Gano turns down Etiwanda job … now what?

Four-time CIF champion coach Greg Gano turned down the Etiwanda on Friday and will continue to explore other options.

Gano, who resigned earlier this month from Damien and has previous stints at Northview and Los Altos, was a finalist for the Etiwanda job along with former San Dimas coach Roland DeAnda and former Colony assistant Jason Smith.

Sources within the Chaffey Joint Union High School District are still adamant that former Colony head coach and current Chino Hills assistant Matt Bechtel also remains a possibility. Bechtel told the Daily Bulletin’s Clay Fowler that he has not applied for the position, however.

Stay tuned …

St. Paul hires former Ancich assistant Rick Zepeda as new head coach …

St. Paul announced Thursday evening that is has hired Rick Zepeda as its new varsity football head coach.

Zepeda replaces interim head coach Casey Morales, who took over late in the season after Elijah Asante was fired on Oct. 10.

According to a press release put out by the school, Zepeda spent last season at St. John Bosco, although it was unclear in what capacity. Zepda is a 1988 graduate of St. Paul and was on legendary Swordsmen head coach Marijon Ancich’s staff from 1995-2004. He spent one season as an assistant at Long Beach Jordan in 2004 and two seasons at East Los Angeles College from 2005-07 before being the head coach at El Rancho from ’08-’11.

St. Paul made a splash last offseason when it replaced Ancich, who retired, with Asante. The Swordsmen got several big-name transfers, but the season never got off the ground. St. Paul finished 1-9.

Aram’s take: St. Paul fans get what they want — a St. Paul guy. How Zepeda rounds out his staff will be very key and a little birdie has told me there’s a possibility that recently resigned San Gabriel coach Jude Oliva will be Zepeda’s offensive coordinator. Now that would really go a long away toward forming a dynamic staff. No matter what the coaching staff is, they will need some horses to work with and I’m not too sure what type of talent remains in Santa Fe Springs.

Jude Oliva resigns as head coach at San Gabriel …

Jude Oliva resigned as San Gabriel High School varsity football head coach on Monday after three seasons. He was 17-17 at the school.

Oliva cited health, career and family reasons for his decision to step down. Oliva suffered from gout and kidney issues this season, which caused severe joint pain.

He and his wife just welcomed a newborn daughter. Oliva was not a full-time teacher at San Gabriel and will look for more gainful employment while also not ruling out a return to the sideline.

“I just had a brand new baby girl and that gave me perspective on some things,” Oliva said. “I’m looking for a teaching job and trying to get some things lined up for myself.

“I’m still looking to coach. I don’t have a timetable on it. If the right opportunity presents itself, of course, I would love to get back into coaching football. It’s something I’m not ready to give up and something my family doesn’t want me to give up.”

Oliva, a 1998 graduate of San Gabriel, had his best season in 2011 when he led the Matadors to a 9-5 record, Almont League championship and an appearance in the Mid-Valley Division championship game.

Following the season, Oliva was named Pasadena Star-News Coach of the Year. He was also chosen to coach the West team in last summer’s National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame’s annual all-star game.

“When we were able to beat San Dimas (in last year’s semifinals), for me, that was the pinnacle of what our program was about,” Oliva said. “It was one of those great moments where we got beat up pretty bad the first time we played (San Dimas) and in the second game we were able to overcome a slow start and show what kind of character we had.”

Oliva replaced former longtime Matadors head coach Keith Jones in 2009 after serving as an assistant coach on Jones’ staff for eight years.

San Gabriel was unable to parlay its 2011 success into 2012. The Matadors went 3-7 and were on the bad end of several hard-luck losses. San Gabriel missed the postseason after narrow losses to league foes Schurr and Montebello came back to haunt.

What, no Hawaii trip? Bishop Amat’s Dionza Blue picks Fresno St. …

Bishop Amat running back/defensive back Dionza Blue committed to Fresno State over the weekend and will play defensive back for the Bulldogs.

Blue is the second Lancer to commit to a D-1 school. Darren Andrews switched from Duke to UCLA, where he will play receiver, last month.

Aram’s take: Can’t wait to watch these two perform on Saturdays.

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UPDATED: Etiwanda down to three (four?), last interviews are Saturday

Etiwanda is down to former Damien head coach Greg Gano and Chino Hills offensive coordinator Matt Bechtel in its search for a new head coach, according to a source.

Did I say that the Etiwanda job is down to two? Make that four three, according to another source within the Chaffey Joint Union High School District.

