LIVINGSTON -- There wasn't much to Angelo Naldi, the high school football player.
Or the Livingston High teams he played on in the late 1960s.
"I was tall and lanky -- and about 100 pounds lighter than I am now," joked Naldi as he slowly and very carefully played back the fall of 1969.
Naldi was a tight end and defensive end on one of the worst teams in Livingston history.
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Record-wise and maybe talent-wise, too.
"We were in the (Valley Oak League) back then, playing teams like Sonora," said Naldi, now Livingston's boys basketball coach and athletic director.
"The only team we beat was Los Banos in the last game of the year. Yeah, my sport was basketball."
Still, Naldi's days on the gridiron would serve as a launching pad to his success as a coach, teacher and administrator.
The same goes for a handful of current coaches and educators here in the Central Valley.
The reason: An easygoing football coach by the name of Orville Young.
Young taught for 39 years, spending a bulk of those days as a teacher and football coach at Livingston High.
Thirty-three, to be exact.
Most of his career highlights hang on championship banners in the rafters of Livingston's fieldhouse gymnasium, but his legacy could very well be defined by that awful 1969 season.
The year Naldi lined up at tight end -- the tall, lanky leader of the Bad News Bunch.
"In football, it was feast or famine around here," Naldi said. "In 1966, he won the (Trans Valley League) championship as the varsity head coach.
Then, three years later...
"I'm a senior and we go 1-9," Naldi said with his familiar raspy laugh. "We definitely didn't bless him with the talent he had previously, that's for sure.
"Most football coaches will give you a pep talk and yell and scream at halftime, but Orvie was always there to pat you on the back and say, 'Good job.' Looking back, having coached at Livingston all those years, I really appreciate his patience."
It was Orville's gift -- patience and perseverance.
Even in death.
Orville died on Wednesday, his body no longer able to fight off the strokes that haunted him in his final years.
Orville, who was paralyzed by a spinal cord stroke in September of 1996, suffered another during a routine checkup two weeks ago.
He slipped into a coma and never woke up. And still, wouldn't you know, even in a comatose state he was patient.
Almost as if he could feel the pull of hearth and home, Orville waited until his wife of 60 years, Marion, brought him home to die.
"He was a very cheerful, upbeat kind of guy," Marion said. "He was a paraplegic the last 12 years of his life and never once complained.
"He was patient with everything that happened to him."
Orville was amazing like that, determined to live his life even as his body routinely failed him.
Even after his first stroke -- the one that left him wheelchair-bound -- Orville could be spotted at Livingston home football games, talking shop.
"He was a mentor to a lot of kids," Naldi said. "I think a lot of the coaching style I use and the values I try to instill in my kids -- you know, fair play and hard work -- those come from him."
And it's not just Naldi.
It's guys like the Winton brothers, Scott and Matt. Both played for Orville at Livingston High.
Scott is now the athletic director and girls golf coach at Merced High, while Matt coaches baseball, football and girls golf at Livingston.
Both go about their responsibilities with a cool, even-keel demeanor.
Sort of like Orvie.
Matt even turned a driving range full of first-time golfers into a playoff team -- the first in school history.
I suspect Young had a part in that one, too.
"Unlike a lot of coaches today, who come and go after winning that championship or go for another job when the group coming up isn't as great, he stayed," Naldi said. "He stayed here."
"His legacy will be that he was always there for the kids. Regardless of ability, he would work with you."
Patience and perseverance.
It was Orville's gift.
James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.