At one point, Del Oro (Calif.) High would have given anything for a .500 record. Now, they'll give anything for one more win, which will win them a truly shocking Division III title.
With things spiraling downward, Del Oro lost six of their best players -- those Taylor identified as likely all-league picks -- to banishment or a decision to quit, all while those who remained fought among themselves incessantly.
"It was brutal," Taylor told the Bee. " You try to be a father figure, to help these kids. I know what football did for me (as a player without a father in his life). There was a lot of finger-pointing early. You do the best you can for kids, but when do you cut bait? When is it too much?"
Then, just when things seemed to be bottoming out, something amazing happened: the Golden Eagles rattled off 21 straight points in a come-from-behind, 24-21 win over Granite Bay. That turned out to be the start of a shocking seven game win streak which now has Del Oro on the cusp of yet another state title, a crown they'll contend for in the Division III title game against 10-3 Oakdale (Calif.) High on Saturday.
The rise is made much more special by just how far Del Oro has had to come, a phoenix-like rise which Del Oro officials said could only have been orchestrated by a man who has now led the school to five Division III title games in seven seasons.
"Beyond words - that's how bad it got, and it's high school football," Del Oro principal Dan Gayaldo told the Bee. "People whip each other into a frenzy. They'll write stuff on a chat forum, things they won't dare say face-to-face. They care to a fault, but passion gets in the way of reality.
"What Casey has done is remarkable. I don't know if anyone else could have done what he did in turning this around."
Through it all, the team's players who remained never lost faith in the coach, a trust which has borne more fruit than even they could have hoped for or expected.
"It was hard, but I'm about the team, helping us get better," senior safety Max Magleby, who voluntarily sacrificed his starting quarterback position (one which he had also held as a junior) following the team's tough start, told the Bee. "We got rid of problems and things got better. Coach told us he was facing a lot of heat, but that he trusted us, and we told him we trusted him, too. I know I did."
- Del Oro