Napa High School Athletic Hall of Fame: Dunlap’s SoCal football coach lured him to Napa
Jerry Dunlap was getting close to completing his master’s degree in education administration at the University of Nebraska when he got a call one day from Lars Christensen, the principal at Napa High School.
It was in the summer of 1993.
The two had a close connection, as Christensen was on the coaching staff at Buena High School-Ventura, where Dunlap was a three-sport athlete, the team’s quarterback and the Ventura County Scholar Athlete of the Year.
“We had kept in contact all through college,” Dunlap recalled recently. “He knew I was finishing up my master’s. He asked me if I wanted a job. I said, ‘I need a job.’ It was a Friday. He asked me if I could be to Napa on Monday.”
Dunlap, who played football at powerhouse Nebraska, accepted the job offer. He packed up all of his belongings and drove from Lincoln to Napa.
“I graduated on that Saturday. I told him that I’d be there. I drove 26 hours on I-80 and made it to his house Monday morning. I’ve been here 29 years,” said Dunlap.
“Everything I had was in that car, my mom’s old Oldsmobile. I found an apartment and got to work with coach (Bob) Herlocker (as Napa’s quarterbacks coach) right away. It was great.”
Dunlap was at Napa High for 23 years, from 1993 to 2016, teaching and coaching. He was the head football coach for nine years, from 1997 to 2005, and won four Monticello Empire League championships. He was also an assistant on coach Troy Mott’s staff when Napa won the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title in 2007.
He taught adaptive P.E., health education and P.E. He was also the department chair for P.E. and health.
Dunlap was credited with implementing changes for the school’s curriculum and athletic programs, including:
- Redesigning the P.E. program for those students in grades 9 and 10.
- Designing, facilitating and building a 4,000 square-foot weight room.
- Developing and putting in place a summer strength and conditioning program.
- Introducing new computer and technology programming for P.E/health curriculum and also for the football program.
“I was thinking about it the other day. It was almost like Shangri-La,” Dunlap said, looking back on his arrival in town and going to work at Napa High. “I couldn’t believe I was in a place that had so many great people to be around on a daily basis, not only within our own department but throughout the school. We had just an incredible administration back then and great faculty support across campus. I thought Lars did an incredible job bringing our campus community together. It was like a big, large family.
“I look back at those as just great times. I’m so fortunate that he offered me a position and I got to make Napa my life.”
Dunlap will be honored for his outstanding work when he is inducted into the Napa High Athletic Hall of Fame as a coach, joining two others who were also elected with the 2021 Class in voting by the Foundation’s selection committee.
The three-member class also has Carlos Gonzalez, a 1976 graduate, who played football and wrestled, and Marty James, a special category inductee, who covered sports for 40 years for the Napa Valley Register, as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor.
A seven-member 2020 Class will also be inducted during the organization’s 24th annual awards dinner and ceremony on Saturday, March 5 at Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley. Hall of Fame events were canceled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In all, there are 10 inductees. The 2020 Class consists of Ron Fisher (Class of 1972), Ed Blanton (Class of 2001), Michael “Buddy” Connor (Class of 2003), Jessi Emery-Gibson (Class of 2004), Mike Gibson (Class of 2004), coach Joe Richmond, and Ira C. Smith, the sports director at KVON-1440 AM radio for the last 45 years, who is a special category inductee. They were also elected in voting by the Foundation’s selection committee.
“It’s a great honor for our family, going in on a night where we do have three former athletes from our program, and Coach Richmond who was around supporting us through the years,” said Dunlap, 54, a Napa resident. “It’s going to be a great night — a great night for our family and a great night for our football program that we were a part of during those days.”
The foundation’s selection committee votes on the nominees after reviewing the nominations and hearing presentations by nominators. A successful nominee needs 75 percent of the total points possible.
The mission statement of Hall of Fame Foundation, according to napahighhof.org, is to honor the school and its department of athletics by recognizing the achievements of former athletes, coaches and others who have made significant contributions to the school’s athletic programs, while celebrating Napa High School scholar-athletes for their work in the classroom, community and in athletics.
Individuals may be nominated in one of three categories: athlete, coach and special.
To date, there are 154 members of the Hall of Fame, with the organization’s membership dating back to 1912.
The Hall of Fame was formed in 1997, with 36 inductees in the first class.
“Our family’s super excited about it. It’s very humbling,” said Dunlap. “It’s something I never thought would happen. It will be great to see everybody and to be a part of this unique family at Napa High School. I’m looking forward to it.”
High school years
Dunlap attended Buena High School-Ventura from 1982-1986 and lettered in football, basketball and track and field.
He was named All-Conference in football in 1984 and 1985 as an athlete and quarterback.
He held multiple school passing, punting and field goal records.
It was at Buena where he met Christensen, a first-year teacher on the staff.
“I met Lars my sophomore year at Buena High School. He was an assistant JV coach. We’re friends to this day. He was a great influence on me as a high school student-athlete,” said Dunlap.
Christensen was also a varsity assistant coach.
Christensen was Napa High’s Dean of Students from 1988-1990 and the school’s principal from 1990-2002.
Christensen has been the CIF North Coast Section President and a member of the CIF State Federated Council.
He served as principal and assistant principal at Terra Linda High-San Rafael.
