After five years at the helm of the Pioneer Valley football team, Dan Ellington is coaching across town.
Ellington's first year as Santa Maria football coach gets underway at 7 p.m. Aug. 28 when the Saints play their season opener at Cabrillo.
As for how it will feel as he sets foot on the visitor's sideline when Santa Maria plays at Pioneer Valley Sept. 25, "It's crossed my mind a few times," Ellington said.
"I'm sure I'll get over it by kickoff. I coached at Righetti for eight years, from 1988-95, before I moved out of town (and coached four years at Concord High School before moving back to the Santa Maria Valley), and I was coaching at Pioneer Valley when we played Righetti for the first time."
Ellington said he was a head freshman and junior varsity coach, and an assistant varsity coach, in the Righetti fooball program. He takes over a Santa Maria team that was 1-9 each of the last two years under Gabe Espinoza during Espinoza's two-year stint as coach but seemed to be heading in the right direction then.
Pioneer Valley made it to the post-season in 2014, the Panthers' lone playoff appearance under Ellington. Pioneer Valley went out in the first round. The Panthers just missed qualifying for the post-season in 2011.
Ellington began his second year as a special education teacher at Santa Maria when school resumed for the fall semester. His biggest concern for his first Santa Maria team is numbers.
"We have 38 guys on the varsity," Ellington said when he spoke recently. "I would like us to be in the mid 40's."
No more varsity players would mean "we have to be injury-free the entire year, and that's hard to do," said Ellington. "That's where we're at, unfortunately."
Luis Villa and James Wellington are particularly solid returnees Ellington has. Villa has been a productive offensive tackle and middle linebacker. Wellington, a big-play threat as well as a formidable blocker, was an All-Northern League tight end in 2014. He is also a standout at defensive end.
Santa Maria will have to do without graduated all-league fullback Juan Jiminez.
As for his new team's size up front, "As far as the teams in our league, we match up in size," Ellington said. "If we stay healthy, size-wise we'll be fine."
Santa Maria will again play in the revised Northern League, which debuted last year. Northern League member Nipomo won the CIF Southern Section Northwest Division championship in 2014. Nipomo, Morro Bay and Templeton shared the league championship last year.
Defending champion Nipomo and Morro Bay are 1-2 in the pre-season CIF Southern Section Northwest Division rankings. Graduation hit the Titans hard in the offensive skill positions. They lost all of their 2014 starters there.
Morro Bay has just three offensive starters and one defensive starter returning, although the incumbent at quarterback, senior Isaac Manuputy, is back. Templeton, which is rated ninth in the pre-season divisional rankings, has 10 defensive starters back.