The four three are the two mentioned last night — which another source said are the two finalists — former Damien coach Greg Gano and current Chino Hills offensive coordinator Matt Bechtel, plus Jason Smith, who coached at Colony under Bechtel and GET THIS!!! former San Dimas head coach Roland DeAnda.

The Daily Bulletin’s Clay Fowler reported on Thursday that Chino Hills assistant Matt Bechtel did not apply for the position.

Last interviews will be conducted on Saturday, according to the source.

The Etiwanda job opened after the season when previous head coach Tommy Leach resigned. The Eagles went 4-6 last season, but the allure of the talent-rich program has attracted its share of interest from would-be coaches.

FINAL: All-Encompassing SGV(N) Top 25 for 2012 …

1. Bishop Amat (7-3-1) — Best wins. Best losses. An easy call, really.
2. Charter Oak (10-2) — Another Sierra League title. Best public team in the area.
3. Monrovia (12-3) — Some great moments. Some head-scratching moments.
4. Rio Hondo Prep (12-2) — You’ll never get it until you see it with your own eyes.
5. La Serna (12-2) — Didn’t finish the job, but Westlake and WestCo wins were sweet.
6. La Mirada (9-2) — Early exit from postseason spoiled otherwise strong showing.
7. Chino Hills (7-3-1) — Almost upset Amat. Throttled by CO. Audi 5 in the first round.
8. San Dimas (11-2) — Most trustworthy team in the area. Watch out in ’13.
9. West Covina (8-5) — Coaching staff and not the talent carried the team this year.
10. South Hills (6-5) — Hey, they beat Monrovia.
11. San Marino (10-2) — The things that made Titans good also made them bad.
12. Muir (8-4) — There was half a month there when I was a believer.
13. La Habra (8-4) — A second round exit is still a second round exit.
14. Rowland (7-4) — Proof positive waiting out your opponent still works.
15. Gladstone (10-2) — League title. Playoff win. Dream end for Coach Sanchez.
16. La Salle (10-1) — I’ve always said the only record worse than 0-10 is 10-1.
17. South El Monte (7-5) — Lead by one of the sharpest young coaches in a while.
18. El Monte (8-4) — The party still hasn’t ended at El Monte. It probably won’t for years.
19. Santa Fe (7-6) — This is the team that beat La Mirada that year in the playoffs.
20. Diamond Ranch (7-4) — Coaching carried this team a long way.
21. La Puente (8-3) — Closed regular season with a Rohrer-esque rush.
22. California (8-3) — Solid record, but tangible results were lacking.
23. Arroyo (7-5) — Got real good, real late.
24. Bonita (5-6) — Injuries ruined what could have been a big year.
25. Ayala (6-4) — Best Bulldogs team in years caught rough year in Sierra.

Arroyo sideline fixture Jim Singiser Sr., father of Knights head coach Jim Singiser Jr., passes away on Monday …

Jim Singiser Sr., father of Arroyo High School football head coach Jim Singiser, passed away peacefully at home in Hacienda Heights surrounded by his family on Monday afternoon. He had been in failing health since suffering a stroke in summer. He was 82.

Singiser Sr. was a fixture on Arroyo’s sideline for many years and a very vocal advocate of all Knights sports. Referees often caught an earful from Singiser Sr., as did Arroyo players and even coaches.

But make no mistake, despite his tough guy demure, he was big fan of high school sports, especially Arroyo, all the way to his final breaths.

“This was the last conversation we had with the doctor,” Singiser Jr. said. “The doctor said ‘he is fighting death. I am surprised he is still fighting at this stage’.

“And I said “Can you read his t-shirt? He is a Knight.’”

Opposing coaches weren’t immune to Singiser Sr.’s ire, either. Former Rosemead coach Matt Koffler got a full dose early in his career when he exacted revenge on Arroyo for running up a score in a previous year. Singiser Sr. was not amused and immediately let Koffler know.

“We ran a big post over the top from the 50-yard line and it was already 42-7,” Koffler recalled with a laugh. “And then his dad yelled at me. ‘Come on Koffler, you piece of (expletive)’. When we were shaking hands he said ‘Don’t shake the (expletive’s) hand. And I said ‘I shook that guy’s hand last year when he put 58 on me or whatever it was’.

“It was all just heat of the battle. Me and Jim became coaching friends. We would laugh about it. His dad would always bring it up and say ‘that’s why I like you, because you fired back.’

“We lost a good one. He was an old-school guy. Really, really old school. He was really supportive of coaches and players and what it meant to play sports in high school. He had a lot of respect for coaches.”

