The San Benito Haybalers have once again returned to the legacy
of the past. The tradition of Baler football that was fostered by
the late Andy Hardin is alive and well.
Hollister’s had a rich tradition of football lore,
said former Baler coach Mike Robustelli.
There are still guys from the early era that show up and root
the Balers on. That is what makes high school football in Hollister
so exciting. You have grandfathers and great grandfathers coming
out to root their grandsons on and tell them how it was when they
The San Benito Haybalers have once again returned to the legacy of the past. The tradition of Baler football that was fostered by the late Andy Hardin is alive and well.
“Hollister’s had a rich tradition of football lore,” said former Baler coach Mike Robustelli. “There are still guys from the early era that show up and root the Balers on. That is what makes high school football in Hollister so exciting. You have grandfathers and great grandfathers coming out to root their grandsons on and tell them how it was when they played.”
When the Hollister football team takes the field in the Central Coast Section Division II championship game Friday against Aptos, it will be the 27th time the team has appeared in the CCS playoffs. The Balers have won 19 of those games and have won four division titles.
The Balers made their first ever appearance in the Central Coast Section playoffs in 1984 under head coach Carey Laine. That was also the first year the Balers won the division championship.
There were 16 teams then that were chosen from Division 1 and four from both the Division 2 North and Division 2 South brackets. But that was it.
Just qualifying for the playoffs was a tough task. There are now four divisions, making it easier to get a spot in the playoffs. But the competition has improved dramatically as well.
In 1985, Hollister came back in the fourth quarter against North County to claim the back-to-back title.
And then in 1986, Hollister defeated Palma 7-3 for the third consecutive title after losing 17-0 in the regular season.
But it wasn’t until 1992 that the Balers were able to return to the playoffs again. The Balers have been either in the playoffs or pretty close to being in the playoffs since then.
“We took our lumps when we were placed in the MBL until another talent cycle came through,” said Bill Johnson, who was one of the assistant coaches during the championship run before taking over for Laine.
“The school has grown and the area has grown, but the football has remained the same,” Johnson said. “The talent comes in cycles. That just happened to be a time when we had some really good players and we had a coaching staff that had been together like this current coaching staff has.”
Football has become more competitive over the years, and more emphasis has been placed upon doing well.
“What is demanded now is much much more,” Johnson said. “Our weight training was nothing compared with what they have to go through. We didn’t have a summer program. We had a passing league program, but that was more fun than actual training.”
Coaches are not in it for the money. The old saying used to be that they were paid a quarter per hour, Johnson said .
“The thing that was the same as now is we really love being with the players as coaches,” said Johnson, who still teaches biology at the high school. “There is a bond that exists with players and coaches that teachers don’t get in the classroom.”
One of the earliest mentions of a Hollister football team playing a game was in 1920 when the team went 1-2-1. In 1942, no football games were played. But football returned to Hollister in 1943.
The current team is well known for its wing-T offense. But it has been used for less than 20 years, Johnson said.
“We put the wing-T in when we moved into the MBL because we didn’t have the size of players to match up with some of the other teams,” Johnson said. “Before that we went with I-backs and a split-end flanker. We did a lot of three-step drops. We threw the ball more than than we do now.”
Johnson remembers having to line the field with some of the other coaches during the Thanksgiving weekend because everyone else was off for the holidays.
During the 1989 earthquake, the Balers were in the middle of practice when the big quake struck.
“One of the assistant coaches from Nebraska turned stone white and his eyes were as big as saucers,” Johnson said.
When Johnson (a ’69 alum) played for the Balers, the team went from 3-7 to 9-1. There were no playoff games then.
“We had four or five guys go on to play at the high college level,” Johnson said. “I don’t think there has been a team like that since. In my opinion it is all attributable to the coach. We had a different coach and almost the same players my senior year.”
Larry Manfull was the coach for the team then. He later went on to coach at Fullerton State.
In 1960, Dolph Casarino took over the coaching position for the Hollister football team. At that time, there were no assistant coaches. And there was no training equipment.
“We didn’t have any equipment,” Casarino said while laughing. “You just went out and played. We had just the basic pads and helmets. You went out and did the best with what you had.”
The Balers did have jersies during that time. White jersies were for the road, and red were for home games. Games were still played on Friday nights.
During Casarino’s five years of coaching the varsity, the stands were moved from near the pool area to where they are now. And a freshman team was added to the existing varsity and JV teams.
“We had about 23 players on varsity and 22 on the JV before the freshman team,” Casarino said. “Gradually, we got more students out.”
Casarino and his staff ran what could be considered as a prehistoric wing-T formation.
“The guy would be either at the wing or would be sitting off between a guard and a tackle,” Casarino said. “We had a split back field, but it didn’t have a belly. It was all power stuff.”
Casarino worked as a defensive coordinator under Manfull. Bob Mattson, who the gym is named after, became the offensive coordinator during that time.
“The team this year is a physical team,” Casarino said. “Since I have been here, we were always a physical team. When we played King City, it was always a contest to see who could pound each other into the ground. And that is what we did against Los Gatos (last week).”
Robustelli, who is the assistant superintendent at the high school, coached for 10 years during the 70s.
“We had ups and downs,” Robustelli said. “We generally won about 70 percent of our games during the last five years.”
Robustelli had two teams that tied for the league championship. One year, the league voted not to participate, Robustelli said. That was during the time the playoffs weren’t popular yet. Many schools didn’t want to compete in them because it took away from the winter sports.
Hollister has had a knack for finishing as the runner up, then doing well in the playoffs,” Robustelli said.
“We always seem to be the bridesmaid instead of the bride,” Robustelli said.
Even during the streak of three division titles between 1984 and 1986, Hollister was the Mission Trail Athletic League runner up each year.
All three of the former coaches believe San Benito has a good chance to win this Friday.
“To win football games, you have to control the line of scrimmage both on offense and defense,” Casarino said. “Last week (against Los Gatos), the guys were really coming off the ball, and the backs were gaining at least two or three yards before being tackles. They broke many of them. This team is a good ball club that has everything. If we play like we did against Los Gatos, we will beat them.”
“Chris (Cameron) and his staff really do a good job getting the kids prepared,” Robustelli said. “If they play up to the caliber they played last week, they will win. If they play like they did against Milpitas, they will have their hands full. They got off to a rocky start, but they progressed all year long.”
“I think they will take it,” Johnson said. “They got the best coaching staff in CCS. And they do more with their players than anyone else. The only reservation I have is being overconfident. The football is not round – it bounces in funny ways.”