FRESNO, Calif. – There is quite a collection of football knowledge roaming the sidelines at Roosevelt High School in Fresno these days.
“I went home and told my mom, ‘hey mom, I’m getting coached by an NFL coach,” said senior offensive guard Alfonso Perez. “They’re like ‘for reals.'”
The Rough Riders program has several coaches with college and NFL credentials.
The program is led by Roosevelt fourth-year head coach Vince Branstetter, a former tight end at Fresno State in the late 90’s, who left a position as Fresno City’s offensive coordinator to take the head job at Roosevelt in 2018.
“I’ve always told the kids from the day I got hired, I was gonna put the best coaches around,” says Branstetter.
He is living up to that promise.
His offensive line coach is former Bulldog teammate Joe Schey, who also worked with Branstetter on the same coaching staff at Fresno City. Schey earned All-WAC honors as a senior offensive tackle at Fresno State in 2002, and then had a brief NFL career with the New England Patriots.
“We run pretty much a college program over here,” said Schey, in reference to Roosevelt’s practices. “We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Also on staff at the Fresno Unified school is Dwayne Wright, a former Bulldog star running back, who went on to play in both the NFL and CFL. Wright is still sixth on Fresno State’s career rushing yardage list, and is coaching the running backs at Roosevelt.
“I mean, it’s just such a blessing,” says Wright, who also coached at Fresno City before coming to Roosevelt. “I’ve never been part of a coaching staff with so many different experiences at a high level.”
Throw in an offensive coordinator who literally, won at the highest level – Bullard alum Anthony McCoy – a former tight end at USC who later won a Super Bowl with the Seattle Seahawks, and it is easy to see why the Rough Riders coaches have the full attention of their players.
“We don’t have any kids walking around here saying, ‘that coach doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ maybe behind their backs,” says a smiling Branstetter.
“When I hear about them (the coaches backgrounds),” says Perez. “It opens my ears a little bit more.”
This influx of big-time coaching energy and knowledge is starting to transform the way the program – and their players – view themselves.
“Before they came, it used to be, just everyone would slack off, would skip class, not go to school, not go to practice,” says senior wide receiver Andrew Lopez. “And now, ever since coach Branstetter came, everyone’s grades have gone up, everyone’s at practice all the time.”
That new accountability helped the Riders win a share of their first league title in 55 years in 2018, and helped them go 3-1 last spring, in the COVID-shortened season.
“For whatever reason, the past 50 years haven’t been great for football (at Roosevelt), but we’ve definitely changed that,” says Branstetter.
And maybe even more importantly, these coaches might be changing the lives of their players as well.
“Once those kids know you’re on their side and you’re with them,” says Schey. “They’ll do anything for you.”
“It’s very important for them to have leaders show up every day,” says Wright.
“The first time I got here, I used to not show up to school,” summed up Perez. “But now (with the new coaches), I’m trying to do my best, because I’m trying to graduate now.”