SAN RAMON -- You know all that old-school football stuff about accountability, hard work and fighting through adversity?
It's all practiced in coach Eric Billeci's world at California High. The approach isn't always fun, or pretty, but it produced a memorable 2013 season.
California powered its way to its first outright East Bay Athletic League championship and its second runner-up finish in the North Coast Section Division I playoffs in the last four years.
Thus, Billeci, a fifth-year coach whose resilient team avenged a loss to Pittsburg in the playoffs, has been selected as the Bay Area News Group East Bay Coach of the Year in football.
"He's done one hell of a job," Foothill coach Matt Sweeney said of Billeci, his EBAL rival. "Those guys have been a beast. They kicked people's butts, including ours."
Billeci's No. 3 seeded team reeled off wins over Dougherty Valley, San Ramon Valley and Pittsburg in the playoffs after running the table in the EBAL. They lost 49-17 against No. 1 De La Salle in the NCS championship game.
"A large part of our success comes down to accountability and obligation," said Billeci, a former James Logan and Freedom assistant who played at De La Salle and Saint Mary's College. "We try to create an environment with our team that nobody wants to be the guy that lets the next person down."
While the Grizzlies' most obvious strengths were fullback Blake Bierwith, an overpowering offensive line and playmaker C.J. Cornwell, California also was buoyed by its backups. Quarterback Matt Lorenz, for one, kept the engine purring after starter Cameron Owen went down.
"We started seven or eight different middle linebackers. We started three different guys at center, multiple guys at wide receiver, multiple guys at quarterback," Billeci said. "These guys were the ultimate team. ... We really didn't promote the individual, and this season showed the exact reason we don't. We're gonna need a lot of different guys to do a lot of different things."
The run-first Grizzlies made the playoffs for the fourth straight year while compiling a record of 44-15 over the stretch. They overcame self-doubts after falling to Pittsburg 35-33 in nonleague play.
"Back in the preseason it was rough," Billeci said. "After the loss I didn't really think we had much of a chance, just where we were as a team, kind of lost. But through our senior leadership and just sticking with our plan, we figured out a way to generate some momentum in the middle of the season. It was really big for us."
-- Matt Schwab