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Napa County Prep Football: Friends step up for St. Helena coach MacMillan, who lost house in Glass Fire
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Napa County Prep Football: Friends step up for St. Helena coach MacMillan, who lost house in Glass Fire

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With so many Napa County homes destroyed in the Glass Fire, there’s a good chance anyone who’s lived here a few years knows someone who’s lost one.

There’s also a good chance anyone who’s followed high school football for the last 22 years in the Napa Valley knows about Ian MacMillan.

The 1997 Justin-Siena graduate, currently a math teacher and football coach at St. Helena High, has been a major part of four of the county’s six high school football programs.

Sometime Sunday night, the house in Deer Park that he, his wife, Napa veterinarian Dr. Dana MacMillan, and their three young children moved into in 2017 was reduced to ashes.

“We found out Monday afternoon. It’s toast,” MacMillan said Thursday from the hotel room where the family is staying at Embassy Suites in Napa. “There’s nothing left. Nothing. We were able to get some clothes for a couple of days and stuff like that. We evacuated at 5 o’clock in the morning Sunday when the sheriffs evacuated our area of Deer Park. We were able to get our animals out — three dogs and three cats, which is obviously most important.”

“I collect animals,” chuckled Dana, who works at Silverado Veterinary Hospital in Napa.

They were in the process of remodeling the house, which they moved into on Oct. 8, 2017.

“The day before the fire,” Dana laughed, referring to a devastating blaze that year that also spread into Sonoma County.

Neither Ian, more of dry humorist, nor Dana sounded dejected about their situation during the 14-minute interview. When asked if they had gone through the grieving process already, Ian said “It comes and goes. Definitely not as bad as it was in the beginning.”

“You gotta move on,” Dana said.

Their son, Kai, will turn 8 on Oct. 11 — in a hotel,” Ian noted. Twin daughters Zoe and Ava are 5.

“You gotta move on and try to make something out of it. You can’t just dwell on it,” Ian said. “We’ve got three kids, you know? We want them to be happy, enjoy life and not see stress on us constantly. They know that they’ve lost all their toys and stuff like that. But we’ve had some people reach out.”

One was an assistant coach from Vintage, the only Napa Valley high school he hasn’t coached at other than Calistoga.

“Dennis Raines came by and gave the kids some money to buy some toys,” Ian said. “That was awfully nice of him.”

St. Helena varsity head coach Brandon Farrell, under whom MacMillan has been the JV head coach and a varsity assistant the last three seasons, “came down the first night with his three kids and brought us pizza and the kids some toys and stuff like that to keep their minds off of it,” MacMillan said.

Saints defensive coordinator Steve Vargus, who previously held that role at Justin-Siena, also contacted him.

MacMillan said he’s heard from a lot of sideline peers — including longtime former head coaches Troy Mott of Napa High and Rich Cotruvo of Justin-Siena, current Justin-Siena head coach and former Braves teammate Brandon LaRocco, and “out-of-the-blue guys like Brad Dal Bon, who used to coach at Nevada Union and has set up a GoFundMe page for coaches.”

He also heard from Joe Cattolico, who was the head coach at Roseville High last year after nine years at the Pleasant Grove helm and three with Sheldon, along with former Vanden head coach LeVon Haynes, and longtime Bethel head coach Jeff Turner.

“I talked with Varg this morning about how the coaching thing’s kinda like a fraternity,” MacMillan said. “It’s nice to hear from them. I was surprised to hear from LeVon and Jeff, just because after leaving American Canyon I hadn’t really had much contact with them because I hadn’t played them since then.”

MacMillan hasn’t lost much of anything as a coach.

He went 38-11-1 in five seasons as Justin-Siena’s JV head coach in 1998-1999 and 2001-2003. He went 21-11 from 2004 to 2006 as St. Helena High’s varsity head coach, guiding the Saints in 2006 to their first league crown since 1978. He was the defensive coordinator at Napa High from 2007, when the Indians won their first CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title, through 2009.

He was hired as American Canyon High’s first head coach, when it opened in the fall of 2010 and had only a JV football team, but guided the Wolves to a 6-4 record. As their varsity skipper the next three years, he was a combined 25-11 with two Solano County Athletic Conference titles and three playoff wins.

“He’s a fantastic young man, and what he’s done for our school and community is outstanding,” then-American Canyon principal Mark Brewer said after MacMillan stepped down after the 2014 season. “I think our whole community will be forever indebted to that.”

The MacMillans’ property is on Sunnyside Road, near Foothills Adventist Elementary School, and will remain theirs.

“The plan is to rebuild, so we’re just trying to figure out the process,” he said. “That’s the kind of steps we’re going through right now with our insurance, and friends in St. Helena, trying to find a place to rent and be able to stay for a while, while the house is being rebuilt, and working with an environmental company to come out and take out all that stuff before we can even start to rebuild, and trying to find a contractor.

