Lincoln’s Ferrigno Reaches New Heights

Ferrigno accepts the Steve Mariucci Trophy awarded by the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club to the top male coach in San Francisco from University (San Francisco) boys basketball head coach and SFIAC representative Randy Bessolo. Photo: Harold Abend

There have been some great coaches in over 120 years of high school football in San Francisco, and a lot of the old-timers that grace the Cal-Hi Sports Record Book get a mention is this special feature. After what he accomplished last season and in 17 years at the helm of the Lincoln program, native son Phil Ferrigno joins that lofty list.

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The dust has long settled on the 2018 high school football season, but out in the Sunset District of San Francisco at Abraham Lincoln High School, even the ringing in of the New Year, and now the end of the school year, can’t fade the memories of what many are calling the greatest season in San Francisco prep football history.

Because of competitive equity now being used for CIF Bowl Game match-ups, and football not being what it was in San Francisco compared to the rest of the state like back in the good old days, and with his team winning the lowest competitive equity Bowl Game division, there was little likelihood Lincoln head coach Phil Ferrigno got much consideration for becoming the sixth Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year from the Academic Athletic Association/CIF San Francisco Section.

However, one thing no one can take away from Ferrigno and his boys is the CIF State 6-A Bowl Game title they captured with a 24-13 victory over Orange Glen of Escondido last December 15 at City College of San Francisco.

With the victory, Lincoln became only the second team in CIFSF/AAA history to go 13-0 with the first coming 92 years ago when the 1927 Lowell team achieved the mark.

“I’m still floating,” said Ferrigno during a Cal-Hi Sports visit just prior to the end of the school year in late May.

Phil Ferrigno

A week prior to our visit to the school with a view of Ocean Beach and the Pacific Ocean, Ferrigno was honored by the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club with the Steve Mariucci Trophy as the male coach of the year in San Francisco. A true, well deserved honor for the native San Franciscan and 1983 graduate of Riordan.

With San Francisco having some teams that were in the state’s top echelon in their particular year or time period in the over 120-year history of high school football in the city, it’s hard to compare teams from many decades past to this year’s Lincoln team.

So, rather than anoint this year’s team and its venerable, charismatic and affable head coach Ferrigno for anything other than what they are, we’ll give everyone a little history of high school football in San Francisco and then give Lincoln, and Ferrigno in particular, some accolades.

There are some that have suggested this might have been the greatest team ever from the City by the Bay, but the old-timers will argue otherwise. They will point to the Polytechnic teams from 1951-1954 that won 36 straight games, or the 1947-1949 Poly teams that won 26 straight, both coached by legendary coach Milt Axt, who is shown as the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year after his 1953 team went 10-0.

There were other great Poly teams at the long ago closed school across the street from legendary Kezar Stadium. In 1923 when Dave Cox led Poly to an 11-0 record he would have been the Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year, as was Paul Hungerford when his Poly team went 9-0 in 1935.

Some others may point to the 13-0 Lowell team from 1927 that earned Mike Voyne the Cal-Hi Sports honor. Galileo went 8-0-1 in 1938 and earned head coach Ras Johnson the State Coach of the Year award.

In the 129 years Cal-Hi Sports has named a State Team of the Year only two have come from San Francisco, the 1900 Lowell team that went 5-1-2 and the 1933 Galileo team that had an 8-2-1 record.

All of that history is courtesy of the legendary research by late Cal-Hi Sports founder Nelson Tennis.

Now that we’ve given you a history of high school football’s winningest programs in San Francisco, rather than make any more comparisons between the past and what Ferrigno and his team accomplished in 2018 and in the 17 years since he took the Mustangs’ helm, the spotlight falls on Ferrigno.

Since coming over from Mission, Ferrigno has had his ups and downs as a coach and physical education teacher at Lincoln, a school with a mix of outer district and inner city kids. One thing that has been a constant is Lincoln has been at or near the top of the standings every year and does it with class, something Ferrigno insists on with his players.

“I’m a beacon for kids that show they want to do it and be responsible. For those kids the door is always open,” Ferrigno said. “I’ve never cut a kid. They can only cut themselves.”

In his 17 years the Mustangs have been in the playoffs 14 times and have won seven CIF San Francisco Section/Academic Athletic Association Turkey Day championships. They won four straight from 2005 to 2008, and besides this year the Mustangs pranced on Turkey Day in the 2012-13 and 2016-17 school year. Prior to that, Lincoln, which opened in 1940, had only won four championships in 40 years. Those championships came in 1943-44, 1965-66 (with legendary NFL coach and general manager Mike Holmgren at quarterback), 1969-70 and 1979-80.

Prior to Ferrigno taking over the program, it was “dilapidated” according to a 2005 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. It took him a couple of years to build it back up, but when Ferrigno won his first Turkey Day that year with a 21-20 victory over Balboa, it ended a 26-year drought.

Last season’s team gets all the accolades for being a state champion, but Ferrigno looks back to the teams that won four-straight Turkey Day titles as probably being his best.

The 2005-06 team had sophomore and budding superstar David Henderson in his first year of varsity football. Henderson, who was tragically shot and killed in a gang-related incident in 2011, still remains the all-time leading rusher in CIFSF/AAA history with 5,579 yards and 67 touchdowns.

Perhaps the greatest team Ferrigno had was in 2006 when after beating Lowell 29-22 on Turkey Day, it met McClymonds (Oakland) at Laney College in the last of the old Transbay Games. In a scoreboard lighter-upper 78-37 final it lost, Henderson, who also was a track star at Lincoln, rushed for 242 yards and two TDs and had an 88-yard kickoff return for a third score.

