Fisher trying to keep Santa Margarita on comeback path


RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA - With music blaring from two large speakers on the sidelines during practice, there is a different feeling around Santa Margarita’s football program.

Gone is Rick Curtis, who spent two seasons as the team's coach, and now running the program is Rich Fisher and a host of his fellow former college coaches.

Fisher, who served as Nebraska’s wide receivers coach from 2011-14, has been working on trying to build up every aspect of a program that hasn’t finished in the top half of the league since 2012.

“As a coach, you’re never happy,” Fisher said. “ I think that we have made tremendous strides. The kids have given good effort. I like where we're at, but you’re never satisfied.”

Curtis inherited a team that had finished last in the Trinity League, and he led the Eagles to an 11-10 record, including one playoff loss, during his two seasons.

From his days on  the Nebraska coaching staff, Fisher has brought with him T.J. Hollowell and Max Onyegbule. Both were graduate assistants for the defense at Nebraska. Fisher has also brought in Lenny Vandermade, the tight ends coach for USC last season.

“It took a lot of time,” Fisher said of hiring his coaching staff. “It’s not about just going out and hiring a guy; it’s about the right fit.”

Fisher is not brand new to high school coaching. Between college coaching stints Fisher was the head coach at The Rivers School in Massachusetts where he went 12-5 in two seasons. In 2010, Fisher led The Rivers School to an undefeated regular season, the school’s first since 1913.

Fisher’s level of professionalism is something his players noticed from the get-go.

“There is much more leadership and organization,” said senior receiver Grant Calcaterra. “Everything is much more organized.”

Calcaterra mentioned that the Eagles are also spending more time on game-type situations and practicing at a higher tempo.

“The leadership is something I see,” said senior offensive lineman Brett Neilon. “Guys want to play football again and have fun. I think that’s something we missed the last two years.”

Fisher and his staff will have a chance to show the county that things are different at Santa Margarita when the Eagles take on Mission Viejo on Aug. 26.

“People are doubting us right now and that’s fine,” Neilon said. “We play some tough teams and we just have to prove ourselves."


Fisher has not committed to a starting quarterback yet, allowing senior Richard Wagner and sophomore Brendan Costello to continue to battle for the top spot.

“We’re going to go right up to game time,” Fisher said. “If there was a clearcut (choice), it would be announced already.”

Last season, Wagner was the backup to KJ Costello (no relation to Brendan), throwing for 332 yards and three scores. Wagner started one game and helped guide the Eagles to their only Trinity League win, beating JSerra, 28-21.

Wagner has more varsity experience, but Brendan Costello possesses a different level of athleticism.

“He can move the chains with the legs,” Fisher said of Costello. “Wagner’s taller, much more of a dropback-type quarterback.

With a little over a week left before the season opener, Fisher is looking for more consistency from the eventual starter.

“Each guy each has his day. We’ve got a lot of up and down,” Fisher said. “I’m looking for that guy to make the next step and be that guy consistently.I can see both of them playing throughout the year. Whoever stays hot is going to play.”


Neilon is moving inside from tackle to center, the position he will play at USC next fall. Neilon, a four-star recruit by ESPN, committed to USC in June.

“They brought a different atmosphere and feeling to the team,” Neilon said of the new coaching staff at USC. “I just had a really good bond with them; I couldn’t pass it up.”

Moving to center has brought its own challenged beyond just snapping the ball.

“Making calls,” Neilon said of what is different at center. “I’ve got to be more vocal and understand where everyone’s going on each play.”


Calcaterra, rated as a four-star recruit by ESPN, committed to play at Oklahoma after a visit to the school's campus in the spring.

“It was the best fit,” Calcaterra said. “They were honest and up front. Right when I visited I knew that I wanted to go there.”

Calcaterra fits into Oklahoma spread attack as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver who can play inside in the slot.

Calcaterra also considered Northwestern, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Utah.

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