Bryan Nixon: State FB Coach of the Year

State Coach of the Year Bryan Nixon of Bakersfield Liberty raises the CIF D1-A state championship trophy earlier this month at Saddleback College. Photo: Mark Tennis.

Back to back CIF Central Section D1 titles, a CIF D1-A state title and a resume over 25 years that includes coaching two NFL quarterbacks plus 198 wins nets Liberty of Bakersfield’s Bryan Nixon the most prestigious single state football coaching honor. He also is the first State Coach of the Year from Bakersfield who isn’t from Bakersfield High.

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Anyone growing up and playing football in Kern County knows all about the tradition and history of Bakersfield High School. It’s one of just two high schools in California with more than 800 all-time wins and it has had three head coaches who are on the all-time list of those considered “State Coach of the Year” going back more than 120 years.

The first of the Driller head coaches on the list is 100 years ago exactly, which would be the legendary Dwight “Goldie” Griffith, still the all-time leader for winning CIF state titles with six. He is followed by Paul Briggs for 1963 and Pat Preston for 1990.

Liberty head coach Bryan Nixon is shown above after team won third CIF Central Section D1 title. Photo: Nick Ellis / Kern High Network.

There hasn’t been another head coach from the city to be Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year until now. And 100 years since Goldie Griffith, the honoree for 2022 is Bryan Nixon from Liberty of Bakersfield. His teams have won back-to-back CIF Central Section D1 titles and this year won the school’s first CIF state title with a 48-20 victory over Pittsburg in the D1-A championship game played earlier this month in Mission Viejo.

“That is nuts,” Nixon replied when told about the local history of the honor. “We wanted to win and represent Liberty and we want to represent Bakersfield. The image we have of being from Bakersfield is to just play hard-nosed football, come out and grind, compete for 48 minutes.”

Although there were several key returnees from a 2021 squad that lost to Serra of Gardena in the CIF D1-A state final, it was not a sure thing that the Patriots could get back. They needed to replace leading two-way WR/DB Jason Oliver, QB Carson Woods and the three leading tacklers. Once the section playoffs got going, however, it looked like Nixon and his coaching staff had again come up with a winning formula.

WR/DB Kresean Kizzy became the dynamo in the return game, RB Jalen Hankins kept up his stellar work, the defense was rolling with DL Grant Buckey, junior DB Tre Fulton and junior LB Drew Underwood and WR Xander Chisolm became a big threat. Nixon also had the delicate task of using his son, Jace, a junior, as one of the QBs along with junior Cole O’Brien.

After avenging an earlier loss to Buchanan of Clovis in the section semifinals, Liberty stamped its ticket for the CIF regionals by defeating San Joaquin Memorial of Fresno, 29-13, in the title game. At that point, Nixon and the team assumed it would be playing Pittsburg for the second straight year and on the road for the NorCal regional title. But the CIF apparently didn’t like the rematch and instead sent the Patriots to the south for a road game at 14-0 Yorba Linda.

“We had no idea until Saturday night that we were a floater for the south,” Nixon said. “All of our research had been done on the north teams. But once we saw them on film, it didn’t take long to show the kids that they were a really good team, very sound with coaching and played their tails off.”

It also probably helped to tell the players that Yorba Linda had won the same CIF Southern Section title in 2022 that Serra of Gardena had won in 2021.

Liberty handed Yorba Linda its first loss with a 41-28 triumph and it turned out that the state final was the rematch with Pitt. Just as it was in 2021 when the Patriots handled the Pirates, 35-7, they also handled them in 2022 with a 48-20 victory.

“The kids had a plan and stayed true to the course,” Nixon said. “The senior leadership we had spoke volumes. They learned from the previous leadership, knew exactly what they wanted to do, and finished on top.”

Nixon also breaks a long drought of the CIF Central Section having the State Coach of the Year. The last one was Randy Blankenship of Fresno Clovis West for 1998. The previous honoree before that was Tim Simons of Clovis for 1984. Blankenship is still coaching at Aptos in the CIF Central Coast Section. He won his 300th game last season. Nixon himself on the verge of winning his 200th game. According to Central Section historian Bob Barnett, Nixon will start the 2023 season with 198 career wins.

Big Career Change Began
With A Conversation

While he is from Kern County, Nixon didn’t grow up in Bakersfield. He’s from the town of Shafter, which is 18 miles northwest of the big city. He was the quarterback of the Generals in the late 1980s and continued to play quarterback at Bakersfield College. One of the receivers he played with at Bakersfield College was David Dunn, who is now the head coach at Lincoln of San Diego (which won the CIF D1-AA state title the night before Nixon’s team won).

