Winning Coaches Matt and JC Hunsaker
By Enjoy Magazine
Like Father, Like Son
By Aaron Williams
IN THE MOMENTS after Shasta High School beat Marin Catholic in the California Interscholastic Federation Division 3 NorCal Regional football championship, coach JC Hunsaker posed for countless photos.
Players grabbed the 38-year-old football coach for an Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat memory holding the NorCal trophy.
The one photo Hunsaker wanted for himself almost didn’t happen, however.
As the Wolfpack faithful reveled in Shasta’s 40-27 win over Marin Catholic of Kentfield – and Hunsaker posed for photos and gave media interviews – his father and assistant coach, Matt, was off in the coach’s office, busy uploading game film.
“Where’s ‘Stache?” JC Hunsaker asked, using his father’s nickname in reference to his bushy, walrus-like mustache. “I want a picture with all the varsity guys.”
For Matt Hunsaker, the victory was to be savored, but the old-school coach knew there was still business to attend to – namely getting ready for the Wolves’ next opponent, Bishop Diego of Santa Barbara.
Eventually, ‘Stache returned to the field and JC Hunsaker got his photo with his five varsity coaches.
“The way we beat Marin Catholic was special,” Matt says. “It was the icing on the cake.”
A recipe made sweeter being able to share the ride as father and son. After all, football is a family business for Matt and JC Hunsaker.
The Hunsaker name has been synonymous with winning in the CIF Northern Section for decades, as Matt Hunsaker is a 10-time title winner – nine with Big Valley in Bieber and one at Central Valley High School. The man called ‘Stache ranks third in section history with 189 wins, behind only Anderson’s Bob Reid and East Nicolaus’ Geoff Wahl.
“He’s a legend,” JC says. “If you’ve been around, you know that name.”
And while the son trails the father in wins and section titles, JC says he was proud to do something his father never did, but also grateful to share it with the ‘Stache.
“To be able to give him an achievement he’s never been able to reach, because it wasn’t available at the time, was really special,” JC says. “He had some talented teams in the past,” but the state didn’t implement state title games until recently.
From a tyke watching film with his father to being his assistant to eventually being his boss, JC has grown up with football and the man he says is probably his best friend.
“We spend more time with my parents than any other couple – they’re great people and great human beings,” JC says of himself and his wife, Marica, hanging with Matt and M’Lou Hunsaker.
Matt started as a football coach in suburban Los Angeles in the 1980s before moving to Big Valley later that decade. “My folks were retiring and my wife and I were talked about getting out. We didn’t want to raise a family down there,” he says. The Hunsakers moved to Big Valley when JC was about 2 and he grew up as many coaches’ kids do – learning the trade from a young age.
“I remember being a kid and him watching films on Saturday with the old VHS tapes and doing stats,” JC Hunsaker says.
The elder Hunsaker knew JC had the ability to lead, but tried to dissuade him from following in his footsteps.
“I tried to steer him out of coaching, but you know how kids don’t listen,” Matt says with a laugh. “It’s a lot of work with not a lot of pay.”
Matt, who implemented the Wing-T offense in Big Valley, says it took about four years before the Cardinals started seeing success. Titles in 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 bore that truth.
JC was called up to varsity as a sophomore and Big Valley won three more section titles, including undefeated seasons in 2001 and his senior year of 2003.
“I didn’t know in the moment what I was blessed with,” JC says. “I was just a high school athlete enjoying sports.”
After the 2003 season, both Hunsakers left Big Valley – Matt for Central Valley High School and JC to Willamette University in Salem, Ore. Their paths would soon intersect after JC left Willamette and came back home, joining the coaching staff for the Falcons.
As the head man now at Shasta, JC says there are so many things to be done – things he had no idea his father did for all those years at Big Valley and then at CV.
“He threw some responsibilities my way at the beginning that I don’t know if I was ready for, or very good at,” JC says, adding that at the time, it seemed like a head coach dumping unenviable tasks on an underling. “Sometimes I thought, why am I doing this? Now, as a head coach I completely regret that feeling. There’s so much to do and he was the Lone Ranger.”
JC went to Shasta College before heading to finish his final two years of eligibility at Southern Oregon University, while ‘Stache worked to reverse the fortunes of a CV program that at one-point had lost 50 straight games.
“I was a backup at SOU and he was new at CV and taking some lumps,” JC recalls. “We both questioned our new situations. Those were some very grown up conversations when I was just 19. He motivated me and I returned that.”
Matt’s formula of Wing-T combined with tough love produced an unbeaten section title winner in 2005 and JC returned to teach and coach again with his father.
When it didn’t appear that Central Valley was going to retain the younger Hunsaker as a P.E. teacher, JC went searching, much as his father had nearly three decades earlier, for a spot to land.
He accepted a P.E. job at Shasta and joined the coaching staff, ascending to the head job with the Wolves in 2015. He began building his own staff that naturally included his father.
“The dynamic hasn’t changed much, it’s just reversed roles,” Matt says. “He would yell at me, I would yell back at him. Now he has the final say, where before I would just tune him out.”
And while the son might now be the father’s boss, much of what the ‘Stache sewed in Big Valley and Central Valley have taken root at Shasta.
“A good portion (of what I do) is from who he was as a coach – maybe 75 percent trying to mold myself into what he was a football coach and what he meant to kids,” JC says.
He points to three core issues for the Wolves’ current success in just his third full year at the helm.
First was making sure the entire program was learning the Wing-T.
“We are a unit from top to bottom” JC says. “Freshman has its battle on Thursday and JV on Friday afternoon, but we’re all under the same umbrella and I’m holding it.”
Second, was building a cohesive staff – a group of 16 that often spends time outside of football together.
“We signed on in January and didn’t end until the third week of December,” JC says of the Wolves’ championship run. “To sit in that room and not get tired of each other is because of guys liking one another. The JV and frosh guys sacrificed to help us along the run and they didn’t have to do that. But they’re as responsible as anyone else and that’s what’s special.”
And finally, using love – the Wolves usually break on the phrase “Love the Pack” – to build and strengthen relationships while using football as a metaphor for life’s challenges and opportunities.
“My biggest reward, and I tell the kids this, is that I’d love to go to their wedding,” JC says. “At that point, I’d know I made a positive impact on who that person is and what they’ve become.” •