For San Luis Obispo County high school football coaches, last season’s entry into all-star game territory had to be like the proverbial fire hose shooting into their rookie players’ mouths at the start of every fall training camp.
Prior to last season’s inaugural FCA All-Star Football Classic, county schools hadn’t participated in that type of event since a game with Salinas-area all-stars in the early 1980s.
With only a week to prepare and a lot to learn, representatives from the seven PAC 7 and Los Padres League programs in San Luis Obispo County teamed to form a North squad that fell 29-7 at Pioneer Valley High to the South and their counterparts from Northern Santa Barbara County.
The Northern Santa Barbara County schools had been sending their graduating seniors to a Kiwanis all-star clash between players from Southern Santa Barbara County for 43 years.
This year, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has brought the North-South All-Star Football Classic back for a second year, moved the host site to Atascadero, and along with being more prepared, the North has one of the few coaches who was around back when the game against Monterey County all-stars was making its short-lived run.
And he’s a prolific winner.
Former Cal Poly and Atascadero High head coach Larry Welsh will be the honorary head coach for the North when the All-Star Classic kicks off at Memorial Stadium tonight at 7.
In a high school coaching career that dates to his 1966 debut with Gonzalez and includes a 17-year run at Atascadero, Welsh compiled an overall record of 262-55-7 and won seven section titles, including four in a row with the Greyhounds starting in 1993.
He won 17 league titles, set state records for most wins in a decade (111 in the 1980s) and winning percentage (.826 for coaches with more than 200 victories) and was a state coach of the year three times.
“His success here in Atascadero is really unprecedented in the state of California,” current Greyhounds coach Vic Cooper said.
“He’s been at practice every day this week, hanging out, giving a coupe of speeches. ... He’s been sticking his nose in our stuff in a good way.”
Welsh won’t be calling plays, but the coaches who will be have become a little more accustomed to the format and the preparation constraints.
Veterans of last year’s game, Cooper is assisting, while Nipomo head coach Russ Edwards coordinates the offense and San Luis Obispo head coach David Kelley coordinates the defense.
“Last year, we kind of said we’re going to keep it real simple,” Cooper said. “We’ve only got a week, we’re going to let the athleticism take over.”
In last year’s game, the North had two crucial turnovers and was dropped for a safety as the South rode 116 yards and two touchdowns from Lompoc running back Marcel Blow to victory.
As a result, the returning North coaches have decided to change their preparation.
“We’ve put a little more in this year than we did last year offensively,” Cooper said. “As they’re picking it up, we’re moving a little faster.
“I wouldn’t say things are necessarily running smoother, but I think everybody’s got an idea of how you should approach the game with only a week of practice. We’re probably a little ahead of where we were last year.”
One of the more unique features of the game is the fundraising aspect. There will be a raffle for a $20,000 new car voucher at halftime, and proceeds are to be split between the athletic programs of each of the participating schools.
Organizers said more than $150,000 was raised last year.