It’s almost as though everything and everyone that represented Elk Grove Thundering Herd football the past 25 years has pulled up stakes and gone north to Sheldon High School this fall.
First, there’s second-year head coach Chris Nixon, who by no means is a rookie when it comes to coaching. In his nine seasons as head coach at Elk Grove (2008-2016), Nixon's squads were 84-28. Six of those years his teams won at least ten games.
And the gray-haired guy blaring at the offensive lineman this season at Sheldon is none other than long-time Herd and Valley H.S. head coach Dave Hoskins. He, alongside Ed Lombardi, in the 1990s established Elk Grove as a football powerhouse. And, Nixon says Lombardi is regularly in touch via text messages from his new home in Oregon these days.
Nixon was their offensive coordinator on the Section Championship teams in 1997, 1998 and 2001. One of their prized students was Ryan Dinwiddie, now the head coach of Toronto in the Canadian Football League.
Then on the Huskies’ sideline is Pat Brown, a long-time Junior Thundering Herd coach who in more recent years has helped Nixon with running backs and linebackers at the varsity level at both schools. The defensive line coach is Steve Blum, himself a college defensive lineman who has been a Nixon assistant for many years beginning at Elk Grove.
The guy coaching receivers and doing most of the play calling is Ryan Robards, perhaps Nixon’s top pupil at Elk Grove. Robards had a few injuries end a promising baseball and football collegiate career, first at Pacific and later at American River and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Those of us distinctly remember the Oct. 6, 2015 game at Grant where Robards scored all 42 of the Herd’s points in a 42-7 romp over the Pacers. What was remarkable was how it did it – one touchdown on an interception return, one on a fumble recovery, one on a punt return, and three offensively carrying the ball. Oh, yes, he also kicked all the extra points.
Now, he’s the young coach all the Sheldon players seem to be attracted to.
After the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – Nixon’s first as head coach at Sheldon - this is really the first time the Huskies have been able to show what they are all about. Early returns are quite impressive – a 4-1 record and two early wins in the Delta League, including last Friday’s 14-10 come-from-behind victory over Cosumnes Oaks.
Friday, Nixon and his coaching staff will see a very familiar team on the other sideline in Elk Grove. They were all dismissed from that school unceremoniously in 2017 after a disagreement arose on the construction of a team room at Thunder Stadium and the whole situation around it rocked the Herd football world. That all led to Nixon being suspended from coaching anywhere in the Elk Grove Unified School District for a year. But, he says that is now ancient history.
“Definitely, it is in my past,” Nixon said.
Nixon was initially invited by former Huskies coach Joe Cattolico to come help out. He also transferred his oldest son Sean to Sheldon after his freshman year at Elk Grove. When Cattolico resigned to take a coaching job at Roseville, Dave Filan took his place and Nixon became offensive coordinator in 2019 and got to coach Sean, who became the Huskies’ quarterback. Now, Nixon’s top receiver is his son, Scott, and Sean is at Sacramento City College this fall.
So, Friday’s game with the Herd may mean more to Nixon and his staff more so than his players.
“We have such a young group that with the exception of Jesiah (Machado) and Scott (Nixon, the coach’s son) that we just focus on each game, week to week,” Nixon claimed. His quarterback his last two seasons at Elk Grove was Machado’s older brother, Jayden.
Elk Grove won its Delta League opener last Friday with an impressive 42-14 show at Davis. The Herd sits at 2-2 on the season.
This season Nixon has only seven seniors so he knows his future is bright at Sheldon.
“They are all just learning the game and trying to figure it out,” he added. “(the win over Cosumnes Oaks) was a good deal for them. It was their coming out where you didn’t know which direction they would go and they stepped up and played hard.”
After tonight’s game, the road gets tougher with games against a much-improved Pleasant Grove and, perhaps the most talented team in the Delta, Jesuit.
“This is as loaded a team as Jesuit has had in years,” Nixon said. “They are what you have to pass through to win league.”
Other Prep Football Games Friday:
Bradshaw Chr. vs. El Dorado
Cosumnes Oaks vs. Pleasant Grove
Elk Grove vs. Sheldon
Jesuit vs. Franklin
Monterey Trail vs. McClatchy
Saturday, Oct. 2
Valley vs. Florin