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Vacaville Christian morphs into contender under Tarango

Kai Nunley and Vacaville Christian played in the section semifinals in 2019. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo
Kai Nunley and Vacaville Christian played in the section semifinals in 2019. Chris Jackson / Staff Photo

Manny Tarango was hired in April of 2018, and there was not much time for him and his staff to get acclimated to their new setting.

Tarango, formerly the defensive coordinator at nearby Vanden High School, brought his entire defensive staff over with him. Hired later in the process, Vacaville CHristian was in pads just three months later in July.

At that point, it was to go in and get the players familiar with what they do. Get them focused on offense and defense. They needed to be ready to go.

It all amounted to a 1-9 season in the debut year of the Tarango era, but the roots were planted immediately. 

“And then in year two we focused on getting bigger, faster, stronger,” Tarango said. “What we learned in that first year was the physicality of the Sierra Delta League really crushed us in that freshmen season for our coaching staff. We had to get bigger, stronger, faster.

“And we did.”

Vacaville Christian – a small Sac-Joaquin Section school with just 250 students on its high school campus – saw those results pay off in big ways in the second season.

Things were turned around in a big way during year No. 2. The Falcons improved from one win to seven. They averaged more than 36 points per game. They held three teams to single-digit scoring totals.

To top it all off, the Falcons found themselves in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII semifinals, falling to the eventual section champion in Mariposa County.

“We completely turned the program around in that second year and made it one game away from the Division VII Section Playoff, the title game, and so I think we kind of shocked a lot of people by getting there really, really quick,” Tarango said.

Quarterback Gabe Helmer shined all year and accounted for 3,087 total yards of offense and 44 touchdowns. Tamani Williams became Vacaville Christian’s first football player under Tarango to ink a college scholarship by signing with Valley City State University in North Dakota.

Even more talent returns, as multiple college-level players are sprinkled up and down the roster – including senior athlete Jaron Leaks, who recently announced an offer to UC Davis on his Instagram page, and junior Kendall Allen, who is not only on college radars on the gridiron but is also rated as one of the top basketball players on the west coast in addition to being a Junior Olympian.

So, how do they continue building the Falcons brand? 

It’s all about culture.

VCS lives by three core values, and the staff finds a way to teach those values and implement them into their programs each and every day. 

“We live by another motto,” Tarango said. “We tell the kids that we have to focus on being above the line. We have these red line painted stripes out on the football field to kind of give a visual representation of when we’re stepping onto the field it’s more than just playing football. It’s time to compete for our brother and to be intentional and deliberate and not make excuses.”

“I can’t say enough,” said Vacaville Christian junior defensive lineman Zack Mercado. “Coach T and the staff just, they’re great all around. They really push us to do great all the time, and they keep us focused in the classroom and everything. They’re just a great staff.”

It’s all about putting in the maximum effort and finishing what you started. You have to give 100% effort on the football field, during those drills, in the classroom and when you’re working on homework on the laptop.

Additionally, the Falcons have a big brother program. They are not invested in themselves, but they are rather invested in the team as a whole and becoming one family filled with love.

The big brother program features assigning every newcomer to someone who has been around the program. They sit down and interview with each other, then they have to type up a one page report about their teammate and speak about them in front of the entire squad.

“Everybody gets to listen about who’s your favorite player on the team, who motivates you the most, what kind of family life do they have, why are they here, what kind of stuff do they want to study in college and those kinds of things,” Tarango said. “And since that’s happened it’s brought in another level of accountability because I always talk to them about when your brother hits the wall, who’s going to pick him up and pull him through that? My leaders have really bought into what now you hear them saying, ‘Hey, we can love our brother but still hold them to a high standard.’”

Heading into what is now the 2021 campaign, Vacaville Christian is eager to watch its program grow even more.

Colleges are flocking from across the country to reach out and inquire about the Falcons. UTEP, right in Tarango’s hometown of El Paso, is coming out. There are Ivy league schools like Harvard and Yale. Southern Oregon. Pac-12 programs like Arizona State and UCLA.

They all see something special happening at the small private school with just over 200 students at the high school level, and they want these players part of their program. They see their character and they see how they win on and off the field.

Vacaville Christian believes even more is in store, and the Falcons are working to take that next step and win some rings.

“Me, Jaron, Austin (Dydo) – we’ve been working out three times a day, four times a day trying to put in that work,” Allen said. “We want to win a title. I’m trying to bring a section championship and a state championship to this school.”

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  1. […] Kai Nunley and Vacaville Christian played in the section semifinals in 2019. Chris Jackson / Staff PhotoAugust 25, 2020/Chris Jackson/No Comments […]

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