More State Football Coaches of Year

State Small Schools Coach of the Year Jeromy Blackwell (left) is shown during Strathmore celebration after it won CIF Central Section championship. State Large Schools Coach of the Year Jaime Ortiz (right) is shown at practice before San Clemente’s first game. Photos: @KSEE24 / & San Clemente Times.

Here are the honorees from among those schools considered large or small schools for the 2023 season. Our medium schools winner also is the choice for overall so this time a separate large schools coach of the year has been chosen. Our small schools honoree ended the season with his second CIF state title after he came through a serious medical emergency last summer.

Congratulations to the following two California coaches for joining Cal-Hi Sports State Coach of the Year Floyd Burnsed as additional honorees for accomplishments by their teams during the 2023 football season. To read more about Coach Burnsed, CLICK HERE.

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Large Schools
State Coach of the Year
Jaime Ortiz (San Clemente)

For the third time since 2018, the overall State Coach of the Year in football is not from a large school and when that happens we don’t skip the tradition of honoring three separate state coaches of the year. It happened just two years ago when Marlon Gardinera of San Diego Scripps Ranch was State Coach of the Year from a medium school. The large schools honoree was Greg Calcagno from St. Francis of Mountain View.

This time, with Floyd Burnsed hailing from medium school Acalanes of Lafayette, the honors for large schools goes to Ortiz. He didn’t win a CIF state title this season, but he has one on his ledger and his Tritons this season got a win over CIF D1-AA state champion Mission Viejo. The two schools played in the same league.

Head coach Jaime Ortiz of San Clemente is shown after team won 2016 CIF D1-A state title. Photo: Mark Tennis.

The San Clemente team also wholeheartedly took on the challenge of facing national powerhouse St. John Bosco of Bellflower in the first round of the eight-team CIF Southern Section D1 playoffs. With Mission Viejo in D2, the Tritons took a 10-0 lead in the second quarter against the Braves, but ended up with a season-ending 35-10 loss. The team’s final 9-2 record (its other loss was to Murrieta Valley in the regular season) improved Ortiz’s record to 83-25 on-the-field in the last nine seasons. His first two seasons at the school for 2012 and 2013 were 5-5 and 2-8.

Led by current NFL quarterback and No. 3 overall draft pick Sam Darnold, Ortiz’s teams at San Clemente starting winning lots of games in 2014. The Tritons went 12-2 that year and were 11-3 in 2015. They won the CIF D1-A state title in 2016 with a 22-17 victory over Del Oro of Loomis in a game in which they were behind 17-0.

A graduate of nearby Capistrano Valley (Mission Viejo) in 1993, Ortiz went to college at Cal State Fullerton where coaching and teaching became his career of choice. He has been at San Clemente coaching football for 21 years with the first eight as an assistant.

This year’s team wasn’t the first one at San Clemente under Ortiz to get a win over Mission Viejo. In the 2021 spring pandemic season, the Tritons notched a 10-7 triumph against the Diablos as part of a 5-0 record. In terms of a coaching record that doesn’t count forfeits (which is how it is done in our own records), Ortiz had a 10-2 on-the-field mark for 2019 and not 0-13. The Tritons had to forfeit all of their wins that season for the use of an ineligible player.

Darnold is not the only current NFL player that Ortiz has coached at San Clemente, either. New York Giants’ center Sean Harlow also is a former Triton.

Despite the 5-0 season, the pandemic was awful for the Tritons. In February of 2021, longtime assistant coach Joe Wood, age 71 at the time, died from the disease after a month-long battle. Wood was a former State Medium Schools Coach of the Year when he was at Aliso Niguel in 1996. Ortiz is now on the list for large schools for 2023.

Recent Cal-Hi Sports Medium Schools
State Coaches of the Year

2022 – Jeff Bailey (Yorba Linda); 2021 – Marlon Gardinera (San Diego Scripps Ranch); 2020 – Mazi Moayad (Marin Catholic, Kentfield)*; 2019 – Mike Moon (Pacifica, Oxnard); 2018 – Mark Cooley (Pleasant Valley, Chico); 2017 – Josh Henderson (Grace Brethren, Simi Valley); 2016 – Trent Merzon (Oakdale); 2015 – Mike Moschetti (La Mirada); 2014 – Kevin Macy (Campolindo, Moraga); 2013 – Scott Meyer (Corona del Mar, Newport Beach); 2012 – Rick Jackson (Madison, San Diego); 2011 – Rick Prinz (Paradise); 2010 – Paul Cronin (Cardinal Newman, Santa Rosa); 2009 – Sean Doyle (Cathedral Catholic, San Diego); 2008 – Lou Farrar (Charter Oak, Covina); 2007 – Ray Fenton (Cypress); 2006 – Eric Reis (Manteca); 2005 – Robin Luken (Lompoc); 2004 – Rob Gilster (Valley Center); 2003 – Tony Martello (Colfax); 2002 – Tom St. Jacques (Lassen, Susanville).
*Games played in spring 2021 due to pandemic. Gardinera also was the overall State Coach of Year.

