I have said throughout the years that I love to see when former athletes come back to their school or hometown and give back.
This can happen any number of ways. Those lucky enough to make a career out of their sport can certainly do so financially, running a camp or donating items for an auction or a fundraiser.
Then there are those come back home and put the time in as a coach. The East Bay Athletic League has been blessed many times to have former players come back and give back as a coach.
There are too many to mention who have paid tribute to their community by taking on a coaching role.
Some current ones come to mind quickly, like Amador Valley football coach Danny Jones (a former QB for the Dons), Livermore basketball coach James Petersdorf (former Cowboy athlete), California basketball coach Steve Ohlmeyer (former Grizzlies point guard), Foothill assistant football coach Keith Millard (former Foothill, and NFL player for the Vikings), and his son Johnny (former Foothill player, coach, and current Monte Vista football coach).
There is another who came back from the other side of United States to coach at his alma mater – Brandon Black, the Dublin football head coach.
Black is a 1995 Dublin grad, who was a 5-foot-8, 160-pound running back and cornerback. He was looking to continue his playing career at North Dakota, but then made a trip to the University of North Carolina to see a friend that was playing soccer for the school.
“I fell in love with the campus,” said Black.
Off to the east for school Black went. After he graduated, he came back and started coaching at Freedom High in Brentwood.
At that point he knew coaching was what he wanted to do and decided to head back east where he landed at Panther Creek High in Cary, North Carolina. He saw up close how football is like a religion in the southeast.
“Football is like life back there,” said Black. “My last four years there we had 13 Division I players. We had busses for the offense and busses for the defense when we went to the games.”
Black wanted the challenge of coaching in the league he played, so in 2015 he headed back to California – and the East Bay Athletic League.
“This is exactly where I want to be,” said Black of the EBAL. “I want to coach against teams in my backyard. I wanted to be in those rivalries again.”
In 2015 and 2016, he was the defensive coordinator at Dublin, then took 2017 off. In 2018, he got the head coach’s job at Dougherty Valley.
That season he took a program that had been 2-18 the previous two years to a 5-6 mark, including wins over Foothill and Dublin, and they secured a spot in the North Coast Section playoffs.
The Wildcats lost 24-21 in the first round to San Leandro, but the program had appeared to turn the corner.
Then the head coach spot at Dublin opened. Black applied, and got the job, bringing him full circle.
“This is always what I wanted,” said Black of being at Dublin. “I was so excited when the opportunity presented itself. I’ve gotten to coach with one of my best friends.”
Now starting his fourth year guiding the Gaels, Black has coached the team to a 14-12 overall mark, with the only losing season coming in the COVID-produced spring season where Dublin was 2-3.
Last season the Gaels went 6-5 overall and advanced to the D-II NCS playoffs, falling 38-28 to eventual champions Campolindo in the first round.
Now to this season where the Gaels enter the season with some good numbers across the board for the football program.
“We’ve got 45 players on the varsity and 35 on the JV team, which is a little down,” said Black. “But we have 51 on the freshman team. We spent a lot of time this summer working with the freshmen.”
Dublin is once again in the Valley division of the EBAL, and as usual it’s a battle when league rolls around.
“We try to schedule a tough non-league so we can get the kids ready for the EBAL,” said Black. “It is always a four-quarter slugfest in league.”
Which means to play for Black, it takes a commitment.
“We take the weight room seriously,” explained Black. “It is non-negotiable – you have got to be in the weight room. We make everything a competition. We want to put our kids through pressure so they are ready to roll when league starts. We lose some kids because they don’t want to commit to what we ask.”
The Gaels open the season traveling to Heritage this week for a Friday, 7 p.m. game.