Prep Football: Taking the reins

Jubenal Rodrigez is the new head football coach at Gilroy High School.

GILROY—As Gilroy’s new head football coach, Jubenal Rodriguez isn’t wasting any time.
Rodriguez was hired just two weeks ago, but already has the Mustangs grinding at 6 a.m. weightlifting sessions and talking Xs and Os. Though the season is seven months away, the foundation, Rodriguez said, must be laid now.
“I told these kids that football players aren’t made on Friday nights when the lights are on,” he said. “They’re made when the lights are off. I’m looking forward to seeing how they react to that.”
This is the first head coaching job for 25-year-old Rodriguez and he is taking over for Brian Boyd, who GHS said resigned in December. He aims to rebuild a program that went 3-7 last year and hasn’t finished above .500 since the 2008-09 season when it won the Tri-County Athletic League title.
But more importantly, assistant principal Bruce Corbett said, is renewing interest in the program. Though the Mustangs re-established their freshmen program last season, they’ve struggled with numbers in recent years.
Rodriguez currently teaches special education at Live Oak, but hopes to be a fixture on Gilroy’s campus next year. He has made it his mission to change the perception of Mustang football on and off the field.
“Right now our immediate need as a football program is to rebuild the player base,” said Corbett, who formerly coached prep football before shifting to administration. “We need someone involved who’s going to be on campus often and be able to speak with the athletes and kind of beat the drum, so to speak, in getting a greater number of athletes to build a team.”
While he’s young for a head coach, Rodriguez brings a wealth of experience as well as a veteran coaching staff—and he’s well versed in what it takes to establish a football program.
Rodriguez is an alumnus of Ann Sobrato High School’s first graduating class in 2007 and played linebacker for the Bulldogs as they were building their program. The Morgan Hill native was selected to play in the 2007 Charlie Wedemeyer All-Star Game and continued his playing career at Gavilan College where he earned the Pat Knudsen Award. Rodriguez then transferred to Lewis & Clark College in Portland and helped the team to one of its most successful seasons.
And he hasn’t been resting on his laurels since hanging up his helmet either.
Rodriguez re-joined the Bulldogs in 2011 as their defensive coordinator. He coached Sobrato’s defense to allow just 15 points per game on average, where it gave up 30 per game the season before. Rodriguez became the Athletic Director at ACE Empower Academy of San Jose in 2013 before returning to Sobrato last season as a defensive assistant. Once again, he dramatically improved a Bulldogs team that went 0-10 in 2013 to one that went 6-4 in 2014.
But success doesn’t just happen overnight. For Rodriguez, it is the product of three key words: commitment, consistency and sacrifice. And he’s hoping the Mustangs buy in to his philosophy.
“When you make the commitment, you’ve got to be consistent with it. If you do that, you’ve got to understand the concept of sacrifice,” Rodriguez said. “You’ve got to know that you’re going to sacrifice time with your girlfriend or your friends—whatever it may be.”
Defense is extremely important to the newly minted coach and he’ll be looking to next year’s seniors Noe Garcia and Azriel Avila to lead it. Rodriguez also wants to change Gilroy’s offense from a spread—which it has run since 2008—to a hard-nose running team. Doing this, he said, will strengthen the team on both sides of the ball.
“In my opinion, when you’re a hard-nose running team, your defense becomes tougher because they’ve got to stop the run,” he said. “When our scout team defense—in other words our second team defense—is going up against our first team offense, they’re going up against a running team. It’s naturally going to make them tougher.”
Rodriguez has already met with the Mustangs and had around 90 interested athletes turnout. The Mustangs have a strong core of seniors returning and Rodriguez said his top priority is giving them a memorable final season.
Rodriguez has a long list of what he wants to accomplish, such as a win against Christopher in the Severance Bowl and a Central Coast Section playoff berth, just to name a few. He appears calm and comfortable in his new gig, but when asked if he was feeling any nerves Rodriguez flashed a smile and said:
“If you’re not nervous there’s something wrong with you, right?”

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