Players who simply forged ahead after changing positions. A tight-knit coaching staff that put together a system the players brought into.

Most of all, a talented and hard-working group of athletes that made things work.

All of this helped add up to a banner Righetti football season under first-year head coach Tony Payne that culminated with a first-ever sectional championship appearance for a Righetti football team.

Then-unbeaten Tulare Union, the top seed, beat the Warriors 45-30 in the CIF Central Section Division 2 championship game at Tulare Union last month.

Payne is the Lee Central Coast Newspapers All-Area Football Team Coach of the Year. Payne was the unanimous pick among the Times sports staff.

He said the team's drive toward a deep playoff run really started in January. "That's when our guys really made a commitment in the weight room," Payne said.

"Justin Bronson, one of our wrestling coaches, is our strength and conditioning coach, and we are very fortunate to have him. He did an outstanding job with these guys."

Payne's team had a big season in the program's first year in the CIF Central Section. Righetti, as did most of the area sports programs, moved from the Southern Section earlier this year.

"We (coaches) have enjoyed having some of the most talented athletes in Righetti school history work their butts off and show what they can do," Payne said.

"In order to succeed and win championships, you have to have talented athletes."

Though Righetti had a big season, the Warriors did not quite win any championships. Division I St. Joseph, the Warriors' Foster Road rival, edged Righetti 27-21 in the inaugural Mountain League championship game.

Righetti finally got Isaiah Gayfield, who had been out since the fifth game of the season with an injury, back after that one. Gayfield was the third back in a prolific three-back rushing attack, and he had solid games in Righetti's 33-16 win over Bakersfield Frontier in the quarterfinals and 21-0 victory over Bakersfield Stockdale in the semis.

Both games were at home. Third seed Righetti drew a first-round bye.

"We had a three-headed monster of a running attack," said Payne. "That's the great thing about the Pistol Winged-T. There can be an injury and another guy steps up.

"With our offense we controlled the clock and dominated the opponent, which is the physical football I like to play," said Payne.

Payne had high praise for his assistants, assistant head coach Shawn Ramirez, quarterbacks coach Nathan Castillo, offensive coordinator and running backs coach Jeff Persson and offensive line coach Chis Spence.

"Shawn has coached football on the Central Coast for some 20 years. He's a good friend of mine and I often look to him for advice," said Payne. 

Payne oversaw the defense. He said he was the Warriors' offensive line and defensive line coach in 2017.

The 2018 Warriors went farther than any other Righetti football squad in school history despite not having the best luck when it came to injuries.

Besides missing Gayfield for five games, Righetti had to re-shuffle its offensive line.

As a tight end-defensive end, then-Righetti junior Caleb Thomas was the 2017 PAC 5 MVP.

He was the 2018 Mountain League co-MVP (and the LCCN All-Area Football Team MVP) despite playing all season with a soft cast on his arm.

"After Caleb broke his thumb, he couldn't play tight end any more," said Payne. "He selflessly moved over to guard.

"Robert Lamb was our center. He tore his MCL in our third game. Christian Mondol was an All-League guard last year. He selflessly moved to center."

Besides, Payne said, "Andrew Martinez was a real leader for us."

Martinez was an All-Mountain League First Team guard. Mondol made the Second Team. Henry Aguilar and Isa Villegas were the tackles for an offensive line that helped the Warriors pound the ball for an average of 251 rushing yards a game.

Kidasi Nepa was a dynamic second back in Righetti's offense. The sophomore ran for 787 yards and eight touchdowns.

"Kidasi is a great leader, very athletic and we're very excited about what the future holds for him," said Payne.  

Righetti moved senior starting quarterback Brandon Giddings to the slot and put junior Logan Mortensen at quarterback early in the season, and the move gave the Warriors a much deeper downfield passing dimension.

Mortensen was out after three games with a collarbone injury. Giddings, an All-League defensive back, moved back to quarterback.

"We had Logan for three games and when we did, it let us open up our offense more," said Payne.

"Brandon went back to quarterback. He's a great kid. A gamer. I've known Brandon since he was in the fifth grade."

Payne said. "This year was special. In order to succeed, you have to have the athletes, and we had the athletes." 

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