“Obviously we don’t want to leave. We love it where we’re at and want to be able to stay in St. Helena. My kids love going to school there and I love teaching there. My colleagues have been great, the teachers and administrators have been great, the principal and superintendent have all been great, reaching out, letting me know if I need any help.”

Even those who have played for him have reached out, and not just by phone.

Former player steps up

Chris Seisay helped American Canyon’s 2012 team reach the Sac-Joaquin Section Division III semifinals and finish 11-2 before going on to play two seasons for the University of Oregon — in the national championship game — and his final two seasons at Portland State.

Seisay, who turned 25 last month, and MacMillan remained close over the years. When he heard his former coach lost his house, he immediately started a GoFundMe page at bit.ly/3d3BQzM with a goal of $15,000. As of noon Friday, it had raised $3,025.

After graduating from Portland State in 2018 with a degree in social science, Seisay agreed to terms on a three-year contract as an undrafted rookie free agent with the Green Bay Packers after the 2018 Draft. But he could not land a spot after having surgery on his left knee.

In April 2019, Seisay and former Wolves teammate Jomon Dotson were invited to the Oakland Raiders’ local Pro Day — for prospects who either grew up or attended college within a 50-mile radius — to get exposure for that year’s draft, but were not selected.

Since then, the 2013 American Canyon graduate has been living in American Canyon and hoping to get picked up an NFL team as a free agent or get a job in the technology industry. He said he also helped coach in a few practices this year at Vintage High, where he played freshman football in 2009-10 before his hometown high school opened.

Seisay said this is his first attempt at a GoFundMe page, and he had to ask him sister for help with it. Once he posted it, he said, St. Helena High junior running back Ivan Robledo told him to make it public so Robledo could share it with fellow students. Now, even students are contributing to it.

“This was something I felt like I needed to do because he’s done so much for me. It was the right thing to do,” Seisay said Thursday. “My family, we come from West Africa, so my parents had no idea about the recruiting process and how college athletics work, so having someone like Coach Mac who has a lot of connections at that level, it just helps when you’re going through it.”

Told that MacMillan always answered reporters’ phone calls and gave them all the time they needed, even during the thick of championship runs, Seisay wasn’t surprised.

“Um hmm, and it’s full-on support,” he said, and agreed MacMillan is the last person who deserves to have his life upended. “I mean, the Glass Fire, it’s a tragedy. No one expects ever in their life for their house to be burned down, so I’m sure it caught him and his family by extreme surprise. When something like that happens, people around you have to lift you up. I know he has a lot of people behind him, all the people he’s helped in his life.”

Though he’s been training at California Strength in San Ramon in hopes of playing professional football, and this kind of attention doesn’t hurt, Seisay wanted to make sure this story wasn’t about him.

“I want to be behind the scenes,” he said. “I want it to be for Coach Mac, for people to know how great a person he is, and that he deserves contributions from people — to help him and his family get back on their feet.”

When Seisay texted a heads-up to MacMillan after posting the GoFundMe page, was it ever appreciated.

“It brought me and my wife to tears, Chris trying to help us out in time of need,” MacMillan said.

“The nice thing is that once you’ve been in this coaching game long enough, your former players eventually become friends, and he’s definitely one of them. He’s grown into a great young man, an adult, and I’m super proud of him and all of his accomplishments. He and I have a pretty special relationship.”

Sadly, MacMillan doesn’t have a lot of mementos left from past coaching stops.

“None of my football stuff made it. Only thing that I have, as I was telling Troy (Mott), is my section title ring because it was in my classroom at the time. But all the team photos, all the football stuff, memorabilia that I’d collected over the years from coaching, didn’t make it.”

The MacMillans first evacuated to Harvest Inn in St. Helena, where MacMillan said “they do a great job helping evacuees,” before getting a good rate at Embassy Suites when the power went out Upvalley.

Dana said her cousin’s wife’s parents lost their house in the Tubbs Fire three years ago in Santa Rosa, so this isn’t entirely new for the family. But she had to break the news to their Deer Park neighbors that their houses didn’t make it, either.

MacMillan said he plans to keep coaching at St. Helena “whenever football starts back up,” but isn’t sure if it will be as the JV head coach or as a varsity assistant only. The season is scheduled to start Jan. 8.

“Brandon is still trying to organize staff, so nothing’s set in stone in terms of that, but I’m definitely going to be part of his program — 100%,” he said.

Watch Now: Firefighters race to save homes from wildfire.

A new video released by the Alameda County Fire Department details the intense moments firefighters have spent battling the Glass Fire burning in Napa County.

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