A.J. Pateras proudly wears his gray Army shirt while conducting football practices at Cabrillo High once in awhile.
The Army veteran is also joined by fellow staff members who served in the United States military or are enlisted now. And those men will be on the field as CHS holds its annual 'Salute to Service' game this Friday against Templeton at Huyck Stadium, where active and retired military personnel can attend the game for free.
“The Army definitely shaped me into who I am,” Pateras said during Wednesday’s practice. The coach added that he was never deployed but did do a tour of duty (T.D.Y) in Korea.
Pateras joined the Army after a brief playing career at Ventura College. After serving his commitment, he immediately dove into coaching and joined the Ventura High staff, where he worked his way up to defensive coordinator. He adds that he’s not the only one with a military background on the current staff.
“Our full staff – Ari Uzo-Okereke, Marvin Burley, Eric Pacheco, Jeff Mattis (junior varsity assistant), myself and Tim McIntyre (J.V. assistant) – are all veterans or active,” Pateras said.
Pacheco, who graduated from Lompoc High in 1988 and played at Hancock College, went on to dental school through the U.S. Navy. He spent three years as a Navy dentist where he got a chance to fix teeth while on submarines and naval carriers. The military runs deep for Pacheco, who still works in the dentistry field today.
“It’s huge,” said Pacheco, who once did a tour of duty near Guam. “My oldest son is an ROTC student who is on a full scholarship at USC. We grew up in this area. The military is a huge thing. It’s a big responsibility to take on but I’m proud to be a part of that. It’s made me who I am.”
His son is Nico Pacheco, a former CHS football player who played wide receiver and defensive back before moving on to USC’s Reserve Officers Training Corps.
Uzo-Okereke experienced the 'Salute to Service' event as a spectator, since he was with the junior varsity program and mainly watched from the stands. But this time, Uzo-Okereke – who played college football and graduated from the Air Force Academy – will likely hear the appreciation from the crowd as the event plans to honor current and former servicemen before the game.
“I think it’s a great thing. Vandenberg Air Force Base has a very big influence on this community. It’s awesome how the community is all about supporting that base and the base is obviously very willing to support the community right back. It’s wonderful to see that symbiotic relationship,” Uzo-Okereke said.
After anchoring the offensive line for the Falcons’ vaunted triple-option attack in the Mountain West Conference, Uzo-Okereke went on to endure training as a range control officer at Vandenberg Air Force Base. He says he has since completed his training and will now work full-time on base.
The offensive line coach is aiming to bring an Air Force Academy-type presence on the CHS practice field, especially as the Conquistadores (0-3) search for victory No. 1.
“Hopefully I can teach these kids a few things that I learned when I was getting coached. Hopefully we can bring that grit and tenacity that I learned at AFA over to Cabrillo,” Uzo-Okereke said. “Everyone is working hard, they’re in good spirits and they’re ready to go 1-0 this week.”
Salute to Service
All active and retired military personnel can attend the Cabrillo-Templeton game for free with a current ID card or by showing up in uniform. Police officers and fire fighters are also free to attend the game with an ID or in uniform. Kickoff is 7 p.m. inside Huyck Stadium at Lompoc High.