Clovis High Football hall of fame dinner honor athletes

From left to right: Nate Hill, Ray Luna, Jeff Thiesen, Jeff King, Ryan Gutierrez, Jim and Donna Wamsley , Montie Day, Damon Thomas and Jeff Sessoyeff. PHOTO BY MICHAEL FORD/CLOVIS ROUNDUP

Some of the seminal figures in Clovis High school football history finally got their due recognition for the contributions to the highly-successful central California program Saturday night.

Ten new members were inducted into the Clovis High Cougars football hall of fame in the second annual ceremony at the Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

The inductees were the late Duane Wamsley, Montie Day. Jeff King, Jeff Thiesen, Ray Luna, Nate Hill, Damon Thomas, Jeff Sessoyeff, Ryan Gutierrez and the 1991 undefeated Valley championship team.

“The program here at Clovis High School is an amazing program because it does bring back not only players, but coaches, administrators, teachers, community. It keeps the tradition of Clovis High school football going,” said Thiesen.

Thisen’s teammate Thomas said that he considers being nominated a big honor, but more than that, he enjoyed seeing old teammates.

“You never forget the players you played with,” Thomas said. “Everything was family-oriented. We played as one, as a unit and so everything was always great.”

Here is a look at some noteworthy accomplishments of the inductees.

Jeff Thiesen

Thiesen was a four-year varsity player at Clovis High, who as a freshman, was a member of the 1984 Cougar Valley championship team. He started his sophomore and junior seasons and was an all-conference lineman.

As a senior, Thiesen changed to the tight end position while also playing defensive tackle, frequently starting games playing both offense and defense.

Thiesen was named North Yosemite League (NYL) Player of the Year in 1987 and the Cougars went on to win the NYL and advance to the Valley finals.

He went on to play his college ball locally at Fresno State for four years under coach Jim Sweeney, three of those years were spent as starting outside linebacker. His sophomore and junior years, he was named to the All-Big West Conference team. After his final season as a Bulldog, Thiesen was selected to play in the 1992 Japan Bowl College All Star football game.

Duane Wamsley

Wamsley graduated as a member of Clovis High’s class of 1942. Wamsley, who had spent his first three years going to Kingsburg High, returned to Clovis for his senior year.

Wamsley played fullback for the 1941 undefeated Cougar team, the first in school history. The 1941 team scored 179 points, while limiting the opposition to just 27.

In addition to his football exploits, Wamsley also won a basketball championship for Clovis High. 

Wamsley passed away in 2018.

Montie Day

A son of a lumberjack, Day began his football career as a defensive tackle and defensive end in his senior season.

Day was then recruited to play football for the Bakersfield College Renegades and started every game of the team’s undefeated 1959 season, including the Pasadena Junior Rose Bowl game. He also played tackle and defensive end for the team’s nearly undefeated 1960 season.

He went on to play for Fresno State where he was named an All-American tackle, part of the Mid-Bracket All-America team and All-Conference team.

Ray Luna

Luna was a versatile player that assumed both offensive and defensive responsibilities for the 1970 Cougars team.

Luna played linebacker and fullback on a team that won the school’s first ever NYL and Yosemite Division Valley championships. He and five other Cougars from that team were named to the All-Metro team.

He went on to play college football for both Fresno City College and Fresno State.

In 1972, Luna led a defense that played an integral role in the Rams California Junior College State Championship. During his tenure as a Bulldog, Luna became known as being proficient at forcing fumbles, intercepting passes and making bone-crunching tackles.

Luna was inducted into Fresno City’s Wall of Fame in 2002, as well as also receiving induction into both Fresno and Clovis Unified Athletic halls of fame, respectively.

Nate Hill

Hill has been described by Central Valley historians as the best triple option quarterback in Valley history.

Hill started as the Cougars signal caller during the 1979 and 1980 seasons, piling up wins to the tune of a 22-2 record, two NYL championships and a Valley championship.

He was named twice as an All-Valley and All-Conference player. During his playing days, Hill’s primary receiver was his brother, Keith. Together, the brothers formed a potent duo capable of giving opposing defenses nightmares.

Football wasn’t Hill’s only athletic gift. He was a member of Fresno State baseball’s 1985 Conference Championship team and was MVP of the Best of the West Classic Tournament.

Jeff King

King was a dominant player on both the 1984 and 1985 Clovis High football teams. During that time, as the team were California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) finalists and Valley champions, he was named All-League and All-Valley as well as the 1985 defensive captain and defensive player of the year.

