Volek right at home in the Hall
John Volek will finally get his moment of glory in LeFebvre Stadium tonight.
Back when Volek was a star lineman for the Hillmen in 1963 and ’64, Placer played its home games at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. Sierra College’s esteemed athletic director will join the Placer High School Hall of Fame tonight in a halftime ceremony at the stadium that bears the name of one of his greatest mentors.
Volek credits many of the coaches and teachers at Placer for shaping him into a highly successful athlete, coach, teacher and administrator. Throughout a career that zigzagged across the West Coast, he always had his eye on a return to the foothills, where he got his start.
“Did I ever think I would come back and sit here in my hero’s chair, Buzz Ostrom? It’s a dream come true,” said Volek, referring to former Sierra athletic director Buzz Ostrom, whom Volek played football under with the Wolverines. “This is where I met my wife (Vicki Merle). She’s a fellow Hillman.”
Placer and Sierra have always had an intimate relationship. Sierra — then known as Placer Junior College — shared the Auburn campus with Placer until 1961, when it was relocated to Rocklin. That left the Hillmen with a sprawling, tree-lined campus that remains the centerpiece of Downtown Auburn.
“It was really awesome. It was a huge high school experience,” Volek said of Placer. “It was basically like being on a college campus. I loved my experience there.”
Volek fit right in when he hit the football field as a freshman.
“He had skills as a freshman when he came in,” said Jugg Covich, a longtime Placer coach, teacher and administrator himself. “He had a very good work ethic and he was easy to coach. Basically I think it was those two things that made him great.”
Volek wrestled under coach Bill Flake and points to coaches Ken Holbeck and Ralph LeFebvre for giving him excellent examples to follow in the coaching profession. Teachers Fred Moeller and Richard Furlong were also major influences on Volek.
Prior to his time on the sidelines, Volek was a tremendous player. After two years as a center at Sierra, Volek landed at Weber State in Ogden, Utah. After one season, he transferred to UC Riverside, where he was a part of one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Volek’s coaching career also took root in Riverside, where he was a graduate assistant while he earned master’s degrees in political science, education and athletics.
His coaching and teaching career took him to Santa Cruz High School, Mt. San Jacinto Junior College, Walla Walla Community College in Washington and Fresno City College. He may be best known for guiding Sacramento State’s football program from 1995 to 2003.
The Hornets reached unprecedented heights under Volek and have yet to post a winning record since he left to become Sierra’s athletic director. Volek led Sacramento State to a 7-3 record in 2000 – the Hornets’ best season since 1988.
At Sierra, Volek helped develop one of the top junior college athletic programs in the country. The Wolverines are perennial contenders for the National Alliance of Two-year College Athletic Administrators Cup — awarded to schools for their overall athletic excellence. They’ve finished in the top four in the Cup standings each of the past six years. In July, Volek was selected to serve as president of NATYCAA.
Volek said he is proud of the success Sierra has had on the field. But he’s more concerned with the long-term success of the student-athletes who suit up for the Wolverines. He said it’s his goal to see athletes move on to four-year schools, whether they’re pursuing their respective sport or simply furthering their educations.
Volek has three children who are heavily involved in athletics. His son John is the athletic director at El Dorado High. His daughter Heather was an outstanding athlete at Clovis West High and married Scott Brownholtz.
Volek sports a gold lightning bolt on the rear window of his car – a subtle nod to his son Billy, who is the San Diego Chargers’ backup quarterback and an 11-year NFL veteran.
His family remains tight, just like his ties to his alma mater.
“Where the stands are now, is where I used to have to run hills,” Volek said. “To come back and see the stadium and what the community has done is great. It’s special to be honored by the selection committee and the coaches there. It’s a community Vicki and I love and I’m being honored, but really I feel like our family is being honored.”
Placer High 2010 Hall of Fame inductees
Robert Nakamoto (Class of 1949)
A graduate of Placer Junior College and Sacramento State, Nakamoto went on to serve on the staffs of U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. He is currently the president of both the Japanese American Veterans Association and the Business Executives for National Security.
Gary Stephens Judd (Class of 1958)
Judd was an outstanding football and track and field athlete at Placer before going on to Sierra College and UC Davis. He was a longtime teacher and coach in the Sacramento area and a member of the Golden West Track and Field Hall of Fame.
John Volek (Class of 1965)
After a stellar football career at Placer, he went on to play at Sierra College, Weber State and UC Riverside. He coached football all over the West Coast, including for eight years at Sacramento State. Since 2003, he’s been the athletic director at Sierra College.