Franco leads River Valley out from shadows, named top coach
Dressed to the nines as usual, Abel Franco huddled his team together following the biggest win in school history.
The first-year coach, clad in his trademark shirts, slacks, and tie ensemble had the daunting task of telling his River Valley High boys soccer team that "they hadn't won anything yet."
The Falcons had just beat Yuba City for the first time in program history, a 2-0 shutout, highlighted by his sophomore goalkeeper Triston Montoya's 17-save performance.
As exciting as the victory was, it's not Franco's style to get too up or down.
"They thought they had won the championship," Franco said. "The hardest part was telling them, 'Guys, this is nothing yet.'"
Pardon the players, but wins have been hard to come by. In its first four seasons, River Valley won five league games overall and never had a winning record.
Changing that culture was just one of the challenges Franco faced in his first season as the head coach of R.V.'s soccer program.
From not even having a full team, to a nonexistent preseason schedule, Franco had his fair share of obstacles to overcome in his first year.
He eventually led the Falcons to a 5-3-2 mark in the Tri-County Conference, the program's first home-playoff game, and has been selected as the Appeal-Democrat's boys soccer Coach of the Year.
Not a bad way to start his tenure, considering his last varsity head coaching position was in the late 1970s at Hamilton High when he was a player at Chico State.
Franco has been involved in the local soccer scene since 1985 though, splitting his efforts between the Yuba-Sutter Youth Soccer League, Azzurri competitive program, Colusa High, Yuba City High, and now River Valley.
None of those experiences could have prepared him for last August when he was hired by Athletic Director Will Dawson. After Franco learned he had been hired for the position he asked Dawson what he had to work with.
"There was nothing," Franco said. "The first thing I had to do was field a team. Second, get uniforms and equipment. It was exciting; I love a challenge."
The Falcons had one preseason game against Lindhurst to prepare for TCC play. R.V. ended up finishing their first cycle of league undefeated, beating Yuba City and tying eventual section-champion Natomas.
To get to know his players, Franco held individual meetings once a week to check on grades and speak with players about their role on the team. As much as he loves soccer, his commitment to academics overrule every time.
Not too unexpected, considering he's a 5th-grade teacher at Park Avenue Elementary.
"The players will rise to the expectations of the coach," Franco said. "My job was to make everybody believe we will succeed. They came together as a team."
Now with an offseason filled with weekly meetings, conditioning sessions, and competitive league games scheduled, Franco has his program fine-tuned to his preferences.
Just like their coaches' chosen attire, the Falcons are taking a business-like approach to things now. They're saving that over-the-top celebration for a TCC title.
"The deck was stacked against them," Dawson said. "They were understanding and recognized the situation they were in. It was amazing."