For Central Catholic head football coach Roger Canepa, winning the CIF State Division IV Championship on Dec. 14 is a classic tale of the hometown boy makes good.
Canepa was born and raised in Sonora. He currently lives off Racetrack Road and commutes to the Modesto private school each day. And for nearly 20 years, he guided area high school teams to glory with coaching stints at Sonora and Calaveras.
“They’re excited,” Canepa said of the community. “I have a lot of friends up here. We had about 20 or 30 people from Sonora and Calaveras at the game. It’s just nice to have good friends and people rooting for me.”
The Central Catholic Raiders went 14-2 this season, clinched their first Western Athletic Conference title since 2007 and won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV Championship to make the State playoffs.
During the State Championship game held at the Home Depot Center in Carson on Dec. 14, the Raiders rushed for 249 yards in the first quarter on their way to a 66-7 rout of Santa Fe Christian out of Solana Beach.
Aside from winning the State Championship, Canepa also earned his first Section title after 19 years as a head coach as well as his first WAC title.
“It’s nice because it all came in one year for me,” he said.
Despite the Modesto gig, Canepa’s roots are firmly planted in the foothills.
He was a linebacker for the Wildcats in 1979 and ‘80 and went on to play football at Butte College in Oroville and later at Chico State.
Canepa returned to Sonora after college to help run the family drilling business with his brother, Ricky. He took a job as co-head coach of the Wildcats with Robert Cendro and helped guide them to a 28-6 record from 1992-1994.
He served as defensive coordinator in 1995 when the Cats won their only Sac-Joaquin Section Championship. He later moved on to become head coach of the Calaveras Redskins from 1998-2007, where they made the Section playoffs 10 straight seasons.
“I have the same philosophy now as I did when I was at Sonora and Calaveras — run the football and play great defense,” Canepa explained. “Sonora gave up only four touchdowns that whole 1995 season and we went 13-0. It was the best Sonora team ever, I don’t care what anyone says. We were very disciplined, ran the football well and played great defense.”
What’s it like to be the champ? Pretty good, according to Canepa.
He said his phone has been ringing off the hook over the past week with former players calling to congratulate him on the victory. It has also suddenly become difficult for him buy his own dinner, whether it be in Modesto or the foothills.
“I’ve gone out to dinner twice now and people bought it for me,” he said. “It’s the biggest thing you can do in California, so people are excited.”
His family including his mother and siblings all made the trip to witness the game. According to his sister, Shelly Kiriluk, they couldn’t have been more proud when Central Catholic came away with the win.
“He just puts so much work into it,” she said. “Every weekend from the time he wakes up to the time he goes to bed he’s watching film. It takes that kind of a coach nowadays to get to the next level, and he does that.”