Bryan Nixon from Liberty of Bakersfield has built one of the best programs in the CIF Central Section and in California. Photo:

After playing at Montana State, Nixon spent one year as a grad assistant coaching there and decided football coaching and physical education teaching was the path for his future. His first stop was at Frazier Mountain of Lebec in 1995, which led to a head coaching gig back at Shafter (his alma mater) in 1998. A desire to coach at the higher levels of competition in Bakersfield led him to Centennial High in 2001. It was there when Nixon began to have major success, including second-place finishes in the section playoffs in D2 four times.

Centennial may be where Nixon still would be coaching, but he and wife Tonya (who works at Cal State Bakersfield), daughter Bryleigh (currently attending Sacramento State and competing in rowing) and son Jace were living in the Liberty High boundary.

“One day Jace was seven years old and comes up to me and says, ‘Dad, all my friends are going to go to Liberty, and I’m going to go there with them,'” Nixon remembered. “‘What are you going to do if you play us?’ I started laughing and said, ‘I’m going to kick your ass.'”

Two weeks later, the Liberty job opened up. Nixon thought about the idea of one day perhaps coaching against his son, thought it wouldn’t be much fun after all and decided instead to apply there. His years at Centennial (2001 to 2012) were done and his Liberty years (still going since 2013) were underway.

At both schools, Nixon has been lucky enough to coach two quarterbacks who’ve gone on to the NFL. At Centennial from 2008 to 2010 he had Cody Kessler. Also known for being an elite hooper, Kessler went on to start at USC and later in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns in 2016 and then with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018. At Liberty several years later, Nixon worked with Jordan Love, who helped the Patriots win the first of Nixon’s four Central Section titles in 2016. Love later became a breakout star at Utah State and in 2020 he was the only first round pick in the NFL Draft from a California high school by the Green Bay Packers. He essentially has been backing up future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers since then.

Nixon was quick to point out that both Kessler and Love had linebacker teammates that have both played in the NFL — Jared Norris and Krys Barnes. Barnes is currently a teammate of Love’s with the Packers.

“The best traits for both of them is that they were so football savvy,” Nixon recalled. “They were able to get into the intricacies of the position. They were able to change protections. They both studied so well, watched film all the time and they were so prepared.”

That sounds like how the Liberty team is prepared for these days for every single game by its head coach.

Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year
All-Time Honor Roll
(All selections by
(*2020 season delayed until spring 2021 due to worldwide pandemic)

(Based on research by the late Nelson Tennis, our founder, prior to 1979)

Marlon Gardinera raises 2021 CIF D2-A state title trophy about as high as possible after getting it from CIF officials. Photo: Mark Tennis / Cal-Hi Sports.

