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OPINION: Sutter High football comes from humble beginnings
Huskies' tradition began long ago
SUTTER HIGH VS. MARIN CATHOLIC
KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m. at Harrison Stadium in Oroville.
ADMISSION: $12 for adults, $8 for children, students and seniors.
LIVESTREAM: Visit www.playonsports.com for a live audio stream of the game.
Northern California was like another planet to Dave Warmee when he moved here in 1979.
A Southern California transplant from Santa Paula High (just outside of Ventura), Warmee took over the football program of an obscure high school in rural Sutter County.
At his first practice with Sutter High that year, Warmee couldn't figure out why all these little bugs were flying around — it was the first time he had ever seen mosquitos.
Instead of palm trees and the scenic California coastline, Warmee was getting used to orchards and looking up at the Sutter Buttes every day.
"My friends from SoCal thought it was like going to Hicksville, USA," Warmee said. "I think they were surprised when they found out how good we were."
The lights at Wayne Gadberry Field weren't as bright back then and the number of players were modest, but that's when the groundwork was placed for Husky football.
Right when he arrived on campus, Warmee knew there was something special about the community and the school.
In the team's first game of the '79 season, Warmee recalled seeing an actual husky dog roaming the sidelines as the team's mascot. That husky dog ate his daughter's hot dog, the only negative experience his family had during his five-year tenure.
"It was as close as you could get to a private school in a public school environment," Warmee said. "Even then, there was a great sense of community and fan support."
That tradition is still in place 33 years later.
Sutter High football came from humble beginnings and now faces the biggest challenge in program history with tonight's inaugural CIF Northern California Regional Championship game against Marin Catholic at Oroville's Harrison Stadium.
Warmee, the A-D's first ever All-Area Coach of the Year in 1981, led the Huskies to the Northern Section AA championship game that season where the Huskies lost to Winters, which at the time had a reputation like the present-day Sutter team.
Aside from a tough loss, Warmee remembers the contingent of faithful fans following the Husky bus to that championship game and their undying loyalty — he still sees that in 2012.
"That's a first class program," Warmee said. "It's a college program at the high school level. When you talk about elite, Sutter spells it with a capital 'E.'"
They rose to that level through the dedication of coaches like Wayne Gadberry, the former superintendent/principal and football field's namesake. It continued its rise under the late Tom Crowhurst, who led the Huskies to back-to-back section titles in 1974-75, and Warmee.
Program patriarch Scott Turner turned this program into the powerhouse with a reputation across the north state. Yet it wasn't always Butte View League and Northern Section championships for Sutter.
Turner reflected on the highlight of his young coaching career when he took over the varsity program in 1988. He was the Huskies' basketball coach, a team that went 1-23. The highlight — beating Maxwell by one point in double overtime for their lone win.
The football team didn't fare much better in his first few years. Turner's first JV team in 1987 only had 13 players on the team.
"We were everybody's homecoming," Turner said. "Mentally it was a killer. I was reading motivational books from Zig Ziglar and Lou Holtz. I was humbled my first few years there."
Turner grew up in Happy Camp and later graduated from Humboldt State. His first job out of Humboldt was coaching in Alaska.
When he wanted to move closer to his family, Turner applied for jobs at Mendocino and Sutter High. He was offered the job at Sutter and never looked back.
Gaining the trust of his players was an even greater challenge.
On his first day of practice as varsity coach in 1988, one of his players asked him, "What makes you think you're going to be any different (than the last coach)?"
"All I was able to tell him was 'I won't give up,'" Turner said. "I wasn't intimidated. It was definitely a struggle though. There weren't a lot of bodies and nobody wanted to come out."
Sutter did make the playoffs in '88 where they lost to Colusa in the first round, but it was a start.
To make his program better, Turner decided to scour the Valley to find football teams he could watch practice and build a template from.
He took trips to Sac-Joaquin Section powerhouses Nevada Union and Elk Grove to learn the ways of winning football. His travels led him to install two things into Sutter football — the wing-T offense and a regimented practice schedule.
The results progressively improved in 1993 and 1994, with the shining moment coming with a Northern Section championship in 1995, the program's first under Turner, and first title since 1975.
Sutter went on to win five more section titles, including this year's Division II crown, the team's first under coach Ryan Reynolds.
Turner, who spent 21 seasons as Sutter's varsity coach, will just be a fan tonight in Oroville.
His 2008 squad came up just short in its bid for a state title, and if the system was in place in the past, several Sutter teams may have had a shot as well.
Tonight Sutter gets to show the state what teams in the Northern Section have seen for years.
"It's huge for everybody out here," Turner said. "I'm proud of those coaches and the boys."
Both Turner and Warmee are retired from coaching and enjoy watching the game as fans now.
Turner still runs football camps during the summer and teaches at Sutter High. Warmee retired from teaching this past June and freelanced for the A-D this football season.
Warmee may be remembered by some for his days as Yuba City High's coach when he made headlines with the 1987 Delta-League champion Honkers.
In 2004 when the Huskies and Honkers met for the first time, Warmee was at the market the following Monday and saw a former student of his from his time at Sutter.
She had tears in her eyes when she saw him and said, "Can you believe we won?"
Although he was teaching at Yuba City at the time, she and many Sutter alumni still see him as coach Warmee, one of the founding fathers of the Huskies.
That's Sutter football — once a Husky, always a Husky.