When Jubenal Rodriguez received a call in mid-November that he was being nominated by the San Francisco 49ers as their NFL High School Coach of the Year, he thought one of his friends was playing a joke on him.
“I thought it was one of my buddies messing around with me,” said Rodriguez, who helped lead Gilroy High to a 13-0 record and Central Coast Section Division V championship this past season. “Once I realized it was serious, it was pretty unreal. It’s an awesome feeling, I’m just very blessed to be nominated. But all the kudos goes to my football staff and the program. I wish it was a coaching staff award.”
Gilroy High’s coaching staff in 2017 included Rick Dukes, Albert King, Joel Rueda, Tim Lemos, and Shea Lemos. Rodriguez is one of 32 coaches throughout the nation who are eligible to win the Don Shula NFL High School Coach of the Year Award. Two finalists will each receive $15,000 from the NFL Foundation, $10,000 of which will go to their high school’s football program.
The winner will be announced during the Pro Bowl, which airs Jan. 28 at noon local time on ESPN and simulcast on ABC. The winner will be recognized and walk the red carpet at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 3, the eve of Super Bowl LII, at 9 p.m. on NBC.
NFL Honors will be taped earlier that evening at the Cyrus Northrop Memorial Auditorium at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Before that, Rodriguez will be recognized during the NFL’s weeklong celebration of football at the Pro Bowl in Orlando. The coaches will participate in a special coaches’ clinic, enjoy a VIP visit to Pro Bowl practices and attend the USA Football National Conference.
On top of that, Rodriguez is receiving free flight and hotel accommodations from the NFL. Each NFL team nominated a coach for the award, and the criteria for consideration include character and integrity, leadership and dedication to the community, commitment to player health and safety and on-field success.
Rodriguez earned the prep Coach of the Week honors from the 49ers in Week 3 of the high school season. The 10 weekly winners were invited to Levi’s Stadium, where they were recognized before the start of the Niners-Jaguars game. From the 10 coaches, Rodriguez was selected as the Niners Coach of the Year. San Francisco donated $1,000 to the Gilroy High football program, and Rodriguez promptly donated the entire amount to the schools in the North Bay that suffered major damage from the North Bay fires.
Rodriguez, 28, recently completed his third season as the Gilroy High coach, and he said he’s excited about the 2018 season and is already running the Mustangs’ off-season program. As if he wasn’t busy enough, Rodriguez is also coaching Friday’s 33rd annual Central Coast All-Star Football Game at Rabobank Stadium in Salinas.
The game features players from South Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties. The notable fact about the game is the teams are playing for charities, and the money raised from the game will be donated to each charity after the game. Rodriguez’s team will play for the National Football Foundation.
With everything that’s happened in the last year—a perfect season, a CCS title and the NFL High School Coach of the Year nomination—Walt Disney couldn’t have drew up a better script for Rodriguez, a Sobrato High graduate who grew up and still is a 49ers fan.
“It’s definitely an honor to represent the Bay Area and the 49ers being my favorite team,” he said.
Rodriguez got his start into coaching the summer after he graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay, when then-Sobrato coach Nick Borello called Rodriguez and asked him if he wanted to do some substitute teaching and be an assistant coach.
“Once I graduated, I didn’t have an idea of what to do,” said Rodriguez, who upon taking the assistant coaching position started doing double duty, mopping floors at Staple’s at 5 a.m. before heading off to practice.
“I’ve come a long way in this journey,” he said.
Of that, there is no doubt.