By Ethan Lachman
Special to the San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
Sylmar resident Santos Juarez’s idol, four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Joe Montana of the San Francisco 49ers, once said at the end of a game that all he wanted was to be able “to look at [himself] in the mirror, win or lose, and know [he] gave it everything [he] had.”
Juarez, who passed away June 6 of natural causes at age 88, did just that. He gave it all he had in more than 40 years of volunteering as a youth sports coach.
According to those who knew him, Juarez had a lasting impact on the lives of the athletes he coached, who were often between 6 and 15 years old when they played for him.
“I’ve been getting phone calls from players that he coached years ago and, you know, they’re in their 40s and 50s now,” said daughter Tammy Cabrera.
After he and his family moved from Los Angeles to Sylmar in the late 1960s, Juarez soon began volunteering at the Valley Youth Conference, which is part of the Pop Warner Little Scholars program and included youth teams hailing from all across the San Fernando Valley.
Juarez led various teams during his coaching tenure, such as the Valley Falcons, the North Valley Golden Bears and the San Fernando Braves. The teams practiced and played games at different high schools in the valley.
In total, Juarez coached three different sports, sharing his expertise in basketball and baseball before ultimately focusing solely on football.
Cabrera said her mom also worked with Juarez to manage his teams, and Cabrera herself began volunteering with them at 17. The volunteering became a family affair alongside the strong relationships her father created with his players.
“A lot of them kept in touch through the years. They would drive by here and say ‘hi,’” Cabrera said. “They’re always asking, ‘How’s Coach Santos?’ You know, that’s how they all knew him —as Coach Santos.”
Juarez’s brother-in-law Cruz Trevino coached alongside him for approximately eight years starting in 1972. He said Juarez emphasized discipline, but it was to continue a player’s growth both on and off the field.
“As tough as he was, he had a heart of gold,” Trevino said. “Kids realized that this man knew what he was talking about. And he really wanted [them] to develop into being a better person and a better football player.”
In addition to being an assistant coach, Juarez was Trevino’s brother-in-law and his foreman while they worked as sheet metal mechanics in the air conditioning industry.
Despite their often long work days, Trevino said Juarez coached his teams approximately four days a week.
“Sometimes there was maybe too much, but if you love something, that’s nothing,” Trevino said. “This is your life. It’s not like you have to do these things, you know what I mean. So it was like pretty special for us to be out there.”
Juarez carried a great spirit throughout his life, Trevino said, adding Juarez was always the first person to run the bleachers or complete whatever exercise he assigned as a way to lead by example — and not just for football.
“All the way through life, he’s always been part of, you know, a big brother image. Not just a brother-in-law, but my foreman, my coach, my friend, my buddy,” he said. “Maybe that’s why my family sort of does the same thing. We learned from him how to keep the family together.”
Manuel Sandoval who played football for the Falcons said Juarez gave him some good advice about getting hit when he was learning how to play on the offensive line.
“He just told me to not be scared. ‘It’s how you learn,’” Sandoval said.
He added that Juarez would work at the snack bar during other games, make sure all players had uniforms, attend team fundraisers and drive players home if they needed a ride.
These are just part of what Sandoval said made him both “a good coach” and “a good man,” adding he continues to apply the lessons Juarez taught him in his life today.
“He always told us like, basically just not [to] give up,” he said. “‘You should always play the full 48 minutes,’ which meant give it your all until the clock runs out, which you can use in real life. You just give everything you got, day to day, to be a good person.”
Frances Sandoval, Manuel’s mother, said that as a parent she felt more comfortable signing her son up for football knowing that Juarez was running the program.
She said she remembers when Juarez would spend early mornings preparing for practice and late nights taking care of the field with a leaf blower.
“Even after he retired, he still kept doing it. He was still involved, still on the field all the time,” she said. “He never gave it up. I think he lived for that, honestly. I truly feel like he lived to coach and to be there for kids.”
Juarez is survived by his four children: Cabrera, Michael Juarez, Loretta Juarez and Charlie Juarez. He also has 17 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren.
Cabrera said that a private service to celebrate Juarez’s life was held today (July 1).