It is perhaps the least likely of all turnarounds. A program sporting one of the worst records in the state of California, winning just five times in the past seven seasons, lost its head coach in the middle of August. It had just two weeks to prepare for the season's first game. Lacking any other options, the school's principal turned to the school's assistant basketball coach. There was just one catch: He had never coached football before.
In fact, Encina (Calif.) High coach DeWayne Norris' football background is about as limited as one may find in the head coaching ranks of a state like California: Norris played high school football in Indiana, then never really interacted with the sport again, until the 2012 season.
Incredibly, the results have been more than anyone at Encina could have hoped for. As chronicled by the Sacramento Bee, the previously woeful program entered Week 3 of the season undefeated and having outscored its regional foes 60-2. Sure, the Bulldogs lost their third game 22-12 to Lodi (Calif.) Elliot Christian, but that has hardly dimmed optimism for the suddenly surging program.
Throughout it all, Norris has provided a steady hand on the till and preached optimism that was clearly catching fire among the team's limited playing squad.
"I'm no dummy," Norris told the Bee. "I could see that we had talent — it was just a matter of me not messing it up. 'Tuck' hated to leave, but he laid the foundation by putting in the offense and defense and putting together the coaching staff. I've got great assistants. They know the X's and O's. It's kind of the perfect storm."
That perfect storm has lifted the team's best players, despite their own relative shock in some cases. Maurice Campbell, one of Encina's breakout stars at running back and safety, said he honestly didn't think the team could win its first two games, particularly with the late loss of previous coach Richard Tucker.
Not only did they win both games, they won them by the lopsided scores of 30-0 and 30-2.
"I thought it was going to go downhill," Campbell told the Bee. "But coach [Norris] knows football. We're all in way better condition this season. We now have a study hall, so kids can't fall off their grades. It feels like we're building something here."
Perhaps the only person who isn't surprised by the success is Norris himself, even if he had never seen himself as a football coach before being forced into the role.
"It sounds kind of crazy, doesn't it?" Norris said. "But I never would have done it if it wasn't for my assistants and the kids. We've got a wonderful group. They didn't need any more letdowns."
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