John Montante was looking at making a change after spending the last four years as an assistant coach at the community college level.
He said his three years at Gavilan College-Gilroy and the one season he spent at Chabot College-Hayward last year was a “tremendous experience.”
The opening for a head coach at American Canyon High School, which won the Solano County Athletic Conference title and reached the second round of the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division III playoffs last year, got his attention.
“Honestly, I applied for American Canyon on a whim,” Montante said during Napa Valley Publishing’s annual media day at Napa Memorial Stadium last month. “But then went I went there and interviewed and met the admin team and saw that it was a shared vision, a shared importance, and a shared standard for excellence of what the football program could be for the school and the community. I knew that if they offered it to me, I had to take it.”
Montante got the job. The Napa Valley Unified School District’s Board of Trustees approved Montante’s hiring – which was announced by American Canyon Principal Crystal Lopez – at its meeting in late June.
“He has a commitment to the whole student athlete and the entirety of your athletic program, not just football,” said Lopez. “He supports students and their academics first. He’s very enthusiastic about having the opportunity to teach young people and to coach our young men.
“He has an interest in building a culture and community for our young men who are student athletes, and helping to build our entire athletic program. He is very interested in working with our current program and working with some of the things that we have in place already. It was something that brought comfort to some parents and coaches on the panel, to know that he’s not going to take the program or our offense in a completely different direction.”
Montante takes over for Larry Singer, the Wolves’ coach since 2015, who resigned in late May. Singer, who led American Canyon to SCAC championships each of the last three years, informed school officials that he needs to spend more time with his family.
Singer had been involved with the American Canyon football program since the school opened, serving as head coach of the freshman and junior varsity teams before taking the varsity helm.
The Wolves went 7-4 overall last year and 4-0 in the SCAC. They beat River Valley-Yuba City, 17-10, and lost to eventual section champion Manteca, 62-32, in the playoffs.
American Canyon was 11-2 during the 2016 season and tied for the SCAC title with Vanden and Benicia. The Wolves were 5-6 during the 2015 season and shared the SCAC title with Vanden and Benicia. Singer was named the Coach of the Year on the 2016 All-Napa County team after the Wolves reached the section semifinals. Singer is a full-time staff member at American Canyon and will continue in his position as the culinary arts teacher.
Montante joins American Canyon as a full-time staff member. He is credentialed to teach social studies and P.E.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to really continue hitting the ground running,” said Montante, who is assisted by Chris Rapacon (offensive coordinator), Xavier Rivers (defensive coordinator), Rick Carre (wings, linebackers) and Bailey Gardner (offensive line, defensive line).
“Every day at American Canyon is fun,” Montante said. “It’s fun every day, getting to know everybody more and more. It’s a great thing to watch these guys grow and learn how to become leaders of groups, but also leaders of themselves as individuals. Every day there is a different guy who is stepping up to the plate and is being the example for the other players and the young players to follow.”
New league, new section
It’s a big year for American Canyon. The Wolves, along with Napa and Vintage, are leaving the Sac-Joaquin, the second largest of California’s 10 athletic sections. They will be moving into a new league and a new geographical area starting with the 2018-19 school year – the Vine Valley Athletic League and the North Coast Section.
The NCS Board of Managers voted unanimously in October of 2017 to approve a proposal to group Napa, Vintage, American Canyon, Justin-Siena, Sonoma Valley, Petaluma and Casa Grande-Petaluma into a league together starting with the 2018-19 school year.
American Canyon will be leaving the Solano County Athletic Conference, where it has been an original member since 2011.
“Getting a chance to be in this new league with some great teams and some great coaches, against some great players, is a great opportunity for our kids to really strive to be great athletes and demonstrate what they’ve been working hard to do,” said Montante. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
Montante’s first year with Wolves
Montante, who will be moving with his family from San Jose to be closer to his new job, said it was a “great interview experience.” A committee consisting of teachers, coaches, Napa Valley Unified School District representatives and parents interviewed him. He was previously a teacher at Fusion Academy in Palo Alto.
Montante’s first day as coach with the Wolves was also memorable.
“I can say honestly that as soon as I walked on to that field and I met the kids for the first time, that I felt like I’ve been here for a long time,” he said. “This has felt like home since the beginning. It’s feeling more and more like home every day.”
Montante will have the Wolves in a run-oriented option attack on offense.
“I think the schemes that we’re doing fits the personnel that we have pretty well. We’re working on teaching the skills and mastering the techniques, to execute our scheme and tactics,” he said.
Derrick Conner, a returner who plays right guard/nose guard-defensive end, said Montante made an impact right away.
“His first day here he was excited. He came with a positive attitude,” said Conner. “I know he has a lot of experience. I like him. We’re buying in. He’s active with everybody, getting a relationship with everybody on the team. I’m excited for this season. I can’t wait.”
Montante was the head coach at Watsonville High, a CIF Central Coast Section school in Santa Cruz County, during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. His record in the two years there was 7-13.
He was the co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Gavilan, and the offensive line coach last year at Chabot.
“I have faith in my team and our coach has faith in us,” said Conner. “We’ve got everything together. We’re just going to have a good season this year.”
Montante was the head coach for one year at Marina High in Monterey County. He was the offensive coordinator for two years at Foster High in Tukwila, Washington and was an assistant at Monterey High.
He led Marina High in 2009 to a 5-1-2 record.
Montante is a graduate of Monterey High School. He graduated from Cal State Monterey Bay, earning a degree in kinesiology, while also getting his state teaching credential.
He got his master’s in education from the University of Missouri.
“He’s terrific. He knows a lot, a whole bunch,” said Kekoa Wilson, who plays middle linebacker. “I’m glad we got him – 100 percent.”
Montante is not just coaching players at their specific position. He is also teaching life lessons.
“We’re being very purposeful in what we want them to do every day. Football teaches you how to perform. You learn how to overcome adversity, because life is overcoming challenges,” he said.
Byrdsong returns for Wolves
Eddie Byrdsong, who was a finalist for Newcomer of the Year on the All-Napa County team last year, returns for American Canyon. He ran for 679 yards and scored eight touchdowns in eight games last year. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry.
He was named to the Vallejo Times-Herald’s All-Area 2017 team as an all-purpose player.
Byrdsong scored two touchdowns in the playoff loss to Manteca, on runs of 18 and 6 yards, respectively, and ran for two touchdowns in the playoff win over River Valley.
“I feel we will have a great season this year,” said Byrdsong. “I think it’s going to be a good one this year.”
Rivers to run defense
American Canyon will be in a base 3-4 on defense.
Xavier Rivers, who is in his first year as defensive coordinator, said it’s a young, smart, and very aggressive group he is working with.
“These guys are real hungry. They’re just real passionate. They love what they’re doing,” said Rivers, who coached on the JV staff last year. “It’s just exciting. These guys are picking everything up real fast.
“I’m able to throw a lot at them. Anytime you’re a defensive coordinator, you’re looking for guys to be aggressive. I don’t have to really preach to get after these guys about that.”
It’s Rivers’ third year on the coaching staff.
“I’m inheriting a good group of guys, with a lot of experience,” he said.