As he has done for more than 30 years, Eddie Espitia is readying himself for another Delano Stallions football season.
But this year, he stepped away as a coach and is “just president, adviser and meeting-goer,” Espitia said.
The team, first known as the Delano Patriots, has been around since 1980, when it was started by Stuart Collins and Al Watts, along with a $5,000 donation from the Greater Delano Area Youth Foundation. That money paid for enough equipment to outfit a senior team of 35 players, seventh- and eighth-graders.
“We joined the Sequoia Youth Football League, and we were told we would not win a game,” Collins remembered. “And we would be lucky to score.”
The Patriots scored and “we ended up winning seven games and lost only one.”
“We were one touchdown short of going to the playoffs” that first year, Collins said.
The program has been very successful for the past 38 years.
Since then we’ve added a junior team, which includes another 35 players, he said.
The program, which changed to Stallions in 1988, has made it to 13 championship games, winning eight titles. The Stallions still play in the Sequoia Youth Football League, playing other teams from Dinuba, Visalia, Corcoran, Strathmore, Lindsay, Earlimart, Richgrove, McFarland, Tulare and Porterville.
On a recent Tuesday, Delano Stallions players practiced at Cecil Avenue School, like they have for years.
Running practice is head seniors coach Sal Dimas, 47, of Delano, who has been with the Stallions for eight years and has watched three of his six sons go through the program. His second youngest, Connor, 13, played his final Stallions game last year. His youngest boy, Colin Drew, just turned 4, so he’s a few years away from the field.
“Skills” players, those who will play receiver, running back or quarterback, lined up in two lines and had coaches throw as the receivers ran various pass patterns.
Linemen worked on their three-point stances, agility and blocking drills. Both senior and junior teams are still looking for additional players to fill out their rosters.
Collins said a lot of credit goes to all of those men/boys who have coached through the years with success.
Espitia said he coached almost from the beginning, along with fellow coach Gilbert Martinez.
“I think he was already coaching for a couple years, when I started,” Espitia said.
Martinez retired from coaching four years ago. Another well-remembered coach was Ralph Flores, who spent two decades with the program. Flores died from an illness after being forced from the field. One of his sayings was remembered on a T-shirt the following season.
Espitia said during one five-year span while Josef Lopez was coaching the junior team, the Stallions made five straight championship games. They lost the first and last one, but Lopez’s teams won three straight titles in the middle, he said. Lopez coached for 15 years, then moved on to help with the Stallions cheerleader program.
Today, the Stallions program must compete with three other similar football programs that have popped up during the past few years.
With the donations of local establishments/businesses, we’ve been able to carry on a very successful program.
The following have provided financial help with the program since its inception: Hocking, Denton & Palmquist, Empire Ag Transports Inc., Delano Farms, Hronis & Sons, C & H Fence & Patio, Pandol Bros., Tony’s Pizza, Elk’s Lodge, Greg’s Petroleum, Sevier’s Auto Supply, Jasmine Vineyards Inc., Columbine Vineyards, Greater Delano Area Youth Foundation. If you want to donate to the program, please call Collins at 661-725-1549
For many, many years we had the “free” use of the Delano High School football field, including lights, Collins said. “Also, thanks to all the parents who have helped clean up (in the days) and supported our program.”