In 2007, and in his final game for a Mustangs team that went 9-3, Henderson brought home the bacon again for Lincoln and Ferrigno with a near duplicate performance of the previous year’s finale. He rushed for 242 yards and three TDs in a 49-0 Turkey Day trouncing of arch-rival Washington.

“The 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 teams were all really good teams, and the 2012 team was really good too,” Ferrigno reminisced.

The 2012 team went 11-1 and won a 22-21 Turkey Day thriller against Mission.

When Ferrigno and his boys won the 2016 Turkey Day game with a 22-12 victory over Mission, they were chosen for a play-in game for the CIF 6-AA Northern Regional title, but lost 45-20 to Amador of Sutter Creek.

This past year’s team did not play as tough a schedule as the 2016 team that went 8-6, but included in its 13-0 record were three solid wins to open the season against Mt. Eden of Hayward, Piedmont and El Camino of South San Francisco, all on the road, and the closest anyone got to them in league was a 7-0 victory over Balboa.

Jovon Baker, a 5-foot-8, 175-pound dual-threat senior quarterback and free safety that was the CIFSF/AAA Player of the Year, the San Francisco Chronicle All Metro San Francisco Player of the Year and the San Francisco Examiner Player of the Year, and the San Francisco Italian Athletic Club Vince Tringali Trophy winner as the club’s selection as the City’s top football player, was the centerpiece for the state champions.

Baker only passed for 542 yards and seven TDs in Ferrigno’s old-style running offense, but he rushed for 1,172 yards and 16 TDs, including 155 yards and three TDs in the win over Orange Glen. On defense, Baker had 58 tackles, including seven against Orange Glen, four interceptions and a sack.

“Jovon was head and shoulders the best player in the league,” Ferrigno remarked. “He checked all the boxes.”

Another player that made a huge impact was senior running back and defensive back Desean Crawford. The 5-foot-7 Crawford rushed for 1,589 yards and 25 TDs and on defense he had 25 tackles and two interceptions, including one he returned 34 yards against Orange Glen.

Other players Ferrigno wanted to mention that were key to the team’s success were Julian Aguirre and three-year varsity starter Jack Gaughan. Aguirre, a senior linebacker was the CIFSF/AAA Defensive Player of the Year after leading the team with 89 tackles. Gaughan, a senior slotback and defensive back who also returned punts, rushed for 338 yards and five TDs, had seven catches for 39 yards, 105 yards on punt returns, and on defense had 72 tackles, eight sacks, and two fumble recoveries.

Two other players Ferrigno wanted to mention as having outstanding seasons were senior two-way lineman Albert Moore, and senior tight end, backup quarterback and linebacker Eugene Larios-Felton.

Unlike a lot of coaches, Ferrigno encourages his players to embrace other sports. He also believes in year-round weight training, academic excellence in the classroom bolstered by after school study hall and peer tutoring, and building a positive relationship with teachers, administrators and staff at Lincoln

Ferrigno also insisted on giving a shout out to his coaching staff, Damon Keeve, himself a multiple Turkey Day winning head coach on the other side of Golden Gate Park at Washington, Greg Wood, his nephew Brendan Ferrigno. Kevin Doherty, Andre Walker-Thomas, Wallace Lebrane, Ryan Halvorsen, and Mike Paolucci, who as a sophomore on the 2005 team blocked an extra point to preserve the Turkey Day victory over Balboa.

For Ferrigno, the whole package goes beyond football.

“It’s about more than football,” said Ferrigno, who in 17-years has compiled a 119-77 coaching record. “It’s about behavior, building men, and building a community, and right here at my side are a group of coaches dedicated to those goals.”

It seems every great coach has a coach in their past who inspired them, however in Phi’s case his mentor, Vic Rowen, the former coaching legend at San Francisco State that passed away in 2013, was more than a mentor and coach.

“We grew up on 43rd and Ulloa (in the Sunset District) and I was going to St. Gabriel’s, but when I was nine my dad died, and Rowen (a family friend) promised to help raise me and my three brothers and four sisters,” Ferrigno said.

“All the girls went to Presentation (now closed) and the boys all went to Riordan,” Ferrigno continued. “I’m just a native boy who made it to Riordan, City College (San Francisco) and SF State.”

It seems fitting that Ferrigno would have his finest hour back in the old neighborhood at the school where Ray Greggains gave him his first coaching job as a member of the 1986 Mustangs coaching staff.

“If you had told me 17 years ago this would happen I would have answered it would not have been in my wildest dreams,” Ferrigno remarked.

Now, he’s thinking about next season and his future at Lincoln.

“I love coaching these kids and I’m the PE department head,” Ferrigno said. “Why would I want to go anywhere?”

His top returner is Leonardo Gallegos, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound incoming senior that was the league’s Offensive Lineman of the Year, First Team defensive line and Chronicle All Metro Honorable Mention. Other top returners are incoming 6-foot-3 175-pound junior Jalen Williams, the heir apparent at quarterback, incoming 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end and linebacker James Walsh, 6-foot, 265-pound incoming senior two-way lineman Sikoti Manumua, and incoming senior running back and defensive back Luis Contreras.

His big producers are gone but that’s the way it’s always been. Somehow Ferrigno finds new talent to develop.

Don’t be surprised if Lincoln has another big year and challenges for a Turkey Day title and CIF NorCal Bowl game berth.

With Phil Ferrigno working his magic in the old neighborhood, anything is possible.

Harold Abend is the associate editor of and the vice president of the California Prep Sportswriters Association. He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow him on Twitter: @HaroldAbend

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