Jon Conner, a 1976 graduate, and his presenter at the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame’s dinner and enshrinement ceremony this coming fall, Les Franco, have a bond and a connection in football that goes back years and years.
Conner played center on the offensive line during his days at Vintage. His position coach was Franco.
Conner was an assistant coach at Napa High in the 1980s. His boss was Franco, Napa’s head coach.
Conner was an assistant coach at Vintage starting in 2000. The program was led by Franco, the head coach.
“I’m very, very grateful that Les is going to be the one that presents me,” Conner said Sunday from his home in Carlsbad, New Mexico. “I think the world of that man. Les and Marsha (Franco’s wife) are dear friends. We’re still in contact regularly. I just think the world of the Franco family.”
It was Les Franco, an assistant at the time when Vintage was only a few years old, who worked with Conner on run and pass blocking and understanding schemes and assignments. It was Franco who stressed the importance of proper technique.
“He was absolutely the biggest influence in my life football-wise,” said Conner. “There was no better coach ever in teaching toughness. You really had to be tough for Les, or you didn’t play for Les Franco. He’s the best football coach I’ve ever been around in my life.”
Vintage will honor Conner and seven others selected for this year’s Hall of Fame, now in its sixth year. The eight-member class was chosen by a selection committee.
The newest class also includes:
Justin Dragoo (1990 graduate), football, basketball, track and field.
Steve McConnell (1973 graduate), football, basketball, golf.
Paul Schreiner (1978 graduate), football, track and field.
Judy Shaffer (1976 graduate), volleyball, basketball.
Mary Sherwood-MacDonald (1978 graduate), volleyball, swimming.
Lonnie Spann, Jr. (1975 graduate), football, track and field.
Pete Zopfi (1975 graduate), soccer, track and field.
The selection committee reviews the submitted nominations and makes its recommendations to the board of directors. The board approves the recommendation.
The mission of the Vintage High Athletic Hall of Fame Foundation is to recognize and honor the outstanding achievements of individual athletes, coaches and/or special individuals who have contributed to the development, success, tradition and integrity of VHS athletics.
Individuals may be nominated in one of the three following categories: athlete, coach, or special/other.
Highly honored at Vintage
Conner played with Mike Hunter and Craig Landis, who are also in the Hall Fame. Hunter was inducted last year and Landis was inducted in 2013.
Conner was a two-year starter at center and a team co-captain his senior year, 1975. He was an All-City and All-Napa County player in 1975. He was first-team All-North Bay League and first-team All-Redwood Empire at center.
“I’m very grateful,” said. “It is quite an honor. To be mentioned even in the same breath as the Mike Hunters and the Craig Landises of the world is a tremendous honor.”
Conner was chosen as the center on the VHS Team of the Decade, announced in 1982.
“From the time he got there at Vintage, he really helped set the tone for the whole turnaround of the Vintage High football program,” Franco said. “It wasn’t just all the great skill people. Jon Conner was the center of the line and he’s the one that really got the offense going.
“We did a lot of very confusing blocking schemes at Vintage High. It was really an advantage being able to put all these schemes in and have individuals like Jon that could handle it. But before we did the schemes, they had to show us that they could technically handle the offensive line. We were very, very adamant about our linemen being able to step correctly, maintaining a blocking position.
“Jon was a master at carrying out his assignments. And just technically, the way he blocked his assignments was a thing of beauty.”
Conner said he enjoyed his days at Vintage, playing for Franco and head coach Burl Autry. The Crushers ran the triple option.
“Les knew what he was doing,” he said. “I learned how to read defensive fronts and how to make line-call adjustments.
“High school was such a great time in my life. It was really super. It was a great place to go to school, a great place to play.
“Burl was a legend. He was a special guy. We were Burl’s boys. Every kid that ever played for him knew that he was one of Burl’s boys. Burl loved that program and he loved his kids.”
Vintage’s success in football was not immediate. After back-to-back Big Game losses to Napa in 1972 and 1973, the Crushers got on track.
“All of those stars aligned at that one point there, and Jon, being the center of the offensive line, was really an essential figure in the whole turnaround,” said Franco. “It was a great time.”
Conner as an assistant coach
Conner coached as an assistant at Justin-Siena and spent over 20 years, coaching football in Napa, including nine seasons at Vintage.
“Les really taught me how to be an offensive line coach,” said Conner.
He was on Franco’s staff at both Napa and Vintage, and was also on Jim Costan’s staff at Vintage.
“The offensive linemen loved Jon as a coach, because he took them and he made them good, technical players, because of the patience and technique that Jon was able to pass down to them,” said Franco.
“I really enjoyed the fact that he came back and coached with me all those years was just really fulfilling for me, too, as a coach, having one of your players come back and assist you was really quite enjoyable and really made my job a lot easier.
“He’s one of my favorite players and assistant coaches of all time.”
Continuing career in college
Conner was a two-year starter at Napa Valley College (1976-77) and a two-year starter at San Francisco State (1978-79). He was a team captain his senior season at SF State. At the time he left SFSU, he held the highest-single game blocking percentage in school history.
Conner was named second-team All-Far West Conference.
“I’m proud to have been an offensive lineman,” he said.
Conner retired in 2011 from Napa State Hospital as a police officer.
Conner and his wife, Shari Conner, have two daughters, Courtney Conner and Miranda Prescott; a son, Joshua Prescott; and two grandchildren, Maddie McCrindle and Jaydon Vaughan.