Bill Nunes played and coached football like few others.
He was a success story as a linebacker, as an assistant coach and as a head coach.
He was named All-Northern California for Hogan High School in Vallejo. He played in the Rose Bowl and Liberty Bowl for UCLA on a full-ride scholarship. He then transferred to Solano Community College and later the University of the Pacific, playing football for both schools.
He absolutely loved the game.
“He had that aura about him — and that was evident early on,” said Bob Herlocker, a former Napa High head coach who was on Hogan’s staff in the mid ’70s when Nunes starred for the Spartans as a fullback and middle linebacker. “He was genuine to everybody. He treated everybody the same. He was one of those special guys that everybody that knew him will never forget him.”
Nunes did some of his best work at Vintage High, as an assistant coach and administrator.
He was Vintage’s defensive coordinator – pushing all the right buttons to get all that he could out of his starters and backups, asking his players to do their job and play hard – in 1992, the year the Crushers won the Monticello Empire League title and moved on to the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs.
“He was the type of person you gravitated to because you knew he had great character,” said Luke McConnell, the Crushers’ free safety and a team captain, who was named All-MEL and All-Napa County. “When he came to our team, we needed to be challenged and he brought that to us. He challenged us to work harder. You just wanted to play hard for him.”
The Crushers responded to Nunes, buying in to their coach’s instructions and philosophy. He was calm and composed and respected as a coach — a leader who brought a presence to Vintage’s program, who connected with the players, challenging the defense to play at the top of its game week after week.
“When he was around, the kids all knew it — they would just focus on him,” said Dave Shipp, a former Vintage head coach and athletic director. “He wasn’t loud. He talked softly, but the kids would always focus when he spoke. He could always get them fired up and he always knew the right things to say to those kids. They idolized him. He was brilliant with X’s and O’s. He understood defense. He knew how to make the right adjustments.”
Nunes, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 37 from cancer, will be honored for his work as a coach and the dean of students when he is inducted into the Vintage High Athletic Hall of Fame. A banquet and awards ceremony honoring the newest class – which also has Scott McCarron, Scott Wright, Steve Buccellato, Saanen Kerson, Deanna Becker, Bret Hyatt and Doug Silcox — will be on Sept. 12 at Embassy Suites in Napa starting at 6 p.m.
The third annual class, which was elected by a selection committee, will be introduced on the field at halftime of Vintage’s Hall of Fame Game on Sept. 11 against Davis at Napa Memorial Stadium.
Individuals may be nominated in one of the three following categories: athlete, coach and special/other.
To be eligible for induction as a coach, an individual must have:
* Coached at least one interscholastic team at Vintage High.
* Been employed by or contributed services to Vintage High for at least five years and no longer be a coach at VHS.
* Lived an adult life that did not discredit the school or the community.
A football legacy
Nunes was in the first class when Hogan honored its academic and athletic history by inducting an inaugural class of 12 into its Hall of Fame during a banquet and awards program in 2006.
In 2010, Nunes was inducted into the Vallejo Sports Hall of Fame at the Foley Cultural Center.
He worked as an administrator in the Napa Valley Unified School District. He was an assistant coach at Napa High and Hogan, and was Armijo High’s head football coach for a short time.
The annual Bill Nunes Memorial Crusher Classic Golf Tournament, sponsored by the Vintage Athletic Booster Club, pays tribute to the late coach, his legacy and memory. The tournament is now in its 21st year.
“He was a hard-hitter, an intense football player,” said Les Franco, a former Vintage head coach. “In high school I remember him running over people right and left. He was like a Jerome Bettis running downfield. The things he did were really outstanding. He was a very intense coach when he was on the field.”
“He was a stud. He was an absolute stud, no two ways about it,” added Jon Conner, a former Crushers’ offensive line coach. “Bill was a legitimate tough guy, and he backed it up. He also had a way of getting the best out of people.”
Said Dave Shipp, a former Vintage head coach who had Nunes on his staff for three years: “I’ve never seen anybody that can teach the game of football like he could. It was just incredible the way he handled kids.
“He really understood the game of football. He knew X’s and O’s and how to communicate to the kids. They understood what he was talking about. We didn’t make mental mistakes on defense.”
Crushers on a mission
Vintage was on a mission during the 1992 season, as its mantra was to work harder than any school in the MEL. They were in the weight room constantly, lifting weights before practice. They were digesting all that Nunes had to say, both in the meeting room and the practice field. They went into each game well prepared, focused and confident.
“It was a big deal for us because we knew no one is going to be more disciplined and no one is going to outwork us,” said McConnell. “I think that was a big part of any success we had that year.”
Vintage was 7-3-1 that season under Shipp, who turned the defense over to Nunes. There is so much that Shipp can recall from that season — the sayings and analogies that Nunes would apply to his coaching. He was the ultimate teacher on the field, said Shipp.
Shipp also remembers Nunes taking several players from American Canyon home each day after practice. Nunes was a resident of American Canyon.
Erik Lawrence, a starting guard on Vintage’s offense who rotated in on the defensive line during the 1992 season for Vintage, said Nunes was instrumental in establishing the culture of the team.
“At times, he was intense and demanding, whether it be in the weight room or when we were practicing,” said Lawrence. “Other times, he was very human in terms of getting to know each player on a personal level and finding out personally what motivated you. It was one of the large factors in us going from a really poor team to a fairly good team in just one year’s time.”
One of the messages that Nunes conveyed to the Crushers was that it was a special thing to represent your school. But it was only special if you worked for it and you earned it and did things the right way, said McConnell.
“We knew he was special and we knew we were very lucky to have him as a coach and a leadership figure in our lives, no doubt about it,” said McConnell. “I remember him looking me in the eye and asking me when I’m going to make a play in a very calm manner. That’s the thing I took away from that — you didn’t need to be yelled at. You needed to be challenged and you needed to be held accountable.”
Bill’s wife, Karen Nunes, and her son, Brett, are very proud to see Bill go in the Hall of Fame.
“Brett and I would like to thank everyone who has such high regards for Bill to advocate for him to be inducted into Vintage High School’s Hall of Fame,” said Karen Nunes. “Bill was a wonderful teacher, coach, administrator, father and husband.
“He would truly be honored and we are happy that he is being remembered for the pride he had for Vintage High School.”
Bill Nunes graduated from Hogan in 1975 and later UOP. He got his state teaching credential from the University of La Verne.
For more information on the Hall of Fame, visit www.vintageboosters.com.