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Tigers tap Cato coach

March 03, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports Editor

IMPERIAL — Sitting in the stands was OK, but when Steve Cato had the opportunity to return to the sidelines, he leaped at the chance.

"When it gets in your blood, it's hard to get rid of it," said Cato, who Wednesday night was named varsity football coach at Imperial High School.

While sitting in an office Friday at Ben Hulse Elementary School, where he is a vice principal, Cato recalled how much he enjoyed being involved in the game, how he enjoyed going to clinics on weekends, how he enjoyed attending San Diego Chargers practices and watching Doug Flutie work wonders.

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He recalled meeting legendary coaches at clinics.

"I can also remember once while I was standing in line to buy a book I looked to my right and I was standing next to (former Chargers coach) Sid Gillman," Cato said.

Cato missed all of that. So when Mike Swearingen resigned as Imperial head coach after the football season last fall, Cato pondered applying for the position.

He had come to Imperial the year before after a storied career in Brawley, which included five championships at Brawley Union High.

"I came here to Imperial not with the intent of returning to coaching, but because of the administrative position," he said.

As luck would happen, the football slot opened.

"What was nice was a lot of my former players told me I should apply," Cato said.

Cato, 55, has made a name for himself in football since his high school days. He starred as a fullback for the Wildcats, graduating in 1964.

He played football at Imperial Valley College for two seasons before playing at San Francisco State.

After college, Cato enlisted in the service during the Vietnam War era. Upon returning to the Valley he got into coaching at Imperial High, working the lower levels under John Tyree first and then Pat McGee.

"It proved to be excellent training," he said.

Cato left Imperial in 1977 and went to his alma mater Brawley to work with his former junior high coach, Jerry Lowe. When Lowe resigned in 1983, Cato took over as varsity head football coach of the Wildcats.

In his first five seasons Cato won league titles. After two years of struggling, Cato stepped down as varsity head football coach.

Unable to cut his ties to the sport completely, Cato hung around coaching at the lower levels. He left the sport when he took the administrative position in Imperial.

Now he's back, hoping to bring some excitement to Imperial Tiger football.

While he was a fullback during his playing days, Cato concedes he likes to throw the football.

"I've been known to throw the ball 20 to 30 times a game," he said.

When Don Coryell coached the San Diego Chargers, Cato said people used to talk about "Air Coryell and Air Cato."

Maybe he got his love for airing it out while at San Francisco State. Cato recalled Bob Toledo was the quarterback then. He was somewhat like Flutie, Cato said, adding Toledo threw for five touchdowns in one game and more than 40 for the season.

"I weighed 175 pounds then, and they didn't need a little blocking fullback when they could throw the ball," he said.

Toledo is now the offensive-minded head coach at UCLA.

While Cato, like Toledo and Coryell, likes to throw the ball, he looks more to devise a game plan to keep opposing teams' defenses honest. He hopes to keep mixing the offensive schemes.

"I love to disrupt defenses," he said, "and make them call a time out to adjust to our offense."

Since he has just been named head coach, Cato has not had a lot of time to start formulating a game plan. One of the first things he wants to do is assemble a coaching staff.

"I also want to meet with the kids," he said, and see who in interested in coming out for football.

"I want to see if we have anyone who can throw the ball and catch the ball," he said. "Do we also have anybody who can tackle?"

Cato wants athletes who are not afraid of hard work.

"I love to see kids sweat," he said.

He hopes to meet with track and baseball coaches at Imperial and see about developing a good relationship between the various sports programs.

Cato plans to develop a spring football program. He also hopes to participate in a summer passing league.

"I do believe in weight training, too," he said.

He also has set a goal.

"I'd like for us to make the playoffs," he said. "One team, one goal. The sky is the limit for us."

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