Viliame “Billy” Vuniwai hopes to lead the Sobrato High football team back to the Blossom Valley League West Valley Division championship. The Bulldogs, who won the division title two years ago and finished second last season, have Vuniwai as their new coach after Tony Holmes departed after the completion of the 2018 season. Vuniwai, who also goes by Coach V, was an assistant under Holmes a year ago.
“The good thing is this coaching staff has been intact, so we continue to push the weight room and getting them reps,” he said. “We’ve been pretty busy with 7 on 7s (passing tournaments), going to Los Banos to Mitty for some good tournaments. And we have a couple more coming up (before the summer session is over).”
One of those includes a 7 on 7 tournament that Sobrato is hosting on July 19 at 5 p.m. As of last week, the school had six teams confirmed to play, with a strong possibility of eight total teams when it’s all said and done. In the 7 on 7s, teams take turns scrimmaging each other with no blocking or contact allowed. Players do not wear pads in 7 on 7s, which emphasize speed of play and the skill positions.
“It’ll be a high-flying rotation with a lot of kids getting reps,” said Vuniwai, who played at Menlo-Atherton High and San Jose State. “There will be a lot of balls flying in the air, and it seems like everyone is into the passing game now.”
Vuniwai added the team has been doing well in its strength-training program, installing offensive and defensive schemes along with game plans for both the varsity and junior varsity teams.
“We’ve got a good group,” Vuniwai said. “We have a lot of experienced, returning guys who are ready to go.”
Some of the key returning players include running back/safety Jesse Redmond, quarterback J.T. Sheets, receiver/safety Jonah Turagavou, middle linebacker Orion Woods, cornerback Jackson Gonzales and cornerback Raymond Valles. Sheets blossomed as the team’s starting quarterback last year, and Redmond was a tour de force almost every time he touched the ball.
Agile enough to get to the perimeter and strong enough to run between the tackles, Redmond put up three 100-yard plus rushing games a year ago and is expected to be even better in the upcoming season. Turagavou also has plenty of playmaking ability, with his 6-foot-4 frame providing the team with a big target in the passing game. Woods provides playmaking ability on the defensive side of the ball, and possesses tremendous leadership qualities.
Gonzales and Valles had breakout years as defensive backs in 2018, and the Bulldogs are hoping they can lockdown the opposing team’s best offensive players once again. As any high school football coach will attest, coaching is just half the job that comes with the position. For a relatively small school like Sobrato, the team must be proficient with its fundraising to provide all of the necessary costs of fielding a team.
“We’ve been working really hard financially because we were struggling,” Vuniwai said. “But the boys have really done well in raising funds, and we do have a gofundme page that has really been a blessing for us because it’s been able to generate money to help pay for our helmets, bus transportation and the basic expenses. Tony did a great job trying to keep the program afloat and keeping it moving forward. He definitely had challenges for support from the community and from the administration. But for the most part so far, it’s been really good what the community has done to support the team with the gofundme page. Hopefully, we’ll get some turnout for our 7 on 7 as well.”
Vuniwai looks to bring a tremendous amount of passion and coaching acumen from a life spent coaching a variety of sports, mostly in Hawaii where he spent several years of his life before moving back to the Bay Area three years ago. When Sobrato hosts the 7 on 7 tournament, Vuniwai said it’ll have a pep rally and Luau in the hopes of raising some money for the program and sparking interest in the program.