Jacob Sanchez and Casey Dufrene named Cal High Athletes of the Year
WHITTIER – Of the 25 sports at California High School, one male and one female stand out above the rest. This year, Jacob Sanchez and Casey Dufrene have been named the winners of the prestigious Jim Vellone Athletes of the Year.
Sanchez was a three-sport athlete this year – football, wrestling and track and field – while Dufrene played water polo and softball.
The award, which was chosen by a vote of the coaches, is named after Cal High graduate Jim Vallone. Vallone played football at USC and went on to play in the NFL for the Minnesota Vikings.
He was struck down with cancer and his family established the award in his memory.
In addition to the Vellone award, an outstanding athlete from each of the 25 sports was also chosen to receive the Joe Brite Award. This award, although without monetary reward, represents the embodiment of the student athlete.
It is selected by the coach of each sport based on the following: Academic Performance, Sportsmanship, Citizenship, Coachability, Team Concept, Leadership, Respect for Others and Athletic Performance. (The award winners can be found at the end of this feature).
Brite, who was a two-time CIF-Southern Section Champion in 1960-’61, was looking forward to attending the University of California Berkeley. A tragic death in a car accident cut his life short.
“Casey and Jacob were very good choices for athletes of the year,” Cal Athletic Director Armando Padilla said. “Every head coach votes after we get nominations from them.”
Comments on Jacob Sanchez: “Jacob excelled in three sports, which really helped him win the boys award. He has played football and track and field for all four years. This was his first year in wrestling and he had a successful season in that as well. He is very strong and athletic, which is why he did so well in all three sports.”
Comments on Casey Dufrene: “Casey has been a standout softball player and has been on varsity for four years. She played water polo for the first time this year and made varsity as a first-year player on a CIF championship team, which shows how good of an athlete she is.”
Sanchez, like Dufrene, had thought about another sport for the first three years, but didn’t decide until his senior year and was elated when he found out he had won the award.
“When I found out, I was just focused on school work,” Sanchez, 17, said. “Playing three sports had a lot to do with winning.
“Someone sent me a screenshot of winning the award. I didn’t believe it at first. My mom (Catrina) wanted to throw me a surprise party. I only wish I could’ve finished the season. It happens.”
Football coach Louie Zamora, who finished his first year last fall, has been a big influence in Sanchez’ four years at Cal.
“I met him in his freshman year when I was a freshman football coach,” remembers Zamora. “He’s really funny, cool and a tough guy for sure.
“It was cool to reunite with him when I became head coach for his senior year. He was really strong in the weight room. He is very coachable and a playmaker and has a feel for the ball.”
On the loss of the season this year due to the coronavirus, Zamora said, “[the] plug was just pulled, like an old record player just slowing down. Jacob was predominately a football and track athlete.”
Sanchez was a defensive lineman and played some tight end this past season and Zamora was a big influence on Sanchez.
“He was always my favorite coach,” Sanchez said. “As a senior he was my head coach and everything got better. He made the whole program a whole lot better.
“Coach Zamora when he was my freshman coach got me in a D-line stance. I’ll never forget that. He is a real cool guy and had my back all the time.”
Sanchez, who also competed in shot put on the track and field team, worked with Zamora nearly year-round. After football ends in December Zamora would work with Sanchez on the track team.
“Jacob was easily the best shot putter in league (Del Rio) this year,” Mando Padilla said. “He was throwing 7-8 feet further than any other boy. We were expecting him to go over 50 feet and get out of CIF prelims and into CIF finals.”
In fact, Sanchez had set a goal of breaking 50 feet during the track season and was going to be awarded a ‘golden shot put’ from coach Mario Padilla.
“Coach Padilla told me he would buy me a golden shot put, but I guess I won’t get it now,” Sanchez said. “It kind of angers me, that all the people I know, I could have won at the league finals.”
Sanchez actually threw the shot put 48 feet in his first meet this past season. “Coach Angela Christopher and coach Padilla worked with me on throwing in more of a straight line,” Sanchez said.
In a tri meet this season with El Rancho and El Dorado, Sanchez came back and defeated a fellow competitor. “Out of nowhere I threw it 47 or 48 feet and I won. It felt great. That’s what I’m going to miss.”
Sanchez finally went out for wrestling in his senior year after wrestling coach Doug Loo had tried to recruit him in his sophomore year.
“Coach Loo told my grandma (Lana Hawman), who also teaches at Cal, he wanted me to wrestle in my sophomore year,” Sanchez added. “I wish I had wrestled all four years.”
Loo, who has been at Cal for 20 years, said of Jacob, “you don’t see many three-sport athletes anymore. He is a great kid and a great future ahead of him.
“I wish I would’ve had him for four years. He always kind of wanted to wrestle, but in his senior year, he came out. For him to come out to a new sport, he put himself out there. I give him credit.
He is a good kid and I have a lot of respect for him.”
As for Dufrene, she has a close tie to the football program, even with her busy schedule this past season with water polo and softball.
“Casey is a tough one and a great addition to our football program,” said Zamora of Dufrene. “She’s an athlete and tough and strong.”
Dufrene actually wanted to go out for football, but was persuaded not to by her parents.
However, Dufrene was a part of Zamora’s staff, helping anywhere she could. “I helped with the taping and wherever they needed me. My assistant softball coach asked if I wanted to help with the football team.”
In fact, where she was needed was at quarterback — on the powder puff football team. Dufrene was the signal caller in her junior and senior years in the annual May game.
Zamora vividly remembers one particular play by Dufrene. “She threw the ball nearly 60 yards for a TD pass…. Incredible.”
