“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
By Grace Bernal
Mark Paredes has been coaching football for four decades at both the high school and college levels. He takes seriously his mission of shaping the character and attitude of young men on the cusp of adulthood.
A standout quarterback and defensive back at St. Paul High School and at Loyola Marymount University, Paredes has been the head varsity football coach at Damien High School since 2013. Damien chose Paredes from over 70 applicants for the prestigious position. His work at Damien, where he is striving to build a championship program, is widely seen as the summation of an illustrious career.
After leading Amat to California’s first-ever 15-0 season in 1992, which included a CIF championship and a win in the now-defunct Reebok Bowl, Paredes left in 1994. He landed at JW North, where he won CIF championships in 1995 and 2001. Paredes left JW North in 2001 to become the offensive coordinator at Riverside College until 2010, when he returned to JW North.
Amid his hectic schedule, Coach Paredes was able to spare some time to share with the Sentinel his perspective on football and what constitutes coaching and mentoring in a high school context.
As head coach, he focuses on both defense and offense, with an emphasis on offense. He is very comfortable coaching any position, as long as the player is a student of the game and is confident in himself. When asked what percentage of the game was mental and how much is physical, his reply was: “Those are two different mechanisms. One cannot work without the other because desired physicality depends upon position. Therefore, different sets of skill are demanding from one position to the next.” Paredes believes that football is 100% mental and 100% physical.
When it comes to desire overcoming a lack of physical talent in football, Paredes said when physical talent is coached properly desire is overcome because talent is the key ingredient. He quoted Vince Lombardi: “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” An absolute requisite, he said, is that the whole team must be prepared and go into the game with the intention to triumph over the opponent. Paredes and his coaching staff do everything they can in preparing the players to go out and play to win, whether the outcome is that of victory or defeat.
For Paredes, a good coach consists of, first, someone who is in it for the love of the game and the love of his/her players, no matter the level, and second, someone who prepares his team to allow them to play their best, and third, one who can motivate his players to play their best. His coaching role model, Paredes said, was Notre Dame’s famed Knute Rockne, who is universally regarded as one of the greatest coaches in college football history and whom Paredes finds personally inspirational. He also stated, “My high school and college coaches had an indelible effect on me. I think of them to this day, and try to attain their success.” Other coaches in his personal pantheon are Lombardi, Tom Landry, Don Shula, and Bill Walsh.
The Damien Spartans practice every day of the school week, approximately a total of nine hours. In addition, they weight lift for 30 minutes three days a week. Paredes spends about 35 hours each week laying out exes and owes, i.e., designing plays by putting blocking, running and throwing assignments onto paper, strategizing, i.e., watching films, and doing desk work. He takes what he does very seriously, occasionally to the point that he internalizes it. “Sometimes when I awake at 3 a.m. and can’t sleep due to nerves, I just stay up, usually until 5 a.m., and then try sleeping. This happens usually Monday and/or Tuesday nights/mornings.”
When he and the other coaches revamp the team’s strategy, they add a dimension to disguise a gap. For example, Paredes explains, “On sweeps our tight end reach-blocks the further outside defender. Maybe this week we will block our tight end down on the defensive tackle, and have the tackle pull around and take the tight end’s man.”
His players are allowed to improvise on the field, Paredes, said, but it all depends on the situation. Paredes said, “Rule of thumb, if it works out well, don’t say anything. If it works out bad, jump on him! The quarterback and linebackers have the most freedom to improvise.”
When a player quits the team, Paredes doesn’t feel good. He will ask the departing player what he did wrong, and he will also analyze the player’s characteristics. His words on quitting were “I hate to sound too much like an old timer, but what my coaches taught me is a quitter will always quit, especially when things are tough. I have tempered those thoughts and now feel football wasn’t for them. One thing is I will not let them go out later or the following year. They always quit again.”
Damien High School is one of the nation’s most scholastically challenging and one of few to consistently make the National Dean’s List. Therefore, academics are taken seriously, which is why study hall is offered on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays. The days for these players are extremely lengthy on a weekly basis, because even after sports practice they come home to study for a test or proofread an essay. Coaches also expect players to finish all their homework by being present and making sure they are on task. The current grade point average on the team is 3.4. However, the semester is not over just yet. The top seven academically performing senior football players have grade point averages of 3.7, 4.35, 3.6, 3.97, 3.89, 4.12, and 3.78
Damien expects a lot its student players. Every morning you see the boys enter the Spartan campus prepared for a long day, an atmosphere that is similar to a college. At Damien many students come and go for many reasons, but the ones who are there for the long haul are learning the value of hard work and to treasure a subject they love or a sport they are passionate about. Their devotion to the dual tracks of academics and football works as a builder and a test of character.
“In all the places I have had the privilege to coach, Damien stands out as the most unique,” said Paredes, who is also a history teacher. “It’s academic program is second to none. Activities and opportunities outside of football are numerous! Ninety percent of our students are in after-school sports, clubs, school sponsored hobbies, and Christian services to the community!”
Paredes said he intends to be coaching into the foreseeable future and he made a prediction about who will represent some of the Spartan’s future gridiron talent.
“I just turned 65,” he said. “My grandson is 6. So I have just 10 more years to go!”
Damien High School lies across the San Bernardino/Los Angeles County Line in LaVerne. A significant portion of its student body consists of students from the communities of Chino Hills, Chino, Montclair, Ontario, Upland and Rancho Cucamona.