In keeping with the theme of paying homage to former athletes or coaches that I covered in my 26 years as a local sports writer in the Tri-Valley, let's talk about former Foothill football coach Matt Sweeney.
Sweeney stepped down from the head post at Foothill at the end of the last season after 30-plus years. He is remaining as a teacher and softball coach at the school for at least another year or two, but felt it was time to walk away from football.
Last Saturday, Sweeney was honored by former players at a reception at the Highland Oaks Cabana Club. The event was put together by a number of players and spearheaded by former player and assistant coach Willie Brown.
It was a surprise party that, given Sweeney's avoidance of social media, was able to be promoted on Facebook. It was a wonderful event, and it was great for me to see so many players I had the joy to cover show up and honor their former coach.
Among the many in attendance included former quarterback Sean Mannion. Now a quarterback with the Los Angeles Rams, Mannion took the time to fly up and hang out with former teammates.
Among other highlights were the scrapbook collection that Sweeney's wife Trish had put together over the years. She made one book for each season, and it was incredibly nostalgic to go back through the years and almost relive the seasons.
Sweeney's teams captured 13 East Bay Athletic League titles and four North Coast Section championships in his time.
I had a great relationship with Sweeney over the years as we grew up in the same area of Pleasanton from the time we were little kids. The intensity he brought to coaching was developed from the competitiveness he brought to his playing career, whether it was formal team sports or pickup baseball games in the field behind his house.
His teams were never the biggest nor the fastest, but there were few, if any, teams that were better prepared, better conditioned or played with more heart than did Foothill.
There were countless games over the years where on paper Foothill was overmatched on the field. But come the end of the game, when the horn sounded, the Falcons had the edge on the scoreboard.
The most recent example had to be the 2015 NCS playoffs where in the semifinals, the Falcons outlasted Antioch on the road in a 55-54 thriller. Antioch was led by current Alabama running back Najee Harris who ran around the Foothill defense throughout the game until the very end.
Trailing by one point in the final seconds, Antioch went for the win on a two-point conversion. Harris had run for 390 yards in the game, so very few, if any, expected the Falcons to make the stop.
But after a timeout, Sweeney's team, true to form, came up big, stopping Harris just short of the line, forcing a fumble that the Falcons recovered in the end zone.
One play summed up years of Foothill football. Always work hard and never quit. That night they didn't, nor did they throughout Sweeney's time running the program.
The Pleasanton Junior Football League is now taking registration for tackle, flag and cheerleading for the upcoming season.
Their coaches are passionate in teaching kids to be student athletes, as well as showing leadership on and off the field. PJFL has developed successful athletes who have continued to play in high school and college football. For more information, go to www.pjfl.com.