Small Schools State Coach of the Year
Jeromy Blackwell (Strathmore)

The 2023 CIF state championship earned by the Spartans wasn’t at all like the first one. That first one came in 2017 in D6-AA and everything literally went perfectly, as in 16-0 with a perfect record. Strathmore wrapped that one up with a 31-29 win over Orange and tied a state record with that 16-0 season slate.

Although the final game in 2023 wasn’t as close — the Spartans (12-4) topped Bell Gardens of the Southern Section 42-7 for the D7-A crown — the season itself was much different. There were ups and downs, losses to come back from and head coach Jeromy Blackwell had to come back himself from a medical emergency that saw him in a coma for eight days last summer.

Blackwell points to place in his backyard where he was found by his wife last summer suffering from heat stroke, hitting his head and breathing in dirty water. Photo:

For winning a second CIF state title under those circumstances, Blackwell has today been named as the 2023 Small Schools State Coach of the Year. He’s the first-ever winner from Strathmore and the first from the CIF Central Section since Mike Sparks of Dos Palos in 2000.

Blackwell has been head coach at Strathmore since 2001. He got into coaching after playing as a walk-on fullback in the late 1990s at Fresno State. He has since built the Spartans’ program into a small school power in the CIF Central Section. This year’s D5 section title was No. 5 for them under Blackwell while the ensuing CIF regional title was the fourth.

Usually, it is a player or players coming back from injury that can be inspirational for a team. For Strathmore this season, it was its coach in that role.

Last July 1, according to several stories locally about what happened, Blackwell spent several hours on a 103-degree day outside of his house mowing the lawn. He then went to the backyard grill and began cooking steak and bratwurst. He doesn’t remember anything after that.

In an interview with the Sun-Gazette newspaper, the doctors told Blackwell they believe he suffered heat stroke, fell and hit his head on some brickwork and was unconscious breathing in muddy water for perhaps two hours until his wife, Carol (who was taking a nap after coming home from work), found him.

Paramedics took Blackwell to Kaweah Health Hospital in Visalia. He had to be intubated with a breathing tube and he was in a coma for four days. At one point, Carol was told “he might not make it.” Eventually, though, Blackwell’s condition improved. He came out of the coma and then spent four days building strength so he could walk on his own.

Only two weeks after coming home from the hospital, Strathmore’s practices for the 2023 season were getting underway. Who could have imagined that the Spartans would still be practicing in early December to play for a CIF state title?

“You gotta give it your best,” senior running back Jacob Poole said in a KSEE TV feature. “Every day I came out here to football practice (this season), I gave it 100 percent, because you never know when it’s gonna be your last.”

Recent Cal-Hi Sports Small Schools
State Coaches of the Year

2022 – Nick Velazquez (Orland); 2021 – Rick Davis (Jackson Argonaut); 2020 – Ryan Reynolds (Sutter)*; 2019 – Chris Musseman (Ripon); 2018 – Michael Peters (McClymonds, Oakland); 2017 – David Griffiths (Big Bear, Big Bear Lake); 2016 – Jim Kunau (Rancho Christian, Temecula); 2015 – Tom Crawford (Bishop Diego, Santa Barbara); 2014 – Roger Canepa (Central Catholic, Modesto); 2013 – Matt Oliver (Christian, El Cajon); 2012 – Pete Lavorato (Sacred Heart Prep, Atherton); 2011 – Jon Ellinghouse (Sierra Canyon, Chatsworth); 2010 – Mark Louriero (Escalon); 2009 – Jack Moyer (Fort Bragg); 2008 – Frank Marques (Hilmar); 2007 – Kim Jorgensen (Ferndale); 2006 – Travis Brackett (Novato); 2005 – Matt Hunsaker (Central Valley, Shasta Lake); 2004 – Rich Cotruvo (Justin-Siena, Napa); 2003 – Mike Glines (Central Catholic, Modesto); 2002 – Coley Candaele (Carpinteria).
*Games played in spring 2021 due to pandemic.

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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  1. Caroline Blackwell
    Posted December 28, 2023 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Thank you

  2. Linda
    Posted December 28, 2023 at 4:35 pm | Permalink


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