He worked as an assistant superintendent for the Tamalpais Union High School District.
Dunlap played for legendary coach Tom Osborne, who directed the University of Nebraska to three national championships, 25 straight bowl game appearances and 13 conference championships. Dunlap was in the Nebraska program as a quarterback from 1986 to 1990.
He was the freshman team quarterback and punter in 1986.
After a redshirt year in 1987, Dunlap was with the Cornhuskers as a quarterback and placeholder in 1988, 1989 and 1990, earning letters each year.
He was the recipient of the Tom Osborne graduate scholarship.
Dunlap went to the following bowl games at Nebraska:
* 1988 Fiesta Bowl vs. Florida State.
* 1989 Orange Bowl (Big 8 Conference champs) vs. University of Miami.
* 1990 Fiesta Bowl vs. Florida State.
* 1991 Citrus Bowl vs. Georgia Tech.
Dunlap said it was a great honor to play for Osborne, his position coach. Osborne was Nebraska’s head coach for 25 years.
“As I moved on through my career, (Osborne) knew I wanted to coach. And so I kind of started taking that angle in my approach to football, because at that point, I knew I was probably not ever going to be the starter there. He knew that and we had discussions about that. I had my role on the team on what I was doing. I started taking my approach in the team meetings of (analyzing) why we were doing certain things, how were doing certain things. Obviously, my mind would never work like his. He was a genius, just the way he called plays and could set things up and work with his staff,” he said.
“I learned a lot about how to present yourself and the demeanor you used. He didn’t raise his voice very often. I kind of picked up on those traits. You knew when Coach Osborne was upset. You could hear a pin drop when he was upset, but he did it in an eloquent way that we all understood.
“I was extremely privileged to be mentored under him. I loved it at Nebraska and I would never have changed that for the world.”
There is so much that Dunlap took from the experience of playing at Nebraska.
“I think it taught us a lot. I think it taught us how to handle ourselves as we moved on through life. We’ve all been hit with a lot of misfortunes or things that don’t go correctly in life. I think the experience of playing football and playing any sport kind of helps you cope with challenges that you do face throughout life,” he said.
Dunlap graduated from Nebraska in 1991 with degrees in health and kinesiology.
Napa High years
Dunlap took over as head coach in 1997 and led Napa to MEL titles during his last four years as head coach, 2002 to 2005.
Blanton, Connor and Gibson each played for Dunlap.
He was Napa’ junior varsity head coach from 1994 to 1996.
He was a varsity assistant coach from 2006 to 2015.
“We were fortunate to have excellent coaches on our staff. Not only were most of them excellent coaches, we had a lot of teachers on our campus and we felt that was a big part of the success that we started to gain at Napa High School. We were fortunate that we had an administration that understood the importance of hiring,” he said.
“Our program was extremely fortunate to have an incredible coaching staff that got stronger and stronger through the years. We were fortunate to have an incredible administration on our campus that supported us.
“We had a group of student athletes that were dedicated to what we were doing on the field. They became very committed to what we were offering in the weight room. And we felt that was a big part of gaining success within the conference. Our student athletes did extremely well in the classroom.”
Learning from his father
There is so much that Dunlap learned about teaching, coaching and athletic administration from his father, Jerry Dunlap, who was the athletic director, dean of physical education, head wrestling coach and assistant football coach at Ventura College. He was at Ventura College for 38 years.
Jerry’s father passed away on Sept. 30, 2020 in Omaha, Neb. He was 79.
Jerry helped his dad out, including working in the football program and filming basketball games.
“I got to be around athletics since I was basically an infant,” said Dunlap. “He was my ultimate influence. I went to work with him nearly every day when I wasn’t in school.
“Looking back, he never pressured me to even play in athletics. He supported me in anything that I was doing. I didn’t play football until high school. I played a lot of soccer, played a lot of basketball, ran track, skateboarded, attempted surfing for a little while.
“He had me at the college with him at all times. I looked up to him. I thought he had the greatest job in the world. I aspired to do that one day. I didn’t know if I’d ever get that opportunity. I take a lot with me every day when I go to work, to what he did in this role. He was a great role model for me, but also a great friend and a great father.”
Jerry’s father was president of the California Community College Athletic Director’s Association in 1980-81. He was president of the Western States Conference, from 1975 to 1989.
He was a four-sport athlete (football, baseball, track and field, tennis) at University of Nebraska-Kearney.
Leading NVC Athletics
Dunlap has been the Associate Dean of Kinesiology, Health and Dance and the Athletic Director at Napa Valley College since 2016.
He oversees the athletic department. NVC teams play in the Bay Valley Conference. The men’s and women’s golf teams are in the Big 8 Conference.
“We have an incredible staff here within the department, with so many dedicated individuals that put time in, day and night,” he said.
“We’re here for the students. We will drop what we’re doing, if a student walks in and needs help,” he said.
Jerry Dunlap and his wife, Katy Dunlap, make their home in Napa with their daughter, Lauren, 17.
Katy is the principal at Terra Linda High School.
Lauren is a senior at Santa Catalina School in Monterey.
The Hall of Fame’s website is napahighhof.org.
This story ran in the Napa Valley Register on February 27, 2022. It was written by fellow inductee Marty James. Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019 after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016 and the Vintage High School Athletic Hall of Fame in September of 2019.
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