It wasn’t that long ago Brian Diaz and Jose Oquendo were track and field standouts at Rock Falls High School.
Now, the brothers are in the business of helping others follow in their footsteps.
The 21-year-old Diaz is in his first year as head coach for the Rock Falls girls program. He succeeded Chris Lacy, who resigned after a successful 9-year run with the Rockets.
Diaz currently attends Sauk Valley Community College, and plans to attend a to-be-determined 4-year university. He’ll study physical education, with the goal of becoming a teacher and a coach.
He’s already been a coach, for 2 years at Rock Falls Middle School in track, and 1 year at Challand Middle School in cross country. He’s also been part of the winter track and field program at the Westwood Sports Complex.
“I just love coaching,” Diaz said. “I love being a mentor to kids. I feel like that’s my calling, and I want to do that for the rest of my life.”
Oquendo, 28, has also coached at Westwood, as well as at St. Andrew’s Middle School. Being an assistant coach for Diaz works perfectly for him, as his plate is otherwise full. He works in receiving at the Walmart Distribution Center, and he and his wife, Laura, have two sons, Adan, 6, and Alex, 3.
“I thought about putting in my application to be the head coach,” Oquendo said, “but it was just too much. Knowing Brian was the head coach, that made it easier for me.”
Diaz and Oquendo both had decorated careers at Rock Falls.
When Diaz was a sophomore, he teamed with Alec Dorathy, Zohar Burciaga and Tyler Barnes to win the Class 1A 800 relay at the state meet with a time of 1 minute, 29.1 seconds.
Oquendo won nine state medals during his time as a Rocket, including state titles in the 100 (10.69) and 200 (22.02) as a senior in 2004. He is the school record holder in the 100 (10.33), 200 (21.4) and long jump (22 feet, 8 inches).
The duo’s area of expertise will be in the sprints and jumps, and Diaz will also help with the throws. Mark Truesdell is the staff long-distance coach, while Mitch Saad coaches the middle-distance runners.
Diaz is confident everybody on the track team will receive plenty of attention from the coaching staff.
“There’s nobody that’s going to be left behind,” Diaz said. “If somebody calls me up and says, ‘Coach, I want to go lift,’ I live just down the road from here.”
The one event that’s not covered by the girls coaching staff, albeit temporarily, is the pole vault.
Boys head coach Eric Bontz, however, is a vaulter, and Diaz is learning the ins and outs of the event from his colleague.
“I’m actually learning how to pole vault so I can teach it,” Diaz said. “I’m not going to teach something I don’t know for myself.”
Like most area track coaches, Diaz is eager to get his team outdoors on a regular basis, to see what they are really capable of. Early results have been promising.
Dallas Clevenger, a junior sprinter, was encouraged to try the triple jump by her coaches. She tried it at an indoor meet at Westwood and went 34 feet, breaking the school record by more than 13 inches.
“They’re an awesome, strong group of girls,” Diaz said, “and I’m excited to work with them.”
Long-term, Diaz also sees the track program headed in the right direction. Before this year, East Coloma, Montmorency and Rock Falls middle schools each had their own track teams, coached independently of each other.
This year, they are under one umbrella, the Rock Falls Jets. It’s a move Diaz pushed for, unsuccessfully, when he coached at Rock Falls Middle School.
“Finally when I left, they decided they wanted to do it, and I’m glad they did,” Diaz said. “We’ll be on the same page coaching-wise, and it’s really going to help with camaraderie and team unity. I’m just so excited about everything we’re doing.”
Did you know: Brian Diaz and Jose Oquendo each won track state titles in high school? Diaz was part of 800 relay title team in 2009, and Oquendo won 100 and 200 dashes in 2004.