news was tough. He knows he should have handled the departure differently.
“The part I really wish I could have changed was letting everyone involved know that I would not be coaching the upcoming season in January, rather than telling them in June and not letting the school know ahead of time,” Cooper said. “But the hardest part was having to look all those kids in the eyes and tell them I wouldn’t be coming back next year.
“Seeing the sadness and reaction in their eyes hurt.”
Despite the loss of Cooper, Granite Bay went 8-4 in their title defense year amid a wash of devastating injuries, finishing 3-2 in the SFL. The Grizzlies were defeated in the playoffs by Oak Ridge, 28-17 in the second round.
“Those kids never got a full chance to defend their title due to the injuries and all the transitioning,” Cooper said.
This year Granite Bay will bring back key players, such as senior linebacker Cameron Smith, a top defensive recruit and USC commit, who had 126 tackles last year.
This summer, the Grizzlies traveled to Santa Cruz for a team getaway and bonding session. This was followed up by hard-hitting weight room sessions in the morning and practices during the evening. The team showed tremendous improvement throughout the offseason and progressed in 7-on-7 competition.
"We want to be a good, solid, football team on offense, defense, and special teams," Cooper said. “Every day when I go to practice I see us getting better.”
The 2014 schedule does not leave Granite Bay time to waste. They face Cosumnes Oaks at home to kick off a preseason lineup that includes Freedom, Vacaville and Aptos. Each of the four nonleague opponents made the postseason last year and together they finished 31-16 in 2013.
The new-look SFL looms even mightier.
Granite Bay plays at two-time defending section champs, Folsom, to open league Sept. 26. After a bout with Aptos in the SFL bye week, Granite Bay travels to Oak Ridge. The Grizzlies close league with Rocklin (Oct. 31) and Del Oro (Nov. 7).
“We know as a team that every week in the SFL is a dogfight and a challenge,” Cooper said. “What those guys at Oak Ridge and Folsom have accomplished only makes it tougher for us, and we know that every day we have to get better as a team in all aspects of the game to prepare for what’s ahead.”
Cooper maintains that he is fully energized and ready to get back to work. The entire program recognizes that the road back to the top of the mountain will take time and effort to traverse.
Cooper plans to lead the way.
Follow Keith Jouganatos on Twitter @KeithJouganatos.