He led the team in tackles and sacks and played in the annual City-County All Star Game.

King went on to play at Fresno City College and helped the Rams win the conference championship while being named All-League, All-State and All-American. He led the entire nation in quarterbacks with 26 during his time as a Ram.

He played eight years for the Fresno Bandits where he was an eight-time All Conference and five-time All-American player, helping the team capture 3 National Championships.

King was inducted into the Minor League Football News Hall of Fame and later played for several European League Pro teams.

He returned to the Valley where he coached at Porterville, Chavez, and Edison High Schools, as well as at Fresno City College, College of the Sequoias. King also was head coach of the Arena Football League Southern Oregon Heat team.

King is currently coach at Strathmore Middle School.

Damon Thomas

Thomas carries a proud history of his own to the CHS Football Hall of Fame. He played wide receiver for the Cougars during the 1987 and ‘88 seasons in which the team won back-to-back NYL championships.

After graduating from CHS, Thomas went on the play receiver for the Fresno City College Rams where he had a breakout 1991 season, being named an Academic All-American and All-NorCal player.

Thomas transferred to Division 2 Wayne State in Nebraska. In 1993, the team set a school record for most wins in a season with a 9-1 record. During that season, Thomas caught 81 passes for 1,162 yards and a dozen touchdowns. He left Wayne State with 152 career catches for 1,983 yards and 15 scores.

His football life didn’t end there, though. Thomas signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills in 1994, playing 17 games over two seasons while catching 3 passes for 49 yards.

Jason Sessoyeff

Sessoyeff was a three-year starter for the Cougars, his first two being a linebacker and his third year, as a senior, he led the team as quarterback to an undefeated season that brought along conference and Valley championships.

He rushed for 753 yards and passed for another 2,508 in just 179 attempts, setting a record for yards per passing attempt with 23. Sessoyeff threw 26 touchdowns and accounted for another 19 on the ground. His 45 touchdowns combined for a season that ranked third in Central Section history.

Sessoyeff continued his football career overseas by playing 13 seasons in Germany with six teams. He currently resides in Germany with his wife, Ann-Katrin.

Ryan Gutierrez

A class of 2000 graduate of Clovis High, Gutierrez holds the distinction of being the only player in Cougar football history to start on two CIF Valley championship teams.

After playing on the junior varsity team most of his sophomore year, Gutierrez was called to play varsity for the 1997 playoffs and made his way into the starting lineup at free safety. He became an instrumental player on the CHS “Road Warriors”, whose season culminated in the aptly-named Fog Bowl, a 23-14 upset of the Bakersfield Drillers.

Gutierrez earned the reputation as a heavy-hitter, recording 245 tackles, 141 of them unassisted. He also intercepted nine passes while leading the Cougars to a 12-1 record and a 41-0 dominant victory over Clovis West in the CIF Valley Championship Game.

He went on to play his college ball at the University of California, Berkeley for now Fresno State head football coach Jeff Tedford.

He started two seasons at Cal and was the 2003 Insight Bowl Defensive Player of the Game.

1991 Undefeated Valley Championship Team

The 1991 Cougars featured an explosive offensive team led by Sessoyeff at quarterback and receiver Keith Poole. The team’s passing game featured tight ends Mike Metzler and Jason Coerdero.

Running the ball was the physical and bruising fullback Tom Minas, and the dominant offensive line played an important part in the run game’s success, as it almost always does. 

The offensive line was anchored by Chad Mast and Terry Stamps at the tackle positions while Kory Westbury and Jason Adair manned the guards and Jeff Wright played center.

Team captain Jacob Belmont was joined on the defensive front by Ryan Nixon, Mike Hawks, Casey Armstrong and Darnell Martin.

Playing outside linebacker were Elliot Hine, Craig Lingenfelter and Dan Blankenship while Scott Tafoya, Miles Pavich and Lingenfelter were playmakers at the inside linebacker spots.

Comprising the defensive backfield were Brent Howard and Derrek Figueroa at the cornerbacks with Travis King and Darren Van Doren playing the safeties.

Cordero handled the kicking responsibilities and his extra point sent the 1991 Valley Championship to overtime. Clovis West scored on its possession, but Figueroa executed what came to be known as “The Block” of the extra point.

Sessoyeff and company took over the ball and put the ball into the endzone on a QB option run, leading to Cordero to kick the game-winning extra point.

The 1991 team was one of only two undefeated teams in Clovis High School football history, scoring the most points of any team in the 100+ year history of CIF Football.