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Bill Nunes

Bill Nunes, the Vintage High School football team’s defensive coordinator at the time, talks to the 1992 Crushers during a game. The team went on to capture the Monticello Empire League title. Nunes passed away in 1994 from cancer. He was 37.  Submitted photo

Bill Nunes didn’t have to yell to get his point across. He wasn’t that way.

Nunes didn’t have to break a clipboard or throw a piece of chalk at the wall if practice wasn’t going the way he wanted. He wasn’t that way.

Nunes didn’t have to talk about himself or brag about his background as an All-Northern California high school linebacker who played in the Rose Bowl and Liberty Bowl for UCLA. He wasn’t that way.

If anything, Nunes was calm and composed and respected as a football coach — a leader who brought a presence to Vintage High School’s program, who connected with each and every one of the players, challenging the defense to play at the top of its game week after week.

The Crushers responded to Nunes, buying in to their coach’s instructions and philosophy, by winning the 1992 Monticello Empire League title. He was the team’s defensive coordinator that year, the man pushing all the right buttons to get all that he could out of his starters and backups. He asked his players to do their job and play hard.

“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.”

“He was held in great regard by everybody on the team. He went the extra mile for players, but also for students. He just had a tremendous ability to hold young men accountable for their actions in the same breath that he was able to inspire them.”

Nunes passed away in 1994 at the age of 37 from cancer. But Nunes, who also worked as the dean of students and was a resident of American Canyon, is not forgotten.

Nunes Crusher Classic Golf Tournament

The 18th annual Bill Nunes Crusher Classic Golf Tournament, sponsored by the Vintage High School Athletic Booster Club and set for Monday, April 23 at Napa Valley Country Club, pays tribute to the late coach, his legacy and memory. It’s a scramble format with four-person teams and is a fundraiser for Vintage High athletics.

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, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. “I think that was a big part of any success we had that year.”

Vintage was 7-3-1 that season under head coach Dave 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.

“When he was around, the kids all knew it — they would just focus on him,” said Shipp. “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.”

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Hall of Fame member

Nunes, who also played football at University of the Pacific, was in the first class when Hogan High School 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 posthumously into the Vallejo Sports Hall of Fame at the Foley Cultural Center. The dinner and ceremony, which celebrates Vallejo’s rich sports history, is sponsored by the Greater Vallejo Recreation District.

“He had that aura about him — and that was evident early on,” said Bob Herlocker, a former Napa High head football coach who is a member of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. “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.”

Herlocker was on Hogan’s staff in the mid ’70s when Nunes starred for the Spartans as a fullback-middle linebacker. He recalled a practice one day when Nunes, as a senior, knocked Spartans sophomore quarterback Armond Chiono to the ground during a hitting drill.

“This kid runs out to block Bill and Bill just stood him up and knocked him right back down on his tail,” said Herlocker. “(Nunes) extended his hand to him to help him up, ‘Welcome to the (North Bay League).’ Bill didn’t treat him too lightly because he wanted him to get the feeling of what it was to get hit by a varsity player.”

Nunes 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.

Erik Lawrence was a starting guard on Vintage’s offense and rotated in on the defensive line during the 1992 season for Vintage. Lawrence, honored on All-MEL and All-County teams, 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, a 1993 VHS graduate who is the associate general counsel for Sutter Home Winery of St. Helena. “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.”

Nunes’ deep knowledge of the game and his ability to make adjustments during games and move people around was impressive, said Lawrence, who played center at UC Davis.

He was successful as a coach — teaching, motivating, inspiring, guiding and educating young athletes in the game of football.

“He had a way of holding you accountable just by looking at you, not necessarily yelling at you,” said McConnell. “I really don’t remember him losing his composure much at all, at practice or in a game.”

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.”

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