Back in January of the 2017-2018 school year, former head football coach Danny Sullivan announced his resignation and became Archbishop Mitty High School’s head coach.
“[Sullivan] kind of left unexpectedly, and our whole team didn’t really know what was going to happen,” senior Aiden Chang said. “Then our new head coach came in and put things together.”
Despite the shift in coaches, the team has a 5-0 record with new head coach Nelson Gifford who mainly attributes to the players.
“It really comes down to the hard work that the guys put in, starting the spring and through the summer. They really did a great job of buying into what the coaches were selling by accepting the values that we’ve tried to instill in them. Their play has reflected that process.”
Since Gifford has come to Paly, the changes in strategy have been fairly small.
“I think the offensive style and the defensive style has changed a little bit, but from a foundational stand point it’s about blocking, tackling, passing and catching the ball,” Gifford said. “These kids came in with a strong football background, and they’ve continued to develop that. It hasn’t been so much new as it has been reinforcing the fundamentals.”
Although there has not been a major shift in team philosophy, Gifford has brought a shift in attitude and energy.
“One thing that coach Gifford does that’s good for us is that if we don’t understand something, instead of yelling at us he says, ‘okay we don’t understand that, let’s take it out of the play book, and work on something new,’” senior wide receiver Walker Rosenthal said. “That’s a big change from last year.”
Under Gifford, the team’s results have been more successful. In a recent game against Milpitas High School, the team won 41-13. Last time the team faced Milpitas it lost 49-0. Leading up to the Milpitas game, in regards to potentially winning league, Gifford was not worried about predicting the team’s future but focusing on goals per game.
“I think that to win [league] you really have to focus on the steps that will get you to a point where you can win,” Gifford said. “League is six games away and right now we need to beat defending state champions, Milpitas. To do anything you have to take care of Milpitas. That’s our primary focus.”
Aside from the positive results this season, Gifford has also has gained respect from players through his experience and accolades.
“Coach Gifford has a lot of coaching experience. He has a lot of experience with that and he’s really good at handling team adversity and struggle so he’s seen it all. He doesn’t expect us to play like a pro player does. He understands that we’re high school kids and that we’re learning so he makes it simple…He makes sure that we know what we’re doing and he’s methodical and he works well with kids.”
This understanding comes from his experience as well as his time at Paly as a student and player as well.
Gifford said, “The experience as a player was that of any other high school student. You know you’re trying to craft an identity, both academically and athletically you’re trying to plan for the future. Coming back as a teacher and coach that identity has been established. I’m well into my career and I see things with a different perspective. Although I identify with the students that are still here because I was in their shoes.”