Since 1995, Craig Brooke has served the Coast Union sports program in a variety of positions. He has been head junior varsity boys basketball and head JV football coach, head JV girls basketball coach, and has spent several seasons as a varsity football assistant — the role he will play this season for Broncos head coach Thom Holt.
Of the dozens of games and myriad competitive moments he has been part of through the years, nothing compares to the off-the-wall and thoroughly unreasonable, unjust situation the fates dumped on Brooke and the Broncos in September 2009.
Let’s set the stage: The Broncos and the Caruthers Blue Raiders from the San Joaquin Valley began their game Friday, Sept. 18, at Coast Union. It was a typically cool but pleasant early autumn night in Cambria. Temperatures were in the low 60s — sweater weather — and a soft breeze wafted in from the ocean.
The Broncos, losers of their first two games (49-7 and 35-21), were itching for a win, and the stands were packed. The players showed their mettle in the opening quarter, pushing the Blue Raiders around and taking a quick lead.
“We started out real well,” Brooke remembered.
But late in the first quarter, the lights went out. No one knew what had happened, but it was pitch black and a decision had to be made after the game was called.
It turns out that a local driver had lost control of his car and crashed it into an electrical pole several miles up Santa Rosa Creek Road, causing most of Cambria to lose power.
“I thought we should have had Caruthers come back over to Cambria on Saturday,” Brooke said.
But the coaches just wanted to finish the game, so David Clements, Bronco head coach, agreed to play the next day in the ferocious Valley heat.
“They gave us gas money to go over there, but we should have given them gas money to come back here,” Brooke said in a sardonic tone during an interview Sunday, July 24, in an East Village restaurant.
The temperature at Caruthers that Saturday was a steamy 104 — 40 degrees hotter than it had been Friday night in Cambria — and the Broncos’ uniforms “were so tight-fitting players sweat continuously,” Brooke explained. “During warm-ups we were tired and hot and the kids were not moving well,” he said; the team was understandably sluggish in the torrid heat, losing 28-0 — and it wasn’t that close.
Brooke’s son Zachery, who had gained 133 yards on 11 carries the week before in Mojave, was held to 22 yards on nine carries. His swift teammate, Sam Rivera, scampered for 70 yards on nine carries, the best the Broncos could do in the cruel humidity and high temperatures.
A year later, Zachery went down hard in the third game of the season at Avenal and was in tremendous pain. He had gained 164 yards that night, but in the third quarter he blew out his ACL and MCL, and he tore knee cartilage, which ended his sports career at Coast. The surgeon grafted a tendon from Zachery’s quad to fix his knee, and it took a year and a half to heal, his dad recalled.
This football season, Craig Brooke will serve as defensive coordinator, but he will also “spend a lot of time working with quarterback Jack MacKinnon, and his backup, Zach Azevedo.” Brooke said he is impressed with MacKinnon’s ability to shake off a mistake and get right back to the task at hand.
“He’s very calm,” Brooke said. “But we would like him to throw more short passes. In practice, quarterbacks like to throw the long ball. But if he will throw more short passes in games, it will help him with long passes; but it also helps the team because we will have a higher percentage of pass completions and we can control the ball.”
Brooke said he hopes MacKinnon will talk some of his basketball teammates into coming out for football this fall. So far, only one (center Roberto Cueva) has indicated he may join the team.
No matter what new players show up to play, the hope is that in Holt’s second year as head coach the team can win the Coast Valley League (CVL). Last year, the Broncos won three of four CVL games, but lost the championship showdown with Cuyama Valley, 64-42.
Holt said in an email that he admires his assistant’s character, and his experience.
“Coach Brooke has been coaching football for decades at every level. That experience kept us in games last year with a stellar defensive scheme,” he wrote.
“Coach Brooke brings in the tough old-school mentality on the field. But off the field he treats every kid like his own son. To me, that is most important.”
The season opens Friday, Aug. 26, at home against Hesperia Christian, providing, of course, that no one rams into that pole on Santa Rosa Creek Road and shuts down the electricity.