From passing tournaments to softball games and everything in between, Singiser Sr. often made the trek from Hacienda Heights to Arroyo to support the Knights. Due to his condition, he was mostly confined to the bleachers or the press box this season.

Aram’s take: My favorite memory of Singiser Sr. came in 2004 when Arroyo made the semifinals of the Division 7 playoffs with a 12-0 team and was playing against South Hills at Covina District Field. The Knights were not doing well in the game and while standing on the South Hills, I noticed a quite a few people trying to restrain Singiser Sr. in the north end zone and simultaneously usher Singiser Sr. back to the Arroyo sideline. He wasn’t happy about something and he was going after something or somebody to let it be known. That’s how he was! Old school to the extreme. Second favorite memory was either in 2005 or ’06 when I went out to cover an Arroyo playoff softball game. Singiser would always set up shop with his lawn chair down the outfield foul line. A couple of balls hit over outfielders’ heads were all he could take and an extremely sour Singiser Sr. packed up his chair and belongings and went home. It was great. Marveling at the antics of his dad was something Coach Singiser always enjoyed doing. Singiser Sr. was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet before the game. A true gentleman. But when kickoff arrived, he was all business. I got to see Singiser Sr. a final time at the Arroyo-Los Altos game this season. It was about an hour before the game and he had been slowed a bit by his stroke, but he made sure to tell me about how crappy (he used stronger words) Los Altos’ field was and told me that I needed to “put that in your article”. Singiser Sr. will be definitely missed. They don’t make ‘em like him anymore.

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BREAKING NEWS: Greg Gano resigns as Damien varsity football head coach

So much for Greg Gano and Damien High School being a match made in heaven.

After seasons at the school, Gano announced Sunday that he had resigned as varsity football head coach after four seasons. The announcement was made at the team’s banquet.

“It was just time and I wish Damien a lot of luck,” Gano said. “There’s some very good people at Damien, who I will have friendships with for a long time.

“I will be coaching again before you know it.”

Gano and Damien made a big splash in early 2009 when the school hired the four-time CIF champion coach to replace former head coach Scott Morrison. Things never got off the ground, however, and Gano went 20-22 in his four seasons, making the playoffs twice but failing to win a postseason game.

The Spartans had high expectations entering this past season thanks to a veteran team and a strong offseason showing on the summer passing circuit. Damien was trounced by Orange Lutheran in its season opener, won only one Sierra League game and missed the playoffs.

The job of finding a replacement now falls on interim principal Dr. Merritt Hemenway, who began working at the school on Oct. 8. Hemenway previously spent 19 years as principal at Bishop Amat and has expressed a desire to become Damien’s principal on a full-time basis.

The school announced Monday that it has began accepting applications and will do through Jan. 7. After that, Hemenway said that a hiring committee, of which he will be a part, will begin the vetting process.

“We have some real nice facilities here, now I need to find a coach,” Hemenway said Monday afternoon. “We’re looking for the right person for the right spot.

“There’s a lot of good people here and a lot of good kids, so I’m thinking it’s not going to be too difficult to put together a good program. And we’ve got a weight room that is the best I’ve ever seen at a high school. So, that’s a big attraction.”

Gano won four CIF championships at Los Altos before resigning after the 2007 season. Prior to that, he was head coach at Northview. During his time at Damien, Gano was instrumental in setting up the new weight room and the building of coaches offices and a team room.

The on-field product never caught fire, though, like most had hoped. A big part of Gano’s success at Los Altos was that he attracted several high-impact transfers, but that didn’t happen with nearly the same volume at Damien.

As this past season wore on, there was rampant speculation that this would be Gano’s final year on the Spartans’ sideline. Damien began league play with a costly loss to Ayala and later suffered blowout losses to league champion Charter Oak and runner-up Chino Hills. The Spartans did show a glimpse of what many had foreseen in summer by beating third-place South Hills.

Aram’s take: This is a pretty disappointing situation for both sides. When Gano was hired in 2009, it looked Damien was investing in the opportunity to take its program to the next level. For whatever reason, things never got off the ground. And now you have to wonder what’s next for both sides. There have been rumors of Tom Salter leaving Upland for Damien. I don’t buy it. There have also been rumors of former Chino coach John Monger being the next coach, and that seems more plausible because I had heard that’s who Sparty wanted before it realized Gano was available back in 2009. Then, there’s another rumor that Amat assistants Mike DiFiori and/or Ealar Gallagher would be interested in the job. This one should be very interesting … as for Gano, well you can bet he’s got his name in for the Etiwanda job along with about 50 others. Other spots in the OC are also a possibility. It appears to be a long shot that Gano would resurface in the SGV because there aren’t that many high-profile jobs and the ones that are taken with guys who justifiably aren’t budging. Should be interesting to see how fast both sides move.

