Jacob Pepper, who has raised the expectations of San Marcos High School baseball to its highest level in several decades, has decided to step down after seven seasons as head coach.
“It was a very tough decision to make, but I needed to free up time for some other important things in life right now,” Pepper said. “We’ll see where it takes me, new doors will open.”
Pepper, a science teacher at Anacapa School, also operates a youth baseball training company called Full Count Fundamentals. He and his wife, Alisa, are the parents of two sons: Jonah, 10, and Alex, 8.
“My family’s been with San Marcos baseball since my eldest son Jonah was 2,” he pointed out. “Jonah used to sing ‘Take Me Out To The Ballgame’ at our home games and Alex has caught more lizards at Joe Mueller Field than anyone.
“We love San Marcos but time flies, so I need more time for my family. My wife Alisa works full time in real estate and, along with my current teaching position at Anacapa School, I had to take something off the plate for the time being.”
Pepper noted that “the unknown” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was another factor in his decision. He submitted his resignation to San Marcos director of athletics Abe Jahadhmy two weeks ago but asked that it not be announced until he’d informed all his players and their families.
He grew up in Tucson, Ariz. and played at Pima Community College as well as in the Arizona Fall League. He graduated from UCSB in 2004 with a degree in environmental science and also received a teaching credential from the University of La Verne.
Pepper was hired by San Marcos in January of 2014 to take over a program that hadn’t had a winning season in three years. Three years later, his 2017 team was posting a win-loss record of 18-7.
The Royals achieved winning records in four of Pepper’s last five seasons as coach. Both his 2017 and 2020 teams won CIF-Southern Section Academic Team championships.
“Jacob did a great job in developing the baseball program,” Jahadhmy said. “He had high standards and held the players accountable.
“He also held himself and his coaches to the same standards. He leaves a program that is loaded with talent and the excellent structure that he created is in place.”
The Royals were 5-3-1 and 1-0-1 in the Channel League, having battled highly ranked Santa Barbara to a 1-1 tie, when the coronavirus brought a sudden end to the season last March.
Of Pepper’s top 11 players, five were only sophomores and three were juniors. San Marcos will return all six of its pitchers next season including UCSB commit Henry Manfredonia and lefthander Chase Hoover, who struck out 40 batters and allowed only one earned run in 19 2/3 innings as a sophomore.
Manfredonia, who also plays the corner positions in the infield, led the Royals with a batting average of .478. Catcher Joaquin Sandoval, who served as team captain despite being just a sophomore, batted .312.
“The talent pool is deep, but more importantly the work ethic, strong character values and the leadership we have from our players at every level is outstanding,” Pepper said. “Having a player like Joaquin Sandoval, our catcher, will keep the transition seamless and continue to head the program in the right direction.
“Obviously having two power pitchers in Henry Manfredonia and Chase Hoover is exciting, but we have a variety of other guys hungry for innings behind those guys. Aiden Johnson is another player who I expect to have a breakout year on the mound and at the plate next year.”
San Marcos also made several improvements at Joe Mueller Field during Pepper’s tenure. The most recent project was to erect eight, 85-foot backstop poles and netting to keep foul balls from landing on the school’s beach volleyball courts and in the football stadium.
“For as many hours as our coaching staff put into the players, we probably put twice as many in working on the field, improving every aspect, resource and tool available to make it as great as possible for our players,” Pepper said. “The field has come a long way and it will continue to improve year in and year out.
“San Marcos’ administration was always receptive and helpful in getting the program to where it is now, facility and all. We also have a ton of parents along the way for which I am very thankful to have helped put the program where it is today.”
He said the best memories he’s taking away from San Marcos are the road trips to Arizona and Palm Desert, as well as the holiday parties, team barbecues and dinners.
“Don’t get me wrong, there were so many memorable games and moments in and out of the competition which stand out each year,” Pepper said. “But seeing team chemistry, leadership, bonding, mentorship and relationships will be the most memorable.
“Leaving a program with not just the talent we have, but the quality of the kid who goes through is the hardest part. I can honestly say that building the program and the process along the way is what I will miss most. There’s always a teachable moment for the players and for me.
“The way I look at, I’ll always be there for all the players I’ve coached over the years no matter what I’m doing or where I’m coaching. All the relationships built along the way will last.”