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By Zach Cavanagh

If you spend any time watching warm-ups for the St. Margaret’s football team or just listening to the Tartans’ sideline during a game, it’s impossible to not be transfixed by the aura of St. Margaret’s head coach Kory Minor.

As a football guy, sure, it’s easy enough to be wowed by Minor as the 1994 USA Today defensive player of the year at Bishop Amat High School, the former Notre Dame linebacker under head coaches Lou Holtz and Bob Davie or the 1999 NFL Draft pick and four-year pro with the Carolina Panthers. However, that’s not what will grab you.

Minor is an absolute fireball, but not one that will burn you if you get too close. Outgoing, loud and energizing, Minor is the fireball that wants to share his flame, and honestly, everyone else might as well just be tinder. He’s very affecting.

“I’m just wired that way,” Minor said. “I don’t drink coffee. I don’t need it.”

As important as his football acumen has been to St. Margaret’s, it’s Minor’s constant source of energy that has been instrumental in helping the Tartans bounce back from the weary of 2020 and a rough 2-4 start to 2021 to advance to the CIF-SS Division 9 Final on Friday, Nov. 26 at Colony High School in Ontario.

“I try to be infectious to the team,” Minor said. “I really believe that me being that way, the team feels that, especially when we’re down and out and things aren’t going right. I can give that burst of energy.”

On game days, Minor sprints onto the field as the Tartans are midway through their warm-ups. He bounces to the pre-game music, heartily greets referees and reporters and spreads those early words of encouragement to his squad. Minor even gets involved with drills as he rushes the offensive line or covers wide receivers and looks ready to even take a few snaps himself.

“He brings a lot of energy in practice, and we really feed off of him,” St. Margaret’s senior lineman Trey Kingsley said. “He’s a great leader, obviously was a great player, so he knows what he’s doing. I love him as a coach. I think it really puts this team together.”

Throughout the game, Minor has a few key refrains. Whenever the Tartans’ defense forces a third down, a full-throated “get off the field” will surely be heard. When things are going St. Margaret’s way and Minor wants to see his team finish their job, “all gas, no brakes” will ring out across the field. He’s the first person on the sideline to meet a player after a big play, and he’ll be the same to help a player who just a made a mistake to get them back on track.

“He was a great player himself. He’s an even better man,” Tartans senior Will Stahl said. “He always stresses to us to enjoy the moment, and enjoy our lives and be the best person we can.”

Minor isn’t just a battery for the Tartans roster. He and his coaching staff have ensured that the Tartans can be a self-charging unit.

As a small school with a traditionally smaller roster, St. Margaret’s always has its share of two-way players, with Kingsley and Stahl chief among them. However, the Tartans have always found their ways to not wear down and be just as effective in the fourth quarter as they are in the first. That ability to still be effective both ways late was key in St. Margaret’s semifinal win against Claremont, where Stahl caught the go-ahead touchdown pass on offense and iced the game with a pick-six on the next play on defense in the final minutes.

“I don’t think we ever break down,” Stahl said. “Our team motto is we have big heart. We have more of a will to win than the other team. We’re all used to playing both ways. I’ve never played football where I haven’t gone both ways.”

Even when St. Margaret’s has been paired up against larger public schools that commit to grinding the game out on the ground, as the Tartans have faced the last two rounds against San Dimas and Claremont, the team hasn’t folded and made big plays late when it counted most. St. Margaret’s will need to have the same full-game and late-game energy against a strong, physical and aggressive Colony team in the Division 9 Final, and the Tartans seem ready for it.

“That’s just the culture of our program,” Kingsley said. “Next man up and having a lot of heart, even if we might not be the biggest size team in terms of numbers. In those games where they try to pound the ball, we’ve really fought back. I think we’re a good enough team where we can stop those types of offenses.”

Kingsley said its been a point of pride for St. Margaret’s in taking its small-school culture with only 35 players on the roster against the bigger public schools with upwards of 80 players. Stahl and senior quarterback Jack Ruff touted the brotherhood that runs throughout the St. Margaret’s athletic program as giving them that ability and want to keep fighting and take down bigger opponents.

Minor said he saw this team’s ability grow every week into the championship-game form its in now. Minor likened it to chopping wood with his Tartans putting in that hard work week after week.

“Our school isn’t easy,” Minor said. “Our school is a tough academic school. So, to go do that for eight hours, then come to practice for three hours and be locked in, it’s not easy to do, and they find a way to do it. There’s so many reasons why we don’t have to be here, but the fact that we are here is a testament to these young men, my coaching staff and our administration across the board.”

The fireball of Kory Minor is ready to ignite all that chopped wood, and his group of Tartans might just light the way to their first CIF-SS championship since 2014 on Friday night at Colony High School.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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