A couple of weeks ago as we celebrated Father's Day, many ex-Badger football players looked to someone as a father-figure and mentor -- former Badger head football coach Aaron Eames.
The recent resignation of head varsity football/basketball coach Eames certainly creates a void at Yosemite High School. After all, Eames and staff turned Yosemite football into one of the top programs in the Valley. But more importantly, the program positively shaped the lives of hundreds of young men and brought the mountain community closer on Friday nights.
"Our program was not defined by wins or losses," said Coach Eames. "Knowing that the players came out better prepared for life and creating a positive experience was most important to me and my staff. We wanted our kids to be better prepared for the future, which is never easy. I wanted the players exiting from Yosemite football to be able to better handle life's adversities. I think we accomplished that."
Yosemite high has been blessed with some amazing coaches in its young existence. Make no mistake, from a long-term standpoint, the most successful sports programs belong to Ellen Peterson's Cross County programs and girl's volleyball.
Like it or not, football is king. No other program gathers thousands in the mountain community on a freezing November evening. Simply put, Aaron Eames and staff guided the highest profile program and brought it to its greatest heights.
Eames took over the varsity football program 15 years ago. Most of the mountain residents are familiar with the program's successes: Over 100 wins, two CIF D-III titles, nine league titles and many former players moving on to play at the collegiate level.
Eames was always willing to take on challenges in any sport. He won his first CIF title, not in football, but as the varsity girls coach in basketball in 1996/1997. This year, with assistant coach Steve Lopez, Eames guided the varsity boy's basketball program to the Central Section CIF playoffs.
But the first love for Eames has always been football. It is a family inheritance. Eames, who grew up in Santa Maria, is the son of a football coach, Barney Eames. Barney coached at Santa Maria High and later took the reigns of Alan Hancock Junior College.
It is the same JC coached at one time by John Madden (Oakland Raiders) and Ernie Zampezi, long-time Los Angeles Rams assistant coach and one of the great offensive minds in the history of the NFL.
"As a kid, I learned a lot from my dad," said Eames. The oldest of four boys, Eames was groomed early on to be a quarterback. "I was always around the game. I first started learning the game with my dad at coffee shops where he would draw up plays on napkins. Later, I would diagram plays and scenarios. I went to practices, coaching meetings, and studied a lot of film."
When Aaron was a seventh grader his father took a leave of duty from Hancock to devote time to coach Aaron and his brothers. It was an epiphany for Aaron.
"My dad taught me to be the leader, which the quarterback must be," said Eames. "Having the knowledge and experience from years of watching, I was ready."
It translated into success in high school where Eames became a three-year starter at Santa Maria High. During his senior year in 1983, Eames led his team to the No. 1 ranking in the Southern Section, the best in the state. Santa Maria lost to Steve Beuerlein's Servite High team in the championship sectional game. Beuerlein went on to star at Notre Dame and the NFL for 15 years.
Eames ended up at NAIA power Azuza Pacific in southern California. Eames earned the starting QB job, but didn't get to throw much. Eames had in his backfield one of the most amazing players in NFL history, Christian Okoye, nicknamed the "Nigerian Nightmare."
"I was hoping to throw like I did in high school, but when you have Christian in the backfield; you hand off the ball and get out of the way,' Eames said.
Okoye went on to star for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992, earning two Pro Bowl appearances.
"Christian was amazing,' Eames said. "He came to Azuza to run track and learned to play football. It really was a crazy success story."
Okoye was 6-foot, 1-inch, 253 pounds and ran a 4.48 40 yard dash.
After college, Eames went on to coach at Bassett High in La Puente. He coached football, baseball, and JV basketball. He then moved to Hoover High in Glendale, coaching JV football for two years and serving four years as varsity offense and defense coordinator.
Eames came to YHS in 1996. Eames's girl's basketball team took CIF in his second year. He credits Valinda Clevenger, an original YHS staff member for getting him to Oakhurst.
"Bob Labelle was principal and Steve Raupp was AD at the time. I cannot thank those who took a chance on me. A lot of people with more experience applied. They believed in me. I will be forever grateful. Moving to Oakhurst changed my life."
No successful football program exists without great assistants. Make no mistake, Eames knows his success is based on the foundation of great assistants. That is the case at YHS.
"I cannot give enough credit to my assistants," said Eames. "Coach (Erik) Peterson, coach (Kent) Lincoln and coach (Richard) Joseph have been with me for a long time. My staff has been great and we are very close friends. There would not be the success at this program without this great staff."
In March, Kent Lincoln, a 15-year assistant, was selected to take over for Eames. It was a solid hire and gives the program great continuity. Many elements that Eames put in place to make the Badgers champions will remain in place.
Lincoln takes over a program in transition, however. Last year, only 25 players came out and only 18 were still suiting up at the end of the season. With some students transferring to Minarets High, a shrinking student population and still playing in D-III, Lincoln faces no easy task. Lincoln, a YHS graduate and lifetime area resident will try to bring the community closer and bring in many ex-Badger players as position coaches many who were coached by Eames.
So what is next for Aaron Eames?
"I will coach again, but I needed personal time to re-charge my batteries. Coaching is very difficult and time consuming. This change will allow more time with my family. I look forward to new challenges one day, but I will remain at YHS for the foreseeable future."
Along with continuing his current teaching duties, Eames is helping put together "The Badger Academy" that will provide guidance for incoming freshman at YHS.
"I plan on staying busy, especially with my family," said Eames, who has four children, Jensen, 16, Tristan, 13, Cannon, 12 and Holden, 10. "I am looking forward to football season this year because I get to relax and enjoy the game from a different perspective."