A strong leader needed to be chosen to guide the Justin Garza High School football program.
After all, it was a strong leader who inspired the school’s name in the first place.
Justin Garza, the former Central High head football coach from 2012-14, left behind a legacy after his passing in 2017. A legacy of lives he touched during his 16-year coaching career, from fellow head coaches to former players, and now a high school with his namesake.
And whoever was tapped to lead the Garza High football program would be required to “Stand for More,” one of Garza’s favorite sayings as a coach.
Yosef Fares believes he’s the right man for the job.
“I knew how much Justin Garza meant to the Central Section community… and I wanted to make sure whoever got the job was doing things the right way,” Fares said. “That’s why I needed to put myself forth, because this is extremely important for Central Unified, the Central community, and Fresno in general.”
The confidence is there for Fares, who was approved as Garza’s inaugural head football coach at Central Unified’s board meeting Tuesday night. He will lead a freshman team for the 2021 fall season, with the decision still to be made on the team playing a freshman schedule, JV schedule, or possibly a schedule at the D-V or D-VI varsity level.
His goal is for the Guardians to field a full varsity team by 2023, competing in the TRAC with Clovis North, Buchanan, Clovis West, Clovis North, Central and Clovis High.
Yosef Fares brings 19 years of coaching experience in the Central Valley to Garza High. That includes: his first coaching job at Tenaya Middle School in 2002, 13 years as an assistant coach at Bullard High from 2003-15, three years as head coach at Madera High from 2016-18, and a return to Bullard as co-head coach alongside Don Arax in 2019.
Preceding his coaching career was Fares’ playing career from 1999-2001, also at Bullard. He was an All-NYL selection at linebacker and offensive guard for the Knights, playing in the Wing-T offense and 4-4 defense that defined the physical tone of the program. Fares played on two Arax-led teams – 2000 and 2001 – that reached the Central Section semifinals.
As an assistant coach at Bullard High, Fares fulfilled a variety of roles – linebackers coach in 2005, defensive line coach and special teams coordinator in 2009, offensive line coach in 2011 (while current Central High head coach Kyle Biggs was OC), and finally defensive coordinator in 2013.
In his first coaching run with the Knights, Fares was part of a Central Section champion team in 2009, coached future USC Trojan and Super Bowl champion LB Anthony McCoy in 2005, and led a Bullard defense that kept No. 7 state-ranked Edison High to 14 points and a loss in the 2013 season finale.
Fares took over at Madera High in 2016, his first head coaching job. He pushed the Coyotes to become competitive at the Division-III level, and developed one of the highest-scoring offenses in the CMAC.
Fares returned to Bullard in 2019 as co-head coach alongside his former head coach, Don Arax. The 9-3 Knights reached the Central Section semifinals under Fares.
With Fares’ coaching journey leading to a new beginning, he wants to mix some of the tried and true methods of building a program, while also keeping an eye on the changing landscape of high school football.
Fares cited his desire to reach out to former Clovis and Clovis North head coach Tim Simons, who started the football program at Clovis North in 2007, in order to “pick his brain” on how he built the Broncos from the ground up, into an eventual Central Section champion in 2012.
Yet Fares wants to take advantage of the increasingly digital world that young football players spend much of their time in. Social media, he says, will be key to recruiting.
“We want to make sure people know what our brand is, and what we are trying to do,” said Fares. “We already have all three social media pages up, so that parents and players can see what we are about.”
And what exactly will Garza High football be about?
“Our brand is going to be built on hard work, high football IQ, and high character,” Fares explains, “and on the field, we are going to be disciplined and live up to a high standard.”
In terms of strategy, Fares pointed to current Arizona offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s “N-Zone” as what the Guardians will run on offense – a style predicated on speed, space and pace. Defensively, the Guardians will run a David Aranda-style defense with lots of variety in player positioning and formations.
By modeling his team’s formations after college football offenses and defenses, Fares says it will help push his program to be “as elite as possible.”
With Garza High football beginning with its freshman team in the 2021 fall football season, Fares will not coach at Bullard in the 2021 spring football season. Instead, he will take on his first duty as Guardians head coach: searching for assistant coaches.
“I’ve had coaches already reach out to me, who I didn’t expect wanted to be interested, and have said they want to be part of my staff,” Fares said.
So begins the construction of a high school football program. Tim Simons did it in 2007, and now Yosef Fares begins it in 2020.
But for Fares, this mission means something especially important, because of the name he and his players will wear on their uniforms.
“I have to make sure I live up to Coach Garza’s legacy, and that our team lives up to the standard he set,” he says. “We need to ‘Stand for More’, like he always said.”
“We need to be more than just football players, more than just student-athletes. We want to raise these young boys to be great men.”