A philosopher once said home is where the heart is, and no one knows that better than Jubenal Rodriguez. The 30-year-old was a part of Sobrato High’s first graduating class in 2007, and started his coaching career as a defensive coordinator under Nick Borello in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Last week, he was hired to become the Bulldogs’ new coach, succeeding Viliame Vuniwai.
“I’m finally, truly home, and I plan on staying in the Morgan Hill Unified School District for a very long time,” said Rodriguez, who is a special education teacher at Sobrato. “It’s the perfect situation.”
Translation: Rodriguez is no stranger to turning around and elevating programs. Rodriguez spent the last two years at Monte Vista Christian in Watsonville, leading the Mustangs to a 12-9 record, including a tri-Pacific Coast League Mission Division championship last season. Before that, he spent three years at Gilroy High, guiding the Mustangs to their greatest season in program history in 2017. That year, Gilroy finished a perfect 13-0, winning their first-ever Central Coast Section championship.
Now Rodriguez comes home to Sobrato, which has had varying degrees of success but was relegated to the Blossom Valley League’s West Valley division in 2017 and 2018 before getting promoted to the Santa Teresa Division in 2019.
Rodriguez has lofty goals for the program: make the Bulldogs competitive again to push the revival of the El Toro Bowl with crosstown rival Live Oak, build an alumni network which would give the program a tradition-rich feel like other successful teams, and get promoted to the BVAL’s A Division and win the school’s first-ever CCS title.
“I understand and have taken over struggling programs in the past and truly feel I have a recipe and successful formula,” Rodriguez said. “Now it’s time for the exciting part and getting to work. I’m no stranger to hard work and putting in processes in the off-season. I feel those are some of my strengths.”
Rodriguez will have plenty of time to put the pieces together for the upcoming season. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, games have been pushed back until January 2021. Sobrato Athletic Director Lawrence Crawford said desire, commitment and energy are some of the things that distinguish Rodriguez, traits that should serve the new Sobrato coach well in all aspects of his job.
“Coach Rodriguez is a high-energy guy and he will use that energy to help bring about a massive cultural change within the Sobrato football community,” Crawford said. “When it comes to commitment, I am impressed by coach Rodriguez’s long-term goals for our football team and student-athletes.”
When Rodriguez was Sobrato’s defensive coordinator in 2011 and 2012, the Bulldogs had their two most successful seasons in program history. In 2011, they went undefeated in the Santa Teresa Division and earned a promotion to the Mount Hamilton the following year, finishing a solid 5-2 in the BVAL’s top division. After a year at Ace Empower Academy, Rodriguez returned to coach at Sobrato in 2014 under coach Albert King.
The team went 6-4 overall and 5-2 in the Santa Teresa. That was the last time Sobrato had a winning record in the league’s B division. Last year, the Bulldogs finished second to last in the Santa Teresa, something that Rodriguez plans on turning around very soon. Rodriguez truly believes the experience he gained as the coach for Gilroy and MVC the last five years has prepared him to lead his alma mater to newfound heights.
“I was there during Sobrato’s peak, and I’m glad I’m back because I feel like the quality experience of my previous jobs has truly prepared me for my dream job,” he said.
For Rodriguez, returning to Sobrato brings back many fond memories. His wife, Jessica, was also in Sobrato’s inaugural graduating class, and he’s known Crawford since he was 15.
“I went to school with coach Crawford’s son,” Rodriguez said. “As soon as I stepped onto campus to talk with coach Crawford, I knew it was meant to be. It finally feels right. I don’t plan on going anywhere.”