FNR Report: Tulare Western vs. Tulare Union
There will be a ton of rivalry games played Friday night, the final night of the high school football regular season in the Central Valley. Easily the biggest of those will be on TV - undefeated Tulare Western against undefeated Tulare Union in the Bell Game.
FOX26 Sports reporter Nick King introduces us to both head coaches in this week's edition of the Friday Night Rivals Report.
The year before Ryan Rocha became the head coach at Tulare Western, the Mustangs went 0-10. Rocha was at that time in his fifth year coaching defense at El Diamante, but knew he could help his alma mater. Rocha played linebacker at Western in the early 2000's.
"I mean, I feel like I'm a kid. I'm walking around on the same campus I grew up on. Everything's familiar. I love that. Let's build the school that we went to into something that it never has been before. And like, let's make a powerhouse," said Rocha.
Now in year five under Rocha, the Mustangs' turnaround has been dramatic. And the coach, who was raised by a single mom and found male role models at school, doesn't think he'll ever leave Tulare Western.
"If I've been put in this position, and been blessed by others, I want to go bless others." said Rocha. "You want to mold them and shape them to be good citizens, but also to have that ability too at times to play dad and help them out. Like, that's been really the gift that God has given me to say, 'you know what, this is what you're going to do.'"
At Tulare Union, Darren Bennett's been the head coach since 1995. Bennett grew up outside of Visalia, but went to junior high and high school in Santa Rosa.
"Football was just, all my buddies played, so I played," said Bennett. "In high school, I liked basketball better. I scored 1200 points in high school - that was before the three-point line, too."
Bennett went on to play quarterback at Northern Arizona University, starting as a redshirt freshman, before surgery on his arm shortened his career. But thanks in alrge part to his high school coach, Bennett knew what he would do.
He got the head job at CVC shortly after graduating college - spent four years there - and is now in year 23 with The Tribe.
"You have a chance to impact so many kids in a positive way," said Bennett. "Athletics is a secondary. Just get a degree, get a job, be a positive role model, a positive citizen. It makes it like not work, it makes it like you're coming and doing something you love doing."