Remembering Jim Sweeney: Steve Sobonya

February 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Many former Bulldogs have expressed their appreciation for Jim Sweeney changing their lives for the better. But for one Fresno man, Coach Sweeney's impact extends far beyond the football field, with roots stretching all the way back to the state on Montana.

Terrio Edge cofounder Steve Sobonya's earliest memories of Jim Sweeney stretch back to his childhood in Bozeman, Montana.

"He kind of rescued my dad from going back to work in the coal mines and so on," said Sobonya. "And just the way that his family treated mine, my parents were so grateful to him. My older brother was born and he was named after him: James Daniel."

Sweeney convinced Steve's father to play football at Montana State. The two families lived three houses away from one another.

"There was always a flavor of coach Sweeney in Butte, Montana," Sobonya said, "and in Bozeman too, where I ended up going to college at Montana State. And there still is to this day."

Undersized for his own football career, Steve earned a Master's Degree in Exercise Science while working as a strength coach at Montana State. Just 23 years old, Sobonya accepted a promotion at the University of Virginia, until the phone rang two days later.

"I'll never forget the day that he called me," Sobonya recalled with a smile. "I still remember the phone call. Vicki, his secretary, said coach wants to talk to you. And when he offered me that job I just said, 'Oh my God! I'm taking it!' I don't need to go to Virginia."

Sobonya would spend 10 years at Fresno State, six of them under Sweeney. He says Sweeney's impact on his life, and the way