Ceres High didn't look far to find a replacement when Jon Nowicki stepped down as varsity wrestling head coach.
Steve Festa, Nowicki's assistant for the last seven seasons and a fellow former Bulldog, earned a promotion.
"I'm excited," said Steve, 33. "I'm not going to carry myself any differently. I'm confident about who I am and what I'm going to teach this next generation. I take coaching very serious."
Ceres High experienced a major turnaround during Nowicki's and Festa's time together.
The Bulldogs never had a losing record
Ceres High placed third in the Western Athletic Conference dual-meet standings (4-2) this past season. Ceres High qualified nine individuals for Divisionals.
The Bulldogs tied for first place with Los Banos in the WAC (5-1) and advanced to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division-IV Team Dual Championships for the second time in three seasons during the 2011-12 school year.
"I owe a lot to Nowicki," Festa said. "He taught me how to coach the right way and what it takes to be a winner. You got to put in the work to get the results."
Festa will also serve as head coach of Ceres High's freshman football team.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," he said. "I feel like I can help the program. We never had a losing record when I played. We have the athletes to do the same thing."
Festa graduated from Ceres High in 1998. He had perfect attendance.
Steve earned seven varsity letters, including three in wrestling, two in football, and one in both tennis and track and field.
"My individual accomplishments weren't great," Steve said. "I worked hard at practice. I thrived on challenging myself. I was a team motivator. I always had fun. We were in a very competitive league. We had our battles."
Steve was team captain for two years in wrestling and one season in football.
Festa started at middle linebacker on the gridiron.
He registered a career-high 23 tackles during Ceres High's upset of Sonora his senior year. The Wildcats ranked first in the Stanislaus District prior to losing to the Bulldogs.
"Wrestling developed my body for football," Festa said. "It was a good marriage."
Festa lives in Ceres with his wife Jamie and daughter Alana (2).
Steve attended Mae Hensley Jr. High and Carroll Fowler Elementary School.
Festa works for Ceres PMZ Real Estate.
He's also a substitute teacher for Ceres Unified School District.
"I've been here since I was five," Festa said. "I love this community. I'm loyal. I'm giving back."