2022 — Bryan Nixon (Bakersfield Liberty) 13-2
2021 — Marlon Gardinera
(Scripps Ranch, San Diego) 12-1
2020 — Patrick Walsh (Serra, San Mateo) 5-0*
2019 — Jason Negro (St. John Bosco, Bellflower)
2018 — Michael Peters (McClymonds, Oakland)
2017 — Kris Richardson (Folsom) 16-0
2016 — Dave White (Edison, Huntington Beach)
2015 — Mike Janda (Bellarmine, San Jose) 13-2
2014 — Kurt Bruich (Redlands East Valley) 15-1
2013 — Ed Croson (Chaminade, West Hills) 14-2
2012 — Ernie Cooper (Granite Bay) 13-3
2011 — Mike Papadopoulos (Vacaville) 13-1
2010 — Earl Hansen (Palo Alto) 14-0
2009 — Jim Benkert (Westlake, Westl. Vill.) 14-0
2008 — Mike Alberghini (Grant, Sac.) 14-0
2007 — Ed Buller (Oak Grove, San Jose) 12-1
2006 — Bob McAllister (Carlsbad) 10-0-2
2005 — Harry Welch (Canyon, Canyon Country) 13-1
2004 — Matt Logan (Centennial, Corona) 13-1
2003 — Steve Grady (Loyola, Los Angeles) 11-3
2002 — Kevin Rooney (Notre Dame, Sherman Oaks) 14-0
2001 — Bob Johnson (Mission Viejo) 14-0
2000 — Jerry Jaso (Poly, Long Beach) 14-0
1999 — Mike Herrington (Hart, Newhall) 14-0
1998 — Randy Blankenship (Clovis West, Fresno) 12-1
1997 — John Beam (Skyline, Oakland) 12-0
1996 — Dave Silveira (Alhambra, Martinez) 13-0
1995 — Larry Welsh (Atascadero) 14-0
1994 — Bruce Rollinson (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 14-0
1993 — John Barnes (Los Alamitos) 14-0
1992 — Mark Paredes (Bishop Amat, La Puente) 15-0
1991 — Herb Meyer (El Camino, Oceanside) 13-1
1990 — Pat Preston (Bakersfield) 13-0
1989 — Dick Bruich (Fontana) 14-0
1988 — Norm Dow (Live Oak, Morgan Hill) 11-0-1
1987 — Bennie Edens (Point Loma, San Diego) 13-0
1986 — Bob Ladouceur (De La Salle, Concord) 12-0
1985 — Charlie Wedemeyer (Los Gatos) 13-1
1984 — Tim Simons (Clovis) 12-0-1
1983 — Ron Calcagno (St. Francis, Mountain View) 13-0
1982 — Wayne Schneider (Tracy) 12-1
1981 — Marijon Ancich (St. Paul, Santa Fe Springs) 14-0
1980 — Bill Workman (Edison, Huntington Beach) 14-0
1979 — Ron Lancaster (Cordova, Rancho Cordova) 13-0
1978 — Jerry Deuker (Pinole Valley, Pinole) 11-1
1977 — Chris Ferragamo (Banning, Wilmington) 11-1-1
1976 — Benny Pierce (Saratoga) 13-0
1975 — Ed Lloyd (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa) 12-0
1974 — Dick Haines (Vista) 13-0
1973 — Dwayne DeSpain (Los Altos, Hacienda Heights) 12-0-1
1972 — Bob Hitchcock (Temple City) 13-0
1971 — Gene Vollnogle (Carson) 12-0
1970 — Jack Neumeier (Granada Hills) 11-1
1969 — Forrest Klein (Alameda) 9-0
1968 — Tom Burt (Los Altos) 9-0
1967 — Clare Van Hoorebeke (Anaheim) 12-1
1966 — Ernie Johnson (El Rancho, Pico Rivera) 13-0
1965 — Dick Coury (Mater Dei, Santa Ana) 12-0-1
1964 — John Hanna (Bellarmine, San Jose) 10-0
1963 — Paul Briggs (Bakersfield) 9-0
1962 — Bob Berry (Willow Glen, San Jose) 9-0
1961 — Joe Marvin (Sequoia, Redwood City) 9-0
1960 — Sam Cathcart (Santa Barbara) 11-1
1959 — Dave Levy (Long Beach Poly) 11-0
1958 — Paul Huebner (Banning, Wilmington) 11-0
1957 — Johnny Johnson (Oroville) 9-0
1956 — Dick Hill (Downey) 12-0-1
1955 — Duane Maley (San Diego) 11-0-1
1954 — Aaron Wade (Centennial, Compton) 10-1-1
1953 — Milt Axt (Poly, San Francisco) 10-0
1952 — Fred Moffett (Berkeley) 9-0
1951 — Hod Ray (Palo Alto) 8-0
1950 — Ernie Busch (Merced) 11-0
1949 — Bob Patterson (Vallejo) 10-0
1948 — Harry Edelson (Fremont, Los Angeles) 9-0-1
1947 — Jim Sutherland (Santa Monica) 12-0
1946 — George Hobbs (Alhambra) 12-0
1945 — Colon Kilby (Vallejo) 10-0
1944 — Bert LaBrucherie (Los Angeles) 7-0
1943 — Larry Siemering (Stockton) 10-0
1942 — Brick Johnson (Piedmont) 7-0
1941 — Roy Richert (Castlemont, Oakland) 5-0-1
1940 — Clarence Schutte (Santa Barbara) 9-1
1939 — Palmer Muhl (Woodland) 8-0
1938 — Ras Johnson (Galileo, San Francisco) 8-0-1
1937 — Jim Blewett (Manual Arts, Los Angeles) 8-0
1936 — Harlan Lee (Red Bluff) 7-0-1
1935 — Paul Hungerford (Poly, San Francisco) 9-0
1934 — Orian Landreth (Long Beach Poly, Long Beach) 12-1
1933 — Dick Arnett (Inglewood) 8-2-1
1932 — Harry Shipkey (Salinas) 11-0
1931 — Tex Oliver (Santa Ana) 13-0
1930 — John Price (Bonita, La Verne) 10-0
1929 — Lourence Janssen (Sacramento) 9-0
1928 — Paul Perrin (Lodi) 9-0
1927 — Mike Voyne (San Francisco Lowell) 13-0
1926 — Brick Mitchell (San Mateo) 9-1-1
1925 — Wallace Newman (Covina) 12-1
1924 — Jimmy Hole (Berkeley) 11-0
1923 — Dave Cox (San Francisco Polytechnic) 11-0
1922 — Dwight “Goldie” Griffith (Bakersfield) 10-0-1
1921 — Thomas Kennedy (Santa Clara Prep) 7-0
1920 — Freddie Rodgers (Salinas) 5-0

List continues back to 1896 in State Record Book & Almanac.

Mark Tennis is the co-founder and publisher of He can be reached at Don’t forget to follow Mark on the Cal-Hi Sports Twitter handle: @CalHiSports

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One Comment

  1. Cambyflash
    Posted December 31, 2022 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    Nicely done!

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