Colby Rivera doubles up for Rio Hondo Prep

Pulling double duty is part of the deal when you’re a football player at Rio Hondo Prep High School.

With only 31 players on the Kares’ roster, it can make for some less-than-comfortable roles. Like the one Colby Rivera has.

When Rio Hondo Prep is on offense, Rivera plays quarterback. When the Kares are on defense, he’s a middle linebacker. It’s a dangerous, yet very productive combination for the Kares.

It’s paid off to the point that Rio Hondo Prep, fresh off its second consecutive CIF-SS Northeast Division championship, will see its season continue on Friday when the Kares visit Santa Fe Christian in a Division IV CIF State bowl game qualifier.

Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. at Del Norte High in San Diego.

“I just do what the coaches ask of me,” said Rivera, who lives in Covina. “I haven’t had too many problems. I’m holding up pretty well.

“It’s my favorite sport and my last year, so I’m just trying to do the best I can.”

No football coach would tell you having his quarterback play middle linebacker is an optimal situation, but when you’re Ken Drain and you’ve got to get your best 11 players on the field at all times, that means caution is thrown to the wind.

“That’s just life here at the school,” Drain said. “He’s one of our best defenders and plays middle linebacker for a reason. We need him there.

“Sometimes you’d like to have your quarterback off the field so you can talk to him, but they don’t get that luxury here, so that’s the way it is.”

Rio Hondo Prep is a run-first team with Nate Tayco a major force carrying the ball. But when the Kares need a big play through the air Rivera can deliver, just like he did in last week’s win over Mission Prep. With his team down by a touchdown in the second half, Rivera connected with receiver Jake Holguin on a 60-yard pass down the sideline to set up a score.

Later in the game on a critical two-point conversion, Rivera fired a perfect touch pass to Ryan Wiley in the back corner of the end zone to get the two points.

“I do wish we’d pass more, but if we’re winning games then I don’t mind,” said Rivera, who has thrown for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.

On defense, Rivera has 71 tackles and has no qualms about his getting his hands dirty, even if that means getting them hurt.

“Sometimes, I’ve been hit and got my hand jammed up and it was hard to hold the ball,” Rivera said.

Rivera always was a linebacker growing up. It was only when he got to high school that quarterback was thrown into the equation. He’s now a three-year starter with very little preference about which position he likes more.

“It kind of depends on what team we’re playing and what kind of offense or defense they’re running,” Rivera said. “If they’re a run offense and playing smash mouth, then I like to play linebacker so I can hit more.”

The Kares won’t change anything about their approach on Friday against Santa Fe Christian. That means Rivera will spend most of the night handing off to Tayco and watching him do his thing. It also means Rivera will be on stand-by, as usual, to make a big pass whenever the Kares need it.

When football season is over, Rivera will shift to soccer. He also plays volleyball. But before that happens, he’s hoping to put an exclamation point on a championship career by guiding his team to a bowl game win in two weeks.

“This has been a chance to prove to our area that we can play football,” Rivera said. “It means a lot just to know that people are starting to respect us more.”

The Second Annual Chris Rix Christmas Combine on Saturday, Dec. 15 at Maranatha High School, 10-2 p.m.

The second annual Chris Rix “Christmas Football Combine” is on Saturday, Dec. 15 at Maranatha High School from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Rix, who starred at quarterback for Bishop Amat, Santa Margarita and later played for Bobby Bowden at Florida State, is a college football and NFL analyst for Fox Sports. But he has maintained his ties in the San Gabriel Valley, where he continues to mentor several of the area’s top quarterbacks.

The Christmas Combine is comprised of two divisions, the “Top Guns” division for high school and college players, and the “Young Guns” division for players ages 7-13.

“Whether your team’s season ended in early November or this past Saturday, this will be one more chance for passionate football players of all levels to compete one more time on the field before Christmas,” explained Rix.

The camp is free for participants who bring a new unopened toy or Christmas gift (Between $25-$40) that can be donated to a shelter or needy family.

Otherwise, the camp is $40 for prior registration and $50 on the day of the camp, and includes a shirt. There are discounts for larger groups. To register early or ask questions, call 626-581-7016 or email