Victory at last: San Juan races past Western Sierra to win battle between winless teams

Nathan Uebelhoer/Special to The Bee

The San Juan Spartans finally broke the deadlock. Their losing streak is over.

The Spartans defeated Western Sierra Academy of Rocklin 34-14 on Friday night under the lights in their venerable old stadium. It was a long time coming for a Spartans club that has been down on roster numbers and down on their luck, but victory cures a lot of ills. The team came in a badly beaten 0-4, but that’s history now, the coaches and players said.

The Spartans have been tirelessly recruiting athletes on campus and trying to build this program. They had to forfeit their last game due to roster issues. In 2021, and for many years prior, the Spartans couldn’t finish the season because of so few players. Last season, San Juan finished a 2-8 season with just 16 players.

These days, second-year coach David Castillo has 36 players. He said his recruiting started at class registration and continued with players finding friends and classmates to join up.

“We just picked out anyone who was willing to play,” Castillo said. “If I saw a guy who looked like a football player, we’d sign him up. That’s how we can slowly build this group and advance the program.”

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Castillo said the school faces significant headwinds due to the San Juan Unified School District operating an open-enrollment system. He said this has led to players who live right down the street from the Citrus Heights campus to transfer to district schools with a more historically sound track record of football success. He aims to turn that tide and keep students on campus.

Game day at McArthur Field, one of the oldest fields in the region, does not yield large attendance numbers. The school is promoting the program, selling T-shirts at the entrance, handing out game programs and holding events like Staff Appreciation Night, as they did on Friday. San Juan was established in 1913 and its football facility seems to have been built not long after. The grass field with dimly painted lines and a dirt track surrounding it give it an old time feel.

The school doesn’t have a junior varsity team to feed players to the varsity ranks, but Castillo said that’s something that needs to happen soon.

“We need to put new systems in place,” Castillo said. “Without having that feeder system it’s hard to grow this program into being a respectable program. I think we just have to take it day-by-day, year by year, if we are going to become a school where players want to stay and get better.”

The Spartans on Friday were led by junior quarterback Aiden Broadna, who rushed for three touchdowns. He’s played football all his life, but this is his first year switching from running back to quarterback.

“It’s definitely been a tough transition,” Broadnax said of the move. “I didn’t really know how to throw or what to do in the pocket. But I feel like this whole team is kind of learning a lot of things together, so that has really helped me to stay calm and take the time to learn and improve.”

Broadnax got his first touchdown on a 91-yard rush to tie the game 6-6. He followed with scoring runs of 11 and 2 yards. The other two touchdowns were rushes by sophomore King Johnson — from 15 yards and 49 yards.

Castillo was certainly excited with the win but said his team’s main purpose goes beyond the scoreboard. His coaching staff includes defensive coach Armando Garcia and Mike Gibson, who had a stroke right before the season kicked off. Gibson watched Friday’s game from the stands.

“I’m glad for the guys because it’s hard,” Castillo said. “It’s hard because a lot of athletes don’t come here. But we have to be positive even in defeat. Really, it’s about the impact I can make on these players and be a positive role model. A lot of guys don’t want to play on this team, but I tell my players: ‘You are already winners for just stepping a toe on the field. You are already successful.’”

Western Sierra scored on two touchdown passes from Regan Cook to Daniel Vovc. Second-year coach Otis Washington outlined similar struggles as Castillo. The Wolves have 26 players on their roster and only 20 suited up Friday. The team is 0-5.

“Losing is disappointing,” Washington said. “But what I love about this team is that we just keep fighting. We’re a small, close unit. One thing I take pride in this team is that we don’t give up, pick ourselves up when we’re down, and just fight until the end.”