Yuba City's native son returns
Ithurburn ends alma mater's playoff drought in 4th season
A 7-year-old John Ithurburn sat in the bleachers at Woodland Community Stadium to witness his first high school football playoff game in 1977.
He remembers sitting in awe, watching Yuba City High quarterback Jim Stassi, running back Larry Abinante and the blocking up front by Bob Noreen.
He admired his big brothers, who all played in the program, including Mike Ithurburn, the former Wheatland head coach, who is now his defensive coordinator at Yuba City.
"When people were being Joe Namath and Earl Campbell I was picking guys from Yuba City High School," John Ithurburn said. "That's who I was emulating. I've been watching football (at Honker Stadium) since I was a little boy."
Though he idolized those Honker greats, Ithurburn wasn't so bad himself. He was an All-Metro linebacker for the greatest team in school history and played collegiately at UC Davis.
In his senior season in 1987, Ithurburn and the Honkers made it to the section championship game, but lost 17-16 to Tracy.
More than two decades later as a head coach, Ithurburn led the Honkers back to the postseason in 2010, capturing the school's first playoff victory since his senior year — a historical achievement for a long-dormant program. All this makes Ithurburn an easy choice as the Appeal-Democrat's 2010 Coach of the Year.
Since taking over in 2007, Ithurburn's teams have made the playoffs three out of four years.
Ithurburn was an assistant in the Honker program in the mid-90s before taking over at East Nicolaus, where he was the head coach for six seasons.
When the opportunity presented itself in 2007 to take over Yuba City's football program, there wasn't much hesitation on Ithurburn's part.
"I always knew this is what I wanted to do," Ithurburn said. "I love this community. I think when I first got here there was a feeling of tension. We just tried to come in here with a positive attitude and give ourselves to (the players)."
The biggest changes on the field came from Ithurburn's veer offense — synonymous with Honker football in the '70s, but a far cry from the spread out passing attack of his immediate predecessors.
He admitted it took awhile for players and fans to trust him after an 0-3 start in the first year. The fact that Ithurburn's system was foreign to his new program resulted in growing pains.
"It was difficult to get the kids to buy in," Ithurburn said. "It wasn't that they didn't believe in what we were doing, they just weren't comfortable with it yet."
Four years later, the Honkers averaged 280 yards rushing and 32 points per game.
On-field accolades are just the icing on the cake for Ithurburn though. His ultimate goal for the program isn't section, conference, or state titles, he wants his players to improve as men.
As he paces the sidelines during games, Ithurburn's countenance never fluctuates.
There are never highs or lows, screaming at the players in postgame huddles or blaming others for losses. In fact, he said every defeat is his responsibility.
After the Honkers' heartbreaking defeat at Inderkum in October, Ithurburn said, "If losing a football game is the worse thing that is happening in your life, then you're living one hell of a life."
In the end, he says, it's just kids playing a game. Football isn't about wins and losses — it's a vessel for improving character and preparing students for life.
"We are trying to mentor young men, be fundamentally sound in what we do and hopefully win some games by doing what we are supposed to do," Ithurburn said. "I just try to keep things in perspective. I've got kids at home and when I hear the stories that came out of this year like (River Valley freshman Cody Meyers) who got sick and had kidney problems, losing a football game is not that important."