Western High School Coach Dan Davidson talks to members of the football team at a recent game. (Courtesy of Jeff Kihara)
Plenty of people raised their eyebrows when they saw this season’s Western High School football schedule.
Right off the top, representing a huge step up for the Pioneers from Anaheim, California, was an opening-night assignment opposite traditional powerhouse Los Alamitos.
“Everyone thought I was crazy,” Western Coach Dan Davidson told The Epoch Times. “I promise, as soon as I put it out there, it was, ‘Why are you playing Los Al?’ Because I want to be Los Al. We can be Division 1. We can be Division 2. That’s where we want to be.”
For now, the Pioneers are in the CIF Southern Section’s Division 5 playoffs, gearing up for a semifinal game at Orange Vista of Perris on Nov. 17. Western has won 11 consecutive games, including last week’s 49–19, second-round playoff victory over Apple Valley, since falling to Los Alamitos, 63–25, on Aug. 18.
That final score was somewhat misleading, however. The underdog Pioneers made a game of it into the fourth quarter before Los Alamitos pulled away with a couple of late touchdowns.
“What we did against Los Al, we just felt like we could do it against any other team, no matter who we played,” senior quarterback Anthony Luna told The Epoch Times. “That prepared us for the journey.”
At Western, a school that draws students not only from Anaheim but also parts of Buena Park and Stanton, the journey is about much more than football.
In his 10th year leading the Pioneers, Mr. Davidson is committed not only to continuing to improve a program that has competed in lower CIF playoff divisions in recent seasons past, but also to showing student-athletes what else is possible.
Western High School Coach Dan Davidson and Senior quarterback Anthony Luna (No. 4) at a recent game. (Courtesy of Jeff Kihara)
“It’s a lot less about football and a lot more about life,” he said. “I’m trying to teach them to believe they can go to college. The trick is just to get them to go to college, and football is a way to get them to go to college. The next thing they know, they play four or five years, and they walk out with an education, have not just a job but a career. That’s a big difference.”
Many Western students come from families where education has never extended beyond high school. With significant help from “an amazing administrative and counseling staff,” as well as his wife, Marcela, a school counselor, Mr. Davidson wants to see that change.
“We have 20-some guys playing college football,” he said. “They can get an education, then be that first-generation kid who comes back and changes a whole family dynamic. That’s why I’m still coaching football. It’s not just the love and passion of coaching football. Man, when you’ve been doing this for 34 years, if the only thing driving you is football, I don’t know if that’s what I would want to hang my hat on. I want to make a difference in each one of these kids’ lives.”
Luna, whose season totals include 3,115 passing yards and 46 touchdowns, and senior defensive back Josh Faulkner are likely bound for NCAA Division 1 college programs.
“Four or five” other Pioneers will probably play at smaller schools, Mr. Davidson said.
Faulkner was personally responsible for two of Western’s five takeaways last week, returning a fumble recovery 53 yards for a touchdown and an interception 82 yards for another score. Senior linebacker Clayton Corbett, meanwhile, came up with a huge interception and 51-yard return late in the third quarter to blunt an Apple Valley comeback bid.
The defensive heroics did not stop there, even if many people might not have noticed.
Junior wide receiver J.J. Amezcua (No. 3) catches a pass in a recent game. (Courtesy of Camelia Baudu)
Seniors Dane Torrence, Dominic Hadrous, and Noa Valles-Blackwell did much of the dirty work inside, with Torrence and Hadrous each recovering a fumble, and Valles-Blackwell forcing one.
“No one’s going to remember their names, but they had to give themselves up in order for those plays to happen,” Mr. Davidson said. “We talked about what a family is about and what a team is about. Sometimes you have to be the guy who gives yourself up for others to get the rewards. I’m just so proud of those three guys.”
Luna, too, recognized the key to the Pioneers’ latest victory, even after throwing three touchdown passes. All went to junior J.J. Amezcua, who came up big when Apple Valley focused on taking away another standout Western receiver, junior Desmin Joshway-Fairley.
“Our defense was amazing,” Luna said. They put us in a place to succeed.”
Those words were music to the ears of the head coach.
“Luna is going to lead the county in yardage and touchdowns,” Mr. Davidson said. “He’s getting close to breaking county records, and what’s he do? He talks about the defense. That’s what culture is all about. Everyone says family, but you have to live family.”
Western High School football team members at a recent game. (Courtesy of Jeff Kihara)