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Coach emphasizes academics and character

SRHS head football coach Marlon Gardinera places heavy emphasis on academic achievement and character development as he seeks to reinvigorate the football program. (photo by Ralph LoVuolo)

Coach emphasizes academics and character

Marlon Gardinera is starting his second year as head coach for Scripps Ranch High School (SRHS) football, and he is shaking things up with what some might call an unconventional approach.

Not historically known as a powerhouse football team, SRHS has struggled in the past to attract and retain top football talent, often losing promising players to private schools. What SRHS and the surrounding community do have plenty of, however, are bright students with the capacity to excel in the classroom. Gardinera, or Coach Marlon – as he is known in Scripps Ranch – recognizes that this aptitude, combined with the real-world skills that can be learned through playing football, provides a recipe for achieving success on and off the field.

“Football is a unique activity that gives you so many life lessons,” Gardinera said. “I use football to teach young men the right way to do things: discipline, focus, effort. We’re relentless in pursuit of them learning those things; and it works out that if you learn those things, you’ll probably play football pretty well.”

Having played competitive team sports in high school and college, himself, followed by a successful professional career in corporate management for the last 23 years, plus eight years of coaching Scripps Ranch Little League and Pop Warner Football, Gardinera knows a thing or two about success both on and off the field.

“My job here is to take the excellence and academics that we all expect from Scripps Ranch High School and bring that out on to the football field,” Gardinera said. “The obligation and responsibility is to help these young men grow in to good men.”

Coach Marlon Gardinera (photo by Ralph LoVuolo)

According to SRHS freshman football coach Robert Hasson, “Marlon uses the term ‘student-athlete’ and stresses that the ‘student’ comes first. He has instituted study hall, tutoring and mentoring programs. He has raised the bar.”

Gardinera established a 2.5 minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement for students to play on his teams, which is one half point higher than the school district requirement of 2.0. On the whole, however, the team’s collective GPA far exceeds the minimum. In the 2017-2018 school year, according to Gardinera, the team’s average increased from 2.97 to 3.24.

Parents have expressed their support and enthusiasm for the changes Gardinera has implemented. Adria Shaw has two sons at SRHS; one who is an incoming freshman and another who will be entering his junior year as a varsity football player.

“They’re having more fun playing football,” Shaw said. “It’s also hard work, but I think they’re learning how to balance school and the demands of football much better than I’ve seen in the past.”

Kevin Merrigan – father of Riley Merrigan, who is entering his second year on the team – has lived in Scripps Ranch for 22 years and reflected on the SRHS football program, historically.

“Before Coach Marlon, I don’t think they had a football program. They had a team, but they didn’t have a program,” he said. “What makes a successful athletic team in high school is a program. [Coach Marlon] is making it so that they are doing things together, working out in the summertime, collaborating together, studying together. It’s a very well-organized ‘team’ feeling. He is 100 percent headed in the right direction on turning this program around for the kids.”

Referencing the study hall and “big brother” mentoring programs that Gardinera implemented, Diane Merrigan – Riley’s mother – observed that the student athletes “help each other and lift each other up,” she said. “I think that’s helped build the team [on the field], as well.”

While a focus on academics under Gardinera is evident, the physical preparation necessary to realize success on the field also remains a priority.

“Coach Marlon is trying to get these kids in to the weight room and conditioning before football starts, and to eat properly. They have regimens and classes where they talk about the importance of nutrition and sleep,” Kevin Merrigan said. “He’s teaching the value of both physical and emotional health.”

Hasson said that they are working diligently to change the culture, but recognizes that it is going to take time. It will also require a collective effort, according to Riley Merrigan.

“We’re trying to go in the right direction and get better every single time we step on the field,” he said. “I think we can achieve that if everyone puts in hard work and is dedicated to it.”

270 thoughts on “Coach emphasizes academics and character
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