July 22, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

New Santa Ana Saints football coach Luis Cruz looks to continue winning tradition

New Santa Ana head football coach Luis Cruz before a game. (Photo courtesy Anthony Alvarado).

Santa Ana High School’s new head varsity football coach Luis Cruz, who has been an assistant coach for five years with the Saints, said this week he wants to continue the tradition of the program established over the past decade.

“I’m excited, I’ve been working with the team now for five years,” he said. “And I’ve worked real closely with Rory (Schoonmaker) and Coach T (Charlie TeGantvoort, who was the coach before Schoonmaker).”

Cruz, who has been one of the main offensive coaches and has worked with players on conditioning, replaces Schoonmaker, who accepted the head coaching position at El Segundo. This will be the first head coaching job for the 36-year-old Cruz.

Santa Ana was 7-4 and earned a share of the Orange Coast League title with Orange and St. Margaret’s last year. The Santa Ana program has had winning records each of the last 10 seasons along with some league titles.

“A really good ground-work has been set here for the last decade with Coach T and last year with Coach Schoonmaker and I want to continue on the traditions that we’ve kind of set and established for the last 10 years, but also to continue to move the overall culture of family, teamwork and discipline,” he said.

“We want to be a team that is tough and disciplined and be a team that nobody really wants to play. I’ve been working with these kids at the varsity level the last five years, they all know me and I’ve built relationships with all of them.”

Cruz, a full-time physical education teacher at Santa Ana, was one of 18 applicants who initially applied for the job, according to Santa Ana Athletic Director Brian Lillie, who made the announcement Monday.

At first, Cruz said he had reservations taking the head coaching job because he and his wife are expecting their first child in October.

“Initially, I didn’t want to be a first-time father and a first-time head coach,” he said.

Cruz planned to be an assistant coach this season but after further consideration, he accepted the head job.

“I figured it would be best for the program at this point if I took over …. because I want to take care of my family at home but at the end of the day I look at Santa Ana as my family as well and I want to be with the kids,” he said.

Cruz said the players have been working hard to prepare for the season.

“We have a lot of players filling new roles, a lot of new starters this year,” he said. “The goal is to get all of the players to improve and understand what it means to win as a team and to understand the process of what we’re trying to do.”

Cruz coached at Esperanza High School from 2013 to 2015 where he was the offensive coordinator. In 2016, he coached at his alma mater Valencia High School. He took a teaching job in Pasadena in 2017, then returned to Valencia in 2018 as an assistant coach before starting at Santa Ana in 2020.

Cruz was a quarterback at Valencia High School, where he graduated from in 2006.

In his senior year, the Tigers reached the CIF championship game, losing to Newport Harbor 28-21.

“It was obviously not the result that we wanted but it was definitely a great experience overall,” he said.

Cruz then went on to play college football at Mars Hill University in Asheville, N.C. from 2008 to 2011.

Cruz and his assistants and players are preparing for the start of the season on Friday, Aug. 23 against Paramount at Santa Ana Stadium. Santa Ana will be in the Iota League as part of a major re-leaguing for most Orange County teams.

Other schools in the league are El Toro, Canyon, Troy, Sonora and Irvine.

“It’s going to be an extremely competitive league,” he said. “The last several years we’ve kind of been the top two teams in our league. Every team is going to be very talented and it’s going to be the toughest league Santa Ana has ever been in, in the history of the school.

“I think the players are excited for the opportunity to play up and to really compete at a high level.”

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com