Cate School, an exclusive private school situated at the end of an uphill gated road, would seem to be a world apart from the surrounding community of Carpinteria. Its football team competes with similar prep schools in the unique 8-man division. But the Rams can trace their roots directly to the Carpinteria High Warriors.
Ben Soto, Cate’s head football coach, played for the Warriors in the early 1970s. A prominently displayed photo in Soto’s office shows him with two of his Carpinteria coaches, Mike Warren and Lou Panizzon. “They are very influential people in my life,” Soto said. He played football under Warren and baseball under Panizzon, who later became head football coach. “Panizzon hired me to help out, one thing led to another, and here I am,” Soto said. “What those guys taught me is what I’m doing here.”
Soto, 63, went up the hill to become Cate’s baseball coach more than 30 years ago. He took the reins of the football program at its inception in 2005.
“We went 3-3 the first year,” he said. “A lot of people came up to me: ‘How did you win your first year of 8-man?’ We have good athletes. Everybody’s playing something.”
The Rams had perhaps their greatest season come to an end Monday. They were 9-0 and ranked No. 1 in the state, but in a CIF quarterfinal game that was interrupted by smoke from the Southern California fires, they lost to Windward of Los Angeles, 31-27. The game, originally scheduled for Friday, was postponed to Saturday, and then it was suspended at halftime with Windward leading at home, 16-13. The second half was played at Newport Beach on Monday, and the Rams were unable to complete a comeback.
A week earlier, in a first-round playoff game under the lights at Carpinteria High, the Rams routed Desert Christian, 89-15, even though Soto did everything in his power not to run up the score.
Cate’s success stems from Soto’s old-school coaching style that is embraced by the young men who play for him.
“I love him to death,” said Jack Deardorff, the Rams’ sensational senior quarterback. “I have him for baseball and football. I couldn’t ask for a better leader. He teaches life lessons through sports.” Deardorff also plays on the soccer team. Every Cate student is required to play more than one sport.
“I’m not one to say you’ll be a better football player if all you do is football,” Soto said. “You can learn from all different kinds of sports. We have everything from rock climbing to canoeing to bike riding, as well as major team sports.”
Deardorff said, “I never played tackle before coming here. I didn’t think I could play quarterback because I’m so small [5’8”, 155 pounds], but growing up playing baseball I could throw pretty well.” He also proved to be a clever runner, weaving his way through 8-man defenses. He accounted for 37 touchdowns: 21 rushing and 16 passing.
After routinely amassing impressive statistics, Deardorff was nominated throughout the season for Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table player of the week awards. He was always a runner-up, and Cate assistant David Soto, Ben’s son, called him “Susan Lucci.”
The Rams had other weapons, including Drew Anastasio, a power runner from Texas who gave up Friday night lights for Saturday afternoon sun; junior receiver Thomas Nettesheim; and two-way junior lineman Scott Holmes, one of several players whose parents are on the Cate faculty or staff.
Jack and William Deardorff, a sophomore who also is an explosive runner, live with their family in Santa Barbara. Most other students board at Cate, and their daily schedule of classes, practices, meals, study time, and lights out is regulated to the minute.
“This is one of smallest groups we’ve had,” Soto said of the 2018 football team. “It’s a sign of the times. A: Parents are concerned about concussions. B: Too many kids, in my personal opinion, don’t want to put effort into something that takes effort.”
Holmes said, “My dad wouldn’t let me play football anywhere but Cate. We learn to lead with your shoulder, not with your head, that kind of thing.”
Soto, whose office door is open to all students who want to seek his guidance, was one of 50 coaches singled out of 800 national nominees to receive the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award in a ceremony at Stanford University last April.
COLLEGE CUP: The road is open to the 2018 NCAA men’s soccer championship. The 48-team bracket was released Monday, and 16 first-round games will be played today (Thu., Nov. 15). The winning teams will advance to play the 16 highest-seeded teams that received byes to the second round.
The top four seeds are Wake Forest, Indiana, Kentucky, and Louisville. Seeded teams from the West Coast are No. 8 St. Mary’s and No. 9 Stanford, the three-time defending champion. UC Irvine, the Big West regular-season champion, has a first-round game against Grand Canyon, and UC Riverside, which won the conference tournament, will face Pacific. UCLA is paired against Portland.
The field will be whittled down on December 1 to the Final Four, who will come to Santa Barbara to play for the College Cup at UCSB. The semifinals will take place at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, December 7, and the title match at 5 p.m. Sunday, December 9.