Ralph Molina, San Marcos football
San Marcos head coach Ralph Molina talks to his Royals football team after a recent scrimmage. Molina has high expectations in his first year as coach. “I expect us to be in the playoffs,” he says. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. There’s some talent there, and we’re going to get better every week.” (San Marcos High School photo)
Mark Patton

Ralph Molina’s introduction as San Marcos High’s new football coach in June sounded like an old wedding rhyme.

He’s offering something old, something new, and something borrowed for the Royal Blue.

“I was looking for the right opportunity for a long time, and this was it,” the veteran coach said. “This is where I want to be.”

Molina will make his San Marcos debut at Warkentin Stadium in Friday’s 7 p.m. season opener against Morro Bay.

The retired Santa Barbara police lieutenant knows the lay of the land as well as anybody, having grown up in Santa Barbara in a family of 12 children. He starred as the quarterback for Bishop Diego High’s Class of 1979 and coached at the school for more than three decades.

Molina, who joined the coaching staff at Santa Barbara High in 2017, was the architect of the stout defense that helped the Dons reach the 2019 CIF-Southern Section Division 8 championship game against top-ranked Sunny Hills.

Peabody Stadium was still undergoing reconstruction at the time, so that game was played — ironically enough — at Warkentin Stadium.

San Marcos hasn’t made the playoffs since 2005, but Molina believes the time is right for a Royals Redux. He made that point when he spoke of the “something old” during his interview.

Molina watches practice

Ralph Molina sees talent on the San Marcos team and expects the Royals to get better every week.

(Gary Kim / Noozhawk photo)

Former San Marcos coach Bob Archer, his first coach in the Youth Football League, talked him into applying for the job.

“I’m a tradition-type of guy,” Molina said. “I brought up the old names: Bill Kelly, Mark Mattos, all the way to John Tafejian and Artie Holland, who was the (Channel League) defensive player of the year when I played.

“We were all in the (Santa Barbara County) All-Star Game together.”

He helped coach San Marcos’ All-State quarterback, Bradlee Van Pelt, in another County All-Star Game. Van Pelt wound up starring for Colorado State before spending three seasons with the Denver Broncos in the NFL.

Molina is hoping to involve another Royals’ alum, six-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack, in this Royals’ Renaissance.

Mack, who played for a San Marcos team that went 7-4 in 2003, signed with the San Francisco 49ers in March after stints with both the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons. He helped pave the way for Atlanta in its run to Super Bowl LI in 2017.

“He’s probably our best alumni of all time and he’s still playing in the NFL,” Molina said. “I’m trying to bring back that kind of tradition.”

But he also realizes that San Marcos needs something new: a varsity team room.

“I heard the kids were literally walking around school with their helmets and shoulder pads because the helmets don’t fit into the lockers,” Molina said. “I went, ‘Wait a minute? What do you mean? There’s a varsity room.’ And they go, ‘No, it’s a storage room.’

“I said this was unacceptable. I’ve been very fortunate that Kip Glazer, our principal, has been really supportive. Jason (Fowle, San Marcos’ former coach) tried to get this approved and ran into all sorts of bureaucratic walls.”

The red tape was cut, the money was raised, and the Royals will install 50 new lockers in the team room next week. Molina also got MarBorg Industries’ Borgatello family to donate a storage bin with shelves for the junior varsity and freshman team gear.

“The little things like that make such a big difference,” Molina said.

And that has led to “the something borrowed” in the equation: The top athletes in San Marcos’ other sports have noticed that football is taking on greater importance at the school.

“There are so many good athletes at this school,” Molina said. “Last year, San Marcos won 13 league championships. The school had an incredible year, but football has been struggling.

“I met with the wrestling coach, I got some wrestlers … and the baseball coach, and I got some baseball players. My quarterback is an all-league catcher, Joaquin Sandoval. They won the Channel League and had a great baseball team. I need those kids because they’re leaders. They’re winners.”

Two of his quickest running backs, Patrick Kelly and Nathan Lynk, also play baseball, as does marquee receiver and defensive back Lance Bermudes.

Andre McCullough, a star from the basketball team, came out for the team this fall. After watching the 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior run a few routes as a receiver, he asked him to take a crack at running back.

