High schools: Tokay turns to Santoyo to succeed long-time soccer coach

Tokay junior varsity coach Erick Santoyo, center, talks to Tokay's varsity players as varsity coach Ruben Gomez, right, looks on during Tokay's 4-0 victory over Lodi on Feb. 4 at Don Rostomily Field. Santoyo was announced as Gomez's successor this week.

When Ruben Gomez retired as Tokay High’s boys soccer coach, he left a legacy a mile long.

In 33 years at the helm of Tokay’s soccer program, Gomez presided over wins and losses, league titles, playoff triumphs and heartbreaks, and more than a generation of young soccer players.

When looking for somebody to fill those shoes, Tokay athletic director Michael Holst didn’t have to look far. Erick Santoyo, Tokay’s junior varsity coach for the past five years and Gomez’s right-hand man on the varsity squad, was announced as Gomez’s successor on Monday.

“We have a big task in front of us,” Santoyo said. “Ruben left a big gap to fill going to the section championship and the quarterfinals of the regional for the first time in history.”

Santoyo provides not only continuity, but he has had the JV squad humming, going 13-2-2 last winter.

“I’m very excited, man,” Santoyo said. “A lot of the guys that played last year played under me a couple years ago, so I know what to expect of them, they know what’s expected from me.”

The new coach said he’s already heard from a few of his players, saying they’re ready to get started working toward a repeat of last year’s Tri-City Athletic League title and run to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game.

There’s a feeling of unfinished business after the 1-0 loss to Jesuit in overtime of the title game. That one goal left a sour note on a magical playoff run in Gomez’s final season.

“There’s a lot of hunger from the guys. Last year during that playoff run, we pulled up three sophomores so they got a glimpse of what the payoffs are like,” Santoyo said. “A lot of the juniors that will be there next year aren’t too thrilled with how playoffs went.”

Santoyo, who played under Gomez during his high school years at Tokay, said he learned a lot from Gomez, but a real learning experience was being an assistant when Gomez and Dale Strawn were co-coaches.

“It was a lot of learning how to communicate what was best for the team,” Santoyo said. “Both coaches had a lot of ideas, and it was about coming together as one, putting it all together to form a winning team. It was about that time Tokay got its first league title in about 18 years.”

Over the past few years, Santoyo said Gomez would ask his advice on formations and substitutes increasingly often.

“I’ve learned a lot, as far as dealing with parents, coaching at the varsity level,” Santoyo said. “That’s one of the reasons why I stuck around for the varsity games.”

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