Wednesday, Aug 29 at 10:59 AM
In 2006, Don Byrd guided Alamo Heights to the Class 4A Division I state championship in his 12th season as the Mules' head football coach.
Senior quarterback Giovanni Vizza was the star player on Byrd's 2006 team, passing for 3,278 yards and 37 touchdowns and getting named the state's offensive player of the year by Texas Football magazine.
Byrd and Vizza are together again, albeit at a different school, six years after that memorable season at Alamo Heights.
When Byrd resigned at Alamo Heights to become head coach at Central Catholic in March, it didn't take him long to offer Vizza a job on his staff as quarterbacks coach. It's also been a homecoming of sorts for Vizza, who went to school at Central as a freshman and sophomore before transferring to Alamo Heights.
"It's fun to have one of your former players coaching with you," Byrd said after practice this week. "Gio is special. He led that team to a state championship. They all had their parts, but Gio made some great decisions as our quarterback that year. He knows our system and he's bringing what he learned at North Texas from Coach (Todd) Dodge, so it's been a great mesh."
Vizza brings the same passion to the game as a coach that he consistently demonstrated as a player.
"I'm enjoying the heck out of it," he said. "It's going to be nice to really start getting into some competition. I think we're ready."
Vizza played in 'Holy Bowl' as sophomore in 2004
Central Catholic opens its season against rival Holy Cross in the "Holy Bowl" on Friday night at Bob Benson '66 Stadium.
Vizza was on the Buttons' varsity as a sophomore in 2004 when they lost to Holy Cross at the Alamodome.
"I've played in the Holy Bowl and I know how much the game means to the players and fans from both schools," Vizza said.
Central's quarterbacks are learning the game from someone who was on track to break North Texas career passing records before he suddenly walked away from the game after his sophomore season in 2008.
"It was just time for me to have a change in my life," Vizza said. "I just needed something different."
Vizza started 20 games in two seasons at North Texas, throwing for 5,146 yards and 32 TDs, but he left the program after the Mean Green finished 1-11 in 2008.
Named Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2007, when he passed for 2,388 yards and 16 TDs, Vizza set an NCAA freshman record with eight TD passes in a 74-62 loss to Navy.
Vizza graduated from Texas A&M last December
Vizza transferred to Blinn Junior College in College Station in January 2009 and attended classes there until enrolling at Texas A&M later that year. He considered trying to play for the Aggies, but he never put on a helmet again.
"I just didn't have the desire and passion to be out there on the field, and I wasn't going to do it without putting everything into it," Vizza said.
Now 23, Vizza graduated from A&M with a degree in finance and real estate last December and returned to San Antonio to look for a job.
"I really was looking for a coaching job at Alamo Heights because I knew Coach Byrd was there," Vizza said. "I had to have a teaching certificate and I didn't have one yet. I was thinking of getting one.
"I was kind of slow-playing it, making sure that's what I wanted to do. I was putting some feelers out there in the coaching world, and just trying to figure out what I wanted to do."
In the meantime, Vizza went to work for his father as the manager of a car wash. He also tutored Alamo Heights quarterbacks on his own and was considering coaching the Mules' 7-on-7 team this summer.
But then Byrd stepped down at Alamo Heights and went to Central Catholic.
"He called me up the day he left and we talked," Vizza said. "He told me he had a spot for me over here. That worked out well because I didn't have to get a teaching certificate here."
Vizza topped Griffin in 2006 state final
Like most coaches at private schools in Texas, Vizza is a part-time employee and doesn't teach classes. He still manages the Wash Tub car wash on Austin Highway, but is at Central by 2:30 each weekday to get ready for practice.
Vizza said Central's spread offense is similar to the one Alamo Heights ran when it won state. The Mules capped a 14-1 season with a 40-28 victory against Copperas Cove, which was led by future Heisman Trophy-winner Robert Griffin III.
"We had a ton of camaraderie," Vizza said. "I'm still friends with a lot of people on that team and hang out with them all the time. We had a true team and had a lot of guys who had a mindset that we weren't going to be denied.
"I wouldn't call it a cockiness, but we knew we had a ton of athletes and had something special that year. We weren't going to settle for anything less than the state championship."
So where does Vizza see himself five years down the road?
"I can definitely see myself coaching," Vizza said. "Right now, I'm very fortunate to do both – business and coaching – and see what I like more. Hopefully, I never have to choose one or the other. But after I get older, I'm sure I'll have to one day. I don't have to make too many big decisions yet."
Vizza is the rookie on a coaching staff that has more than 300 years of experience in the profession.
"I consider myself blessed to be part of this staff, and have the opportunity to learn from everybody," Vizza said. "It's so much fun being in the locker room and being able to hear all the stories about their experiences as coaches."
As the young turk on the staff, Vizza isn't much older than the players he coaches. While his long hair and age set him apart from the other coaches on the Central staff, Vizza already shares a bond with them.
"I love to teach the game," he said.
His enthusiasm on the field during practice reflects that.