SF State graduates know they’re not likely to land their dream jobs immediately upon graduation. Recent graduate Eric Ballelos, however, got his dream job before he even finished finals.
That is because Ballelos, 29, is the volleyball team’s new assistant coach.
“This is where I’ve wanted to be,” Ballelos said. “This is where I imagined myself three, four years from now. To be coaching at this level in my hometown, it’s a rare opportunity for me. That opportunity came a lot sooner than I thought.”
Volleyball has been a love of Ballelos’s since high school. Back then, he already played basketball and football and wanted a spring sport to participate in. He joined the volleyball team because he had been told it had a lot of the same mechanics as basketball.
Ballelos left the Bay Area for college, but after some academic struggles at UC Davis he took some time off to work before transferring to SF State.
“At that point, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a living,” Ballelos said.
He had not only continued to play volleyball but had even coached a little. What had started out as a spring sport had turned into a lifelong love.
“It kind of dawned on me: ‘Maybe you could try coaching for a living’,” Ballelos said.
He contacted the coaches after he transferred and they agreed to take him on as a student coach.
Ballelos has spent the past two years as a volunteer coach on campus while finishing his undergraduate degree. When Chris Webb, the former assistant coach, was offered a position at a Division I school last spring, Ballelos’s dream of coaching the University’s team was realized.
“I was very fortunate that this position opened up and (coach Michelle Patton) had enough confidence in me that I could take this position,” he said.
The new assistant coach is “fitting in nicely” Patton said. “He’s in charge of our statistical program that we use on a daily basis and accumulate some of our stats (to) see how we’re doing and what areas we can improve.”
Ballelos already looks at home at his desk. SF State volleyball posters and schedules fill his corner of wall space. His sneakers are blindingly white and his Gator shirt and jacket are fresh-out-of-the-box new. He looks just as excited to be here as he sounds.
He’s especially excited to work with Patton, who revived the team in 2008 after a five-year absence from campus.
“I share a lot of the same philosophies with Michelle, and I’ve been around the gym for a while so I know what the expectations are,” Ballelos said. “I like Michelle’s approach to the game, and if I was a player, I would love for Michelle to be my coach. That’s why I think that this kind of partnership is going to work out.”
His passion for the sport will serve him well; the job comes with a heavy workload.
“The over-under on the nights I sleep in the office is six-and-a-half. Coaches are expected to live in the office, and that futon is pretty comfortable,” Ballelos joked.
It’s more than the coaching you see from the sidelines during practices or games, he said. He also breaks down the film for each player and for opposing teams as well. It’s very important, he said, for a coach to have a great assistant because there is plenty to be done behind the scenes.
For his part, however, Ballelos is looking forward to contributing his knowledge of the game, a lot of which focuses on the mental aspect.
“I want to help make our offense a little more efficient, get kills a little faster,” Ballelos said. “We don’t have the biggest, most physical kids in our gym but I think the skill level is pretty high.”
“(My philosophy) stems from my own game. I’m not the most physical player but that forced me to be a little bit smarter, a little bit craftier. Skill will always triumph over physical athleticism,” he added.
Although they’ve only been practicing with him for a couple of weeks, the players are getting to know him quickly.
“It only takes him a minute or two to explain what you’re doing wrong and how you can fix it, instead of taking a very long time to explain it and interrupting practice,” according to senior Reyna Rochin, 20.
“I like that he is short and concise. He knows that we know what we’re doing wrong but as soon as we’re stumped he’s there to let us know what’s happening,” she said.
Ballelos thinks this team has the potential to start strong and finish stronger. Their opening ranking was seventh out of 13 teams in the conference, but he sees the girls finishing in the top.
Right now, he’s just taking things one day at the a time and enjoying his new job.
“I always joke to people: I’m a volleyball coach disguised as an English Lit major,” Ballelos said. “I still remember as a kid coming to SF State in high school just to play pool, just kind of hanging out. I’ve been very familiar with this campus for most of my life.”