Now, of course the ball for powder puff was slightly smaller than a regulation football, but still, 60 yards.
As for her award, Dufrene said, “I didn’t even know about the award. I never thought I’d get it. My reaction was speechless. All of my hard work paid off.
“That’s what made me feel good about the award, that it was named after a professional football player.”
Dufrene started playing baseball as a three-year-old and played through the age of nine.
“I started playing softball from age nine through 12 years old,” Dufrene said. “I started playing travel ball when I was 12. I would have rather played baseball and wanted to prove people wrong.”
As for travel ball, Dufrene added, “I was never on a good travel ball team and didn’t get the exposure.”
Dufrene always dreamed of playing DI and wanted to play in the Pac 12.
However, she is going to play at Fullerton College for now and hopes to get a shot at a four-year after that.
She will be playing for a longtime friend, FJC coach Marian “Speedy” Mendoza and her assistant, Crystal Aguirre. Aguirre is a Cal High alum where she was a four-year varsity player.
“I played for her on a 18U team when I was 14,” Dufrene said. “I sat a lot in my first year and played a little at first base. My second year I played more.”
Mando Padilla had great things to say about the dual athlete.
“Casey has been a standout softball player and has been on varsity for four years. She played water polo for the first time this year and made varsity as a first-year player on a CIF Championship team, which shows how good of an athlete she is.”
Dufrene, who likes to swim, always wanted to try water polo, but finally did play this past season. And what a season it was.
“I wanted to play, but never did it until this year,” Dufrene said. “I would have regretted it if I didn’t.”
Dufrene, who is a catcher and has an arm, is one reason why she got the chance at water polo she remembers.
“Davey (water polo coach Brown) knew about my arm, but I was scared when I got the ball I didn’t want to fail when I was in the game. I didn’t want to disappoint the coach.”
Brown knew of her dedication to anything she would do in sports and was glad she came out for the team.
“This was her first year of playing water polo and from the start of joining our team, she came in with a great work ethic,” Brown said. “She always came and gave it her all. She never complained when it got hard.
“She was always the first person in the water and the last one out.”
Brown continued. “Although Casey didn’t get as much playing time as she would have liked, when she did go in, she would help us out whether it was a goal, a defensive steal or an assist on offense.
“Then she would come out and she would always ask how she could fix what she did when she was in or what she could do to get better. She always had a great attitude. I wish she would have joined sooner.”
Since the water polo went into the softball season, Dufrene only had a chance to play just two games in her senior year when the pandemic halted all of high school sports.
“I jumped right from water polo to softball,” said Dufrene, who is in the nursing program at Cal and is in the Health Academy. “I played one preseason game and it was a struggle. “I remember going from water polo practice to softball and my eyes were burning from the chlorine. It was tough taking ground balls.”
Softball coach Jason Ramirez said of Dufrene… “She’s a good kid and above her age. She is a strong kid and going into her senior year she played water polo and I didn’t hold her back from that.”
Her first two years on varsity was another coach and she didn’t start as a freshman.
Ramirez, who is also an offensive line coach on the Cal High football team, became head softball coach in her junior year. Dufrene was catcher in her last three years of softball.
“From changing from a woman coach to a man coach was different,” Dufrene said. “He was interested in knowing the game and he cared for us players.”
Ramirez remembers how dominating her junior year was.
“Her numbers were off the chart in her junior year,” Ramirez said. “She was MVP of the league (Del Rio) last year and coming into this season was due to have another great season. She was batting in the .400’s in her first two games.
“She didn’t lose a step after water polo. What does that tell you about her? She was doing great things and deserves an award like that.”
Dufrene, as well as Sanchez, both were disappointed at having their season cut short.
Dufrene said of the stoppage of high school sports and school, “…… I was really sad and cried. I was looking forward to senior day. Not being able to play and it just didn’t work out.”
For Sanchez, let’s hope he gets that golden shot put after all from coach Padilla and Dufrene gets to play eventually at a DI college.
Joe Brite Award
Football: Daniel Aguilar, Coach – Louie Zamora
Water Polo: Emiliano Jasis, Coach – Davey Brown
Cross Country: Adrian Gonzalez, Coach – Brandon Martinez
Basketball: Christian Lopez, Coach – Joel Simonds
Wrestling: Edgar Antonio, Coach – Doug Loo
Soccer: Tristan Hernandez, Coach – Lino Gomez/Valentin Cruz
Baseball: Alex Reynozo, Coach – Kyle Pine
Volleyball: Dean Vazquez, Coach – Ronald Cruz
Tennis: Matthew Torres, Coach – Wally Lee
Track: Julian Perez, Coach – Mando Padilla
Swimming: Axel Pedroza, Coach – Todd Jacobsen
Golf: Matthew Padilla, Coach – Jim Arnold
Cross Country: Mai Quesada, Coach Brandon Martinez
Tennis: Sofia Montes, Coach – Wally Lee
Volleyball: Denisse Palominos, Coach – John Horwath
Golf: Valena Sanchez, Coach – Juan Guerrero
Basketball: Julianne Rivera, Coach – Brian Barber
Water Polo: Victoria Padilla, Coach – Davey Brown
Soccer: Megan Martinez, Coach – Brian Bordier
Wrestling: Samantha Aleman, Coach – Doug Loo
Softball: Richere Leduc, Coach -Jason Ramirez/Javier Macias
Track: Juliette Hernandez, Coach – Mando Padilla
Swimming: June Gomez, Coach – Todd Jacobsen
Lacrosse: Caroline Schloss, Coach – Zoe Alvarez
Cheer: Angela Sepulveda, Coach – Linda Behr