Brand-new Del Sol High in Oxnard building athletic programs from the ground up
The Oxnard Union High School District had five head football coach openings in the offseason.
But one job was not like the others, according to James Nelson.
The former Buena High, Ventura College and Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman, who had served as Hueneme High’s run-game coordinator during the Vikings’ run to the section semifinals last fall, saw the position at brand-new Del Sol High as a once-in-a-career opportunity.
“We’re building from the ground up,” Nelson said. “Literally.”
When Nelson was hired in March, there were no jerseys, no pads, no players and no field. Only a construction site on the corner of Camino Del Sol and Rose Avenue in East Oxnard, where a school was rising from former farmland.
“You get to put your handprint on everything,” Nelson said. “Everything will be 100% you.”
It was that opportunity that allowed athletic director Chris Holdsworth to draw some big names as the Jaguars put together their staff of coaches earlier this year.
“I think the big draw was to build something from scratch,” Holdsworth said. “Every coach has that idea, ‘If I was to do things over again, this is what I would do.’
“To come here as a clean slate with freshmen, and they were all hired as varsity head coaches — so they will have this group of kids for years before they eventually get to varsity — that, to me, was the main draw.”
Boys basketball coach Keith Epps just guided Santa Paula to its first section final. Girls flag football coach Lui Toilolo is the former head football coach at Hueneme.
Tom Voshell (cross country, track), Rob Vandermay (golf), Dennis Porto (baseball) and Aulama Lemalu (wrestling) are veteran local coaches. Water polo coach Russell Russo-Levasseur played at UC Santa Barbara. Softball coach Julia Tamai played and coached at UCSB.
Sierra Moore (volleyball), Hektor Perez (tennis), Cedric Baxter (girls basketball), Carissa McConnell (girls cross country, track), and Javier Figueroa (girls soccer) all are established coaches locally.
Boys soccer coach Adrian Garcia coached Channel Islands to the CIF-Southern Section Division 2 championship in 2020.
“We’re shooting big,” Garcia said. “And where better to do it than at a school that’s brand new and with a freshmen team that I could build over the next four years. That was so appealing to me.”
Del Sol was built to relieve overcrowding in the district. Its student body will primary pull from areas that were formerly serviced by Pacifica and Channel Islands highs, according to district superintendent Dr. Tom McCoy. School borders were also adjusted for Hueneme and Camarillo.
As a result, Pacifica has less than 3,000 students this fall for the first time in “at least 12 years,” McCoy said.
“The goal is for all the schools in the Oxnard area to settle in between 2,200 and 2,400 kids,” McCoy said. “Oxnard (High) is always going to be a little bit bigger because we have lot of families that are multigenerational.”
The school opened its doors earlier this month to about 500 freshmen. Most of Del Sol’s 27 athletic programs will start at the freshman level and build towards varsity as the school fills out. But the Jaguars are fielding varsity teams in sports that generally don’t field lower-level programs, like cross country, tennis and golf.
“So, technically, we have six varsity sports,” Holdsworth said.
Just weeks into its history, Del Sol has yet to host a sporting event. Only the cheer team has been able to practice on campus.
When the school bus finishes its afternoon route, it returns to campus and ferries the football team to practice at Oxnard College. Flag football is also practicing at OC. Boys water polo is practicing at Rio Mesa High. Girls volleyball is practicing at Pacifica High.
The gymnasium, which includes a wrestling room — part of the first phase of the school’s construction — is standing and expected to be completed around the season’s arrival in November. The basketball hoops are in place. The hardcourt flooring is going down.
“It should be ready right around Nov. 1 for basketball season,” McCoy said.
There is also a beach volleyball court adjacent to the gymnasium.
The fields behind the school are a dirt lot, at the moment. But they will begin their transformation into two grass soccer fields, two baseball fields, two softball fields and six tennis courts in September.
“Really the next big achievement would be to have the grass practice field, so we can practice on campus,” McCoy said. “In the meantime, we’re thrilled with our partnership with Oxnard College. They’ve been accommodating.”
A stadium and track are planned to be built using part of the $73 million in reimbursement funds due the Del Sol project, McCoy said.
“When that money starts to come in, we’ll start to construct a similar stadium, field and track as the other schools in the district,” McCoy said.
Those funds are also planned for construction of a pool at Channel Islands High.
When Nelson showed up for the first day of training camp, he had 10 freshmen with which to work.
“It seemed like every day after that first day, two more kids showed up,” Nelson said. “Now we have an entire roster.”
Only a handful had played football before, which has enabled Nelson to witness what he called “that pure excitement of putting on a helmet and shoulder pads for the first time.”
“We’re going into the great unknown,” Nelson said. “I’ve coached football before and I knew how our kids were going to respond. But when you have kids who have never played football before … even the kids don’t know how they’re going to respond.”
The Jaguars will play their entire schedule on the road. They played their first game Aug. 17 at Buena.
Jose Perez, who started at defensive tackle, scored the program’s first touchdown on a 5-yard drive.
“You would have thought we won the Super Bowl we were celebrating so much,” Nelson said.
The 27-14 loss was the culmination of months of work. It was the start of something.
“The fact that we were able to keep up with Buena was huge for us,” Nelson said. “Obviously we want to win every time we go out there, but the kids aren’t worried about winning and losing.
“With lower levels you want the kids to have that pure fun playing the game…. Seeing that excitement has been awesome.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Del Sol High in Oxnard building athletic programs from the ground up