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Jay Paris: Roberts is optimistic he can turn around El Camino football

Prep football is here and new El Camino coach John Roberts has one task: go from being a Saint to a savior.

“He has a lot of energy and is very positive,” Wildcats athletic director Sean Helgesen said. “It’s kind of infectious.”

El Camino is betting Roberts, the former St. Augustine Saints offensive coordinator, delivers hope and success. Roberts makes his debut on Friday night with the Wildcats playing Point Loma.

It’s a game that can’t get here soon enough, but then again, Roberts eyes his to-do list and longs for more time.

But he’s not anxious because that would expose someone as inactive. Roberts hasn’t been that since February, when named as only the fourth coach in El Camino history.

Instead Roberts, an on-campus math teacher, has been crunching the numbers while his players collide in pads.

Roberts is in his mid-30s and realizes a dream he’s had since he was 12.

“I always wanted to coach football,” Roberts said. “All my best role models as a young person were easily my coaches and teachers.”

Roberts’ role at El Camino is simple, but not easy: bring back the good ol’ days.

The football program’s pedigree is among the best in San Diego County with eight CIF titles under iconic coach Herb Meyer.

“But we haven’t won one in 15 years,” Helgesen said. “But John keeps that at the forefront, he reminds the kids what is expected of them to be part of a program that gets back to those years of winning leagues and CIF championships.”

Roberts, a former Utah State running back, did just that last fall.

His Saints throttled Mission Bay, 49-0, in the Division II title game. While the shutout was impressive, it was Roberts’ pro-style, offensive scheme that routinely had St. Augustine speeding past the 30-point mark.

“We were definitely looking for an offensive guy,” Helgesen said. “John has been an offensive coordinator for five years, his teams averaged 35 points a game and he was racking up lots of yards and lots of wins. We figured he had something that he believed in.”

El Camino’s selection committee had faith that Roberts lack of head-coaching experience wasn’t a drawback. Among the five finalist two were head coaches, but the Wildcats went with Roberts.

He replaced Pulu Poumele, who was 21-25 in four seasons.

“It’s a little bit of a risk but we checked John’s references and everybody we talked to said he was ready be a head coach,” Helgesen said.

El Camino will navigate the rugged Avocado League West, which is like crossing a shallow creek filled with alligators. But Roberts, an Escondido resident, knows the waters he’s dipping his toe into and isn’t fazed.

“North County football is at a high level and we will fit right in,” Roberts said. “Ultimately, we don’t want to fit in but do things above and beyond and get to the level of outstanding.

“We have our standards set high here from the legend, Herb Meyer, so there is a tradition of doing things exceptional. The goal will be to get better every single day, be competitive week in and week out. We have to change the mindset of the athletes, the community and have them expect to win, no matter who we line up against.”

The Wildcats will lean on Eric Wilson, their standout wide receiver and cornerback, and Antonly Taele, a tight end and defensive end.

Plus there’s the Kish twins, Kevin and Connor, setting up shop in the middle of both lines.

It’s been a active summer for El Camino, with Roberts being the busiest bee.

“It was about learning new schemes, solidifying the depth chart and finding out who are playmakers are going to be,” Roberts said.

Something was revealed about Roberts at a recent team barbecue. He invited the players and parents to his house, where a tasty Mexican buffet was presented that left everyone full.

This Roberts is something else: teacher, coach and chef.


“I had it catered,” he admitted. “I’ve got more important things to do than cook.”

His plate his full at El Camino and Roberts couldn’t be happier.

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports