Over the last 40 years, one name has been synonymous with Cerritos College football: Frank Mazzotta. Anytime someone referred to the Falcon program, Mazzotta's name was automatically linked to the conversation. On May 20, 2018 close to 225 former players, coaches and staff members came out to Falcon Stadium to say goodbye to Mazzotta, who announced his retirement. In his 40 years as the Falcons head coach (1978-2017) - he also spent two years as an assistant coach - Mazzotta posted a 255-160-6 record with 21 bowl game appearances, seven conference championships, while 546 players received scholarships to four-year schools.
Joined by his wife of 54 years, Helen, along with their two sons Frank, Jr, and Casey, as well as their grandchildren, Mazzotta was feted by former players, coaches and staff, who took turns speaking about their experiences with the Cerritos football program and the impact Mazzotta had on their lives. Both sons Frank Jr. (head coach at La Habra High School) and Casey (head coach at Mt. San Jacinto College) played for the Falcons and then started their coaching career under the tutelage of their father.
Looking back on his career, Mazzotta said, "I was fortunate to start my career in a time where community college football was at its best. We played in front of huge crowds and there were several of us coaches in the Southern California area that ran great programs. I played on a National Championship team at Long Beach City College before playing at the University of Utah, so I understood what a community college could do to help a kid. Coming to Cerritos in 1976 to coach with my mentor, Ernie Johnson, was the best decision I ever made in my coaching career. Unfortunately, the college fired Ernie and hired me, but the first thing I did was hire Erine back to be on my staff. The administration at the time wasn't too pleased with that, but I wasn't going to coach without Ernie by my side."
Herb Welch, who played for the Falcons from 1980-81 before receiving a scholarship at UCLA and then enjoyed a seven-year NFL career, said that Mazzotta was an 'inspiration' to him and it was Mazzotta who convinced him to continue his football career. Welch, who won a Super Bowl in 1986 as a starting safety for the New York Giants, said, "without your influence, none of the things that happened in my career could have even been possible."
Players from almost every one of his teams attended the retirement BBQ, but the largest group of players came from his first season in 1978, which won the South Coast Conference championship and played in the Avocado Bowl. Also in attendance was Guy Teafatiller, an All-American on the 1983 conference championship team that won the PONY Bowl. Teafatiller, who transferred to the University of Illinois, played for four teams in the NFL.
"Just like Herb mentioned before, I wasn't sure I wanted to continue playing football," said Teafatiller. "I went to the University of New Mexico out of high school and didn't like it, so I came back home. Coach Mo got hold of me and told me I needed to get back into it. I came out to practice, fell in love with the game again and owe everything I am to him. You just can't find a better friend, coach, teacher, or in my case, father-figure. The game of football will miss him."
Emceed by Alfredo Martinez (1992-93), who received seven team awards his sophomore season, said that Mazzotta told him, "I owe you the opportunity to fail. What you do after that is on you." Martinez said he took that as encouragement to be the best player possible and that sentiment was echoed by the majority of players in attendance.
A member of the Falcon coaching staff for the last 20 years, the last 11 as the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator, Tom Caines stated, "I had the fortune to meet coach back in 1984 as a player at Taft College. In 1996 I was the head coach at Hacienda Heights Wilson High and we won the CIF championship.That spring, Coach asked if I would be interested in applying for the job. I may have never received a opportunity at the community college level if it wasn't for Coach. In our profession, you don't need very many fingers to count men who have impacted more people than Coach Mo. From Manhattan Beach, CA to Manhattan, KS to Manhattan, NY, everyone knows Cerritos College football because of Frank Mazzotta."
A wide receiver on the 1990-91 teams, Cliff Parks talked about how he had decided not to play out of high school, but came to Cerritos because a lot of his high school friends did. He ended up serving as a gray-shirt and watched how things were run during practice and at games. "Coach Mazzotta was tough and gritty and I liked that," said Parks. "I remember in my first year, I was guarded in practice by Jean Boyd, who hit me harder than anyone ever in my life. I figured that if that's what it would be like playing in games, then I needed to find ways to get open and a lot of that motivation came from Coach Mo. In my sophomore year, he knew that I had a new daughter, was working two jobs and going to school full-time. It was the love and support that I received from Coach Mo that pushed me to get my Bachelors and Masters degrees and being a father figure to me and like a grandfather to my kids. The reason I am who I am is because of Coach Mazzotta."
Dean Grosfeld (pictured, right with Mazzotta), who was the Falcons quarterback from 1990-91 and has spent 23 years on the coaching staff, including the last 12 as the offensive coordinator, said, "There's no way you can follow the legacy of Coach Mazzotta and step into his shoes. My goal is to continue to build on his foundation and honor Coach Mazzotta by treating the players current and past with the same respect he did. He means more to me than anyone on the face of the Earth. I enjoyed playing for him and have enjoyed the last 23 seasons being a part of his staff. Coach Mazzotta is Falcon Football and that will never change."
"To all of you, Cerritos has been my life for 42 years," said Mazzotta. "I have the best and most understanding wife in the world. I would leave for work every day at 7:00 in the morning and not get home until around 9:30 every night. She understood what the program meant, and means, to me. She might not like how much I'm going to be around now, but I wouldn't have had a career this long if it hadn't been for her. You know, we all have markers in our lives that represent events in our days. For us coaches, it meant we have team meetings at this time, games at this time, film sessions that this time. You stop and look back and all of the markers are gone. But seeing everyone out here now, and hearing from so many guys on a regular basis, it tells me that my time was not wasted. The love and support I have received from all of you in the last few months, and over the years, is what made everything worth it. Without a doubt, you guys have done more for me than I could have ever done for you. You guys mean the world to me and I love you all."
Photos by Daryl Peterson
Football: Players and coaches come out to honor Frank Mazzotta