Natomas Football Team Battles Record Losing Streak


The Natomas High varsity football team and coach Ryan Battle, at right, at homecoming 2013.

THE NATOMAS BUZZ | @natomasbuzz

It’s been more than three calendar years since the Natomas High School varsity football team has won a game.

The Nighthawks have the dubious distinction of a 31-game losing streak – the longest, current losing streak in the state.

The last game the team won was on Oct. 22, 2010, when Natomas High defeated River Valley High School 42-17.

Player eligibility issues, coach turnover and a decline in school enrollment have contributed to the team’s unprecedented losing streak.

Despite not having a win during his varsity career, Natomas High senior linebacker Jalen Falls maintains a positive attitude.

“We were a team where we always had our head down,” senior Falls said. “We would see in film before games that a team was bigger than us and we felt we lost already. But now (Coach Ryan Battle) tells us, ‘You need to fight, these are our brothers.’ That’s what we have been doing, fighting.”

Academic challenges

The football team at Natomas High has actually grown from 18 players at the start of the season in August to 26 on the roster for Friday night’s season finale at Inderkum High School.

In August. All teams start, I believe, the second Monday in August.

With just 18 players academically eligible to play the first month of the season, it was tough on the other players because of risk of injury and fatigue to those on the field for an entire game.

It wasn’t pretty. The Nighthawks lost the first five games of the season by a combined score of 252-24.

Six players on the Nighthawks’ varsity team who were not academically eligible to start the season, have since raised their grades over 2.0 GPA in order to play.

Senior quarterback Daniel Gutierrez spent the first month of the season spending Friday nights sitting on the sidelines. During the week, he was practiced as the scout team quarterback to help the team prepare for each game.

“Yes, 15 varsity players and six JV players who were ineligible to start the season had a 2.0 or higher at the marking period,” said Anthony Agrella, the high school’s athletic director. “We had 28 suit up for JV and 29 suit up for varsity. This is a direct result of our After School Academic Support Program.”

Frank Negri coached Natomas High from 2009-11. He said school enrollment, player ineligibility and lack of support from the district were troubling during his three-year tenure.

“I feel sorry for those kids,” said Negri, now an assistant football coach at Roseville High. “I didn’t want to leave. But you’ve got to get some help. The facilities (on campus) are outstanding. That’s not the problem.”

Negri said the abrupt closure of Leroy F. Greene Middle School in 2010 resulted in lower enrollment at the high school. Changes in the Natomas Unified School District administration also caused a strain for his coaching staff.

And then there were three

Ryan Battle, first-year head coach, is the third coach in three seasons for Natomas High. Negri was followed by Jeff Remington who only coached one season and left for an assistant coaching position at Sierra College.

Since Battle came on board, he and Agrella have implemented a mandatory one-hour study hall for all athletes before practice everyday.

Battle also teaches an elective twice a week which helps at-risk students – including a handful of athletes – with school work.

Battle said he has the task of starting a new tradition for Natomas High’s football program that will eventually lead to wins on the field like it has in the classroom.

“I actually have an opportunity to change this school’s culture, football-wise first,” Battle said. “It’s not like I am stepping into a school and taking over and it already has a foundation.”

Added Battle, “Just knowing I have this opportunity to do it, and the future talent that I do have coming, is going to feel a lot better.”

Not a level playing field

Natomas High has just two winning seasons since enrollment started to decline at the school since 2004.

The student population at Natomas High has dropped from more than 2,000 students on campus in 2003 to about half that now, according to the California Department of Education. The school reported 1,094 student enrollment in 2012-13.

The Nighthawks football program stands in stark contrast to its neighborhood rival just three miles to the north. Inderkum High School enrollment has hovered around 1,600 students since opening in 2004 and the Tigers have a section-best, seven-year streak of at least 10 wins a season.

According to data posted to, the Nighthawks have never had more than 34 players on the varsity roster. That’s compared to Inderkum, which has averaged 45 players on varsity rosters for the past eight years.

Starting next fall, Natomas High will become a member of the Division V level Golden Empire League. Matched up with schools like Marysville High and Mesa Verde High, the playing field will level out for the Nighthawks against programs with similar student enrollment.

With the after school homework program in place and a proposed new middle school set to open at Natomas High next fall, Negri said he’s hopeful the Nighthawks will once again be competitive.

“Those are all positive steps,” Negri said.

Looking toward the future

Natomas High principal Mark Beebe, a former basketball coach, said the pieces are in place on and off the field for success.

“It’s not about what the score was, it’s about them going out and playing hard,” said Beebe. “We put so much emphasis on winning and losing, that we have the interesting opportunity to really show the character of these kids. It pleases my heart as a former coach to see my guys just compete from kick to whistle.”

The seniors continue fighting with just one game left in the regular season.

“We are still building. We have weapons and we have talent, we just need guys to stick through this and execute,” Falls said. “It’s something we preach week by week.”

Falls credits Battle for keeping the team together this season when low numbers could have disbanded the team.

Case in point, the Nighthawks scored 20 points against Pioneer High School after halftime on Oct. 25. Despite the 44-23 loss, the offensive output in the final 24 minutes was enough to show Battle and his players they have something to build on.

“I think these kids are starting to develop that never say die attitude,” Battle said. “They are not burning out. They are starting to develop a love for what they are doing. You need to earn this right to be a student-athlete. Playing a sport is not a privilege, not a right. I am teaching them that without school, without academics, you have no sport. I explain that to them every day. What they have is a something special.”

The Natomas High Nighthawks play the Inderkum Tigers Friday, Nov. 8. The junior varsity game starts at 5:30 p.m. and varsity at 7:30 p.m.

Natomas coach Ryan Battle with his team.

Natomas coach Ryan Battle with his team.


  1. Leslie Wilson says

    Coach your dedication and commitment to the players and their education excels you far above any winning coach. You are a postive role model and a blessing to the players… Remember Rome was not bullt in a day!

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