Of all the impressive athletes to come through Granite Bay, it is unexpected that a teacher would be one of the most accomplished.
This past October teacher Mike Valentine was inducted into the Rancho Cordova Sports Hall of Fame for his monumental achievements in football and track and field.
“The validation of the work I had done in high school as an individual and as a teammate was what I took to heart,” Valentine said.
Valentine graduated from Cordova High School in 1978, which the football team in that decade went 102-6-1, which was the best record of any football team in the nation. In his varsity career he helped lead his team to back-to-back Metro League titles along with a San Joaquin Section title and finished with the number one ranking in the state.
“In the three years I played football at Cordova high, we lost one game,” Valentine said, “I never went into a game thinking I could lose.”
Valentine played Linebacker at 165 lbs, yet was awarded Most Valuable Player on defense because of his speed and his tenacious playing style.
“When (I) played well defensively, the team played well defensively,” Valentine said.
As impressive of a player Valentine was, he attributes his success to his teammates and his coaches more than anything.
“We were super well coached, (the coaches) taught us to play with our heads,” Valentine said. “(They) gave me the mindset that I’ll do whatever it takes to be successful.”
Valentine has the same mindset today, “that’s not just in football, you have to believe that (you) can get things done–because if you don’t somebody else will,” Valentine said.
Valentine was a four-sport athlete, playing basketball and baseball as well as football–though the sport he was an exceptional standout in, was track and field.
“I was most impressive as a hurdler, I just didn’t know it,” Valentine said.
Valentine set the school record for the 110 and 300 meter hurdles and earned Most Valuable Player–as a sophomore.
“Sophomore year my time was 14.6 seconds, junior year was 14.4 and senior season was 13.88,” Valentine said.
To put that into context, Valentine’s personal record was the same time James Owens ran in the 1976 olympics.
He broke the school, league and section record with his 110 meter hurdle time of 13.88 seconds, the record still stands today in the Metro League.
“I had numerous coaches tell me that I had the most talent they had ever seen,” Valentine said.
In 1978 Valentine was a favorite to be the state champion for hurdles. Just a week earlier he had beaten 3 future olympic trial runners (one of which was also a future 2-time NCAA champion) for the section championship–he was in the best shape of his life and his confidence was peaking.
Valentine took his mark lined up against future olympic medalists and champions, ”imagine your normal butterflies, then magnify that feeling 100 times–that’s what it felt like,” Valentine said.
College scouts watched Valentine clear the first two hurdles in front of the pack, ”I was right there, going over the third hurdle, and I brushed the hurdle with my shoe,” Valentine said, “the shoe flew off–I finished the race in 6th place.”
Valentine was heartbroken and shocked in disbelief after the race. Though as a great consolation, he was invited to race in the Golden West–the biggest national high school track meet in the country at the time.
Unfortunately because his confidence was no longer peaking and his body wasn’t in top condition, as the race was the day after his graduation, Valentine didn’t perform to his highest level–that was Valentine’s last race.
”If I were to do it again I would have stuck with track,” Valentine said, “but you don’t get a do over.”
This did anything but overshadow Valentine’s towering list of athletic achievements, though he thinks “things happen for a reason,” Valentine said.
Valentine stays involved in sports today as a football and track and field coach.
He has led football teams to state championships both as a player and as a coach, and has coached runners into division one talent.
“ I was meant to do something else,” Valentine said “maybe I was meant to be here.”