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ALL-AREA BOYS SOCCER: River Valley's Franco named Coach of the Year
Third-year coach led Falcons to section title
2012-13 – Abel Franco, River Valley
2011-12 – Sean Nelson, Yuba City
2010-11 – Abel Franco, River Valley
2009-10 – Mike Owen, Live Oak
2008-09 – Jesse Barajas, Gridley
2007-08 – Mike Owen, Live Oak
2006-07 – Travis McWhirt, Lindhurst
2005-06 – Jesse Barajas, Gridley
2004-05 – Jesse Barajas, Gridley
2003-04 – Dan Kiely, Colusa
2002-03 – Brent Silva, Live Oak
2001-02 – Len Marks, Marysville
2000-01 – Steve Tennis, Faith Christian
1999-00 – Paul Shank, Sutter
Abel Franco has come a long way since first learning the game of soccer as a youth in Mexico.
There were no synthetic fields, grandstands or scoreboards, just a group of kids kicking a ball around on a make-shift field.
It may not have been much, but it was all they ever needed.
"I grew up in a village in Mexico with no power and I've loved the sport ever since I could walk," Franco said. "The goalposts were rocks because that's all we had. If we got fancy, we used bamboo plants."
Much has changed for Franco since then, and today, he's become a mentor to many Mid-Valley youths where he's used soccer as a tool to teach his players valuable life lessons.
When he took over as River Valley High's coach three years ago, he vowed to change the culture of the program. No longer would wins over cross-town rival Yuba City and Tri-County Conference powerhouse Natomas be celebrated like championships. Instead, he wanted his team to aspire to loftier goals:
• Qualify for the postseason.
• Win the TCC title.
• Win the Sac-Joaquin Section title.
The Falcons accomplished the first two goals during the regular season, and as the No. 6 seed in the Division III playoffs, went on to make history by winning four straight games, capped off by a 2-0 victory over Central Valley of Ceres in the title match in Stockton.
The win secured the first section title in any sport for River Valley and earned Franco his second Appeal-Democrat All-Area Coach of the Year honor in three years.
"Every time we accomplished something, they thought it was it. I had to remind them we didn't accomplish anything yet," Franco said. "We went to Stockton, conquered and left and when it was over, I said 'promise fulfilled.'"
A fifth-grade teacher at Park Avenue Elementary School in Yuba City, Franco vowed to bring the program a championship within three years and he did just that by demanding the most out of his players. He gave them a boost of confidence from the very start, and their trust in him showed up each time they took the pitch.
"Coming into my second year, it was totally different from my first," said senior midfielder Castulo Carvajal, who played four years of varsity soccer for the Falcons, the last three under Franco. "He said give me three years, and when he sets his mind to something, he gets it done. He's a really good coach."
That sentiment was shared by other players as well.
"I like the fact that he gave us speeches before each game because it pumped us up," said co-captain Melad Rahim, a four-year varsity player like Carvajal. "He was serious, and you need a serious coach if you want to accomplish something.
"He fulfilled his promise of us being section champs, and it's a really good feeling."
Of course, there is more to Franco than just winning on the field.
He actually set aside five goals for his players entering the season. The first three have been checked off the list and the final two are to graduate in June and to move on to college.
"I've been involved in soccer for a long time and I've always enjoyed working with young kids," Franco said. "I've always believed that students rise to the level of their leaders' and their coaches' expectations. Hopefully they've seen what it takes to be a good citizen."