“I tell him, ‘Let’s just run a sweep … Let’s see what you can do … Just be an athlete,’” Molina said. “So we run the sweep, he cuts outside, looks back inside, and goes against the grain and he’s gone. I look around and go, ‘Oh my gosh! I think I just found my inside back!’

“This kid can dunk and is just an incredible athlete. So I’ve got a couple of quick kids from the baseball team and this kid from basketball who’s only going to get better every week.”

Molina’s big pickup from the wrestling team is Carlos Rodriguez, a 6-1, 255-pounder who projects as an outside linebacker. He also plans to use him as an offensive lineman to play alongside several of his biggest players — brothers Majied and Ebrahim Diaz, and tight ends John Frohling and Benji Rios.

“Carlos is a pretty scrappy kid,” Molina said. “The first day of practice we trap him. We’ve got a coach playing outside linebacker, and he goes and grabs him and picks him and drives him back. It was hilarious. He wasn’t afraid to make the contact.

“He has great hands and feet because he’s a great wrestler. He’s going to help us on both sides of the ball.”

Mack had been a state finalist in wrestling. Van Pelt was an elite soccer player. Molina knows that San Marcos wouldn’t have been such a big football power in the late 1990s and early 2000s without those multisport athletes.

“We told our kids, ‘There have been some great football players who have come out of here … There have been some great teams that have come out of here … Now it’s your turn,’” Molina said.

“I don’t have my fingers crossed that we make the playoffs. I don’t have my fingers crossed that we have a shot for the championship. I expect us to be playing for a championship. I expect us to be in the playoffs. I’m setting the expectations high.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. There’s some talent there, and we’re going to get better every week.”

AN INSIDE JOB: UC Irvine, which built itself into a Big West Conference basketball power by recruiting talented big man, had UC Santa Barbara hook one of the biggest fishes right out from under its nose.

Koat Keat, a 6-foot-9 senior at Irvine’s Crean Lutheran, turned down offers from UCLA and USC to commit last week to the defending Big West champion Gauchos.

Although UCSB coach Joe Pasternack can’t talk about the commitment until next fall’s official signing period, his decision has already sent shock waves throughout the league.

Keat, who came to America from the Republic of South Sudan, has been rated as a four-star recruit by 247Sports. He led Crean Lutheran to the CIF-SS Division 2AA championship as a junior by averaging 22.4 points, 18.4 rebounds and 1.6 steals in five playoff victories.

“Koat does it all for us,” Crean Lutheran coach Nate Klitzing told reporters after the title win. “He’s a program changer. He can carry us in so many ways, and that’s fine because he’s such a good kid and so unselfish.

“He’s got such a high basketball IQ. And he’s got ice water in his veins.”

Koat proved that by making two free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining to beat Dominguez 61-60 in the CIF semifinals.

And now he’s thrown cold water onto his hometown team by picking the Gauchos.

FISHER KING: Donegal Fergus, who helped UCSB baseball coach Andrew Checketts turn the Gauchos into an offensive juggernaut, is proving that you can go home again.

He’s returning to UCSB as an associate head coach after spending the previous two years as the minor league batting instructor for the Minnesota Twins.

But Fergus never really did leave UCSB. Former Gaucho shortstop Clay Fisher said he helped resurrect his career last February after he’d been released by the Baltimore Orioles organization.

“I went back to Santa Barbara to work with him and hit for five days straight,” Fisher said. “He just knew how to explain things and get through to me. Just the kind of stuff I never thought of before that made sense and really clicked with me.

“I’m kind of a loose-moving guy. He kind of helped me structure my swing around that, just being athletic and doing stuff naturally. It’s really helped me.”

Fisher, who signed in June to play for Missoula of the independent Pioneer League, has been on a tear ever since. He entered this weekend with a batting average of .415 (80-193), with 16 home runs and 57 RBIs in 48 games for the first-place PaddleHeads.

He’s playing alongside another former Gaucho infielder, McClain O’Connor, who is batting .319 with 10 homers.

Fisher admitted that he nearly quit baseball after getting released by the Orioles.

“Once I started having some success here, I started falling in love with baseball again,” he said. “I fell in love with everything about it, wanting to be really good again. I haven’t wanted something so bad in a while.”

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at sports@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook. The opinions expressed are his own.

Noozhawk sports columnist Mark Patton is a longtime local sports writer. Contact him at sports@noozhawk.com. The opinions expressed are his own.