There is a hand-written note displayed proudly on the door of Lincoln football coach Phil Ferrigno’s office, a letter sent to the Mustangs by defensive coordinator John Baxter just months before he passed away in June from stomach cancer at the age of 62.
In it, Baxter expressed heartfelt gratitude to the Mustangs’ players for a get-well message they had sent him. He then closed with one last bit of inspiration for a team he helped mold into the 2005 San Francisco Section champions.
"To the juniors and sophomores who will return, you have learned how to win," it concludes. "Now go do it!!!"
Second-seeded Lincoln (9-2) is now on the verge of claiming its second straight Turkey Bowl crown for the first time in school history. And in today’s 11 a.m. title game against top-seeded Lowell (10-1) at Kezar Stadium, the Mustangs are looking for one more win in what has become a season full of victories dedicated to Coach B.
"It was a privilege to be able to work with Coach B and he touched so many of us," Ferrigno said. "His loss has really given us something to rally around. We’re playing for him."
Baxter was Ferrigno’s coach at Riordan in the early 1980s and joined the Lincoln staff in 2002, when his former player was named head coach. The San Bruno firefighter helped instill the discipline and passion needed to turn an underachieving Mustangs program long on talent into one of the elite programs in the Academic Athletic Association, culminating in last year’s 21-20 championship game win over Balboa.
Baxter is remembered by his players as a patient coach willing to stop and answer even the most simple of questions.
"He was really understanding," Lincoln senior linebacker Michael Clayton said. "He would just break things down so everyone knew exactly what to do."
Baxter’s presence still hovers over many aspects of the Lincoln program, beginning with the inspirational note and extending to the practice techniques he taught Ferrigno and the "junkyard dog" mentality he brought to the team.
"He didn’t always show a lot of emotion," Lincoln lineman David Garcia said. "But sometimes after a win, you’dcatch Coach B with a big old grin on his face."
The Mustangs honor Baxter’s memory with black JB stickers on the back of their helmets and hope to do him proud one more time today.
"Coach B was always looking for us to play that perfect game," Lincoln running back David Henderson said. "We haven’t done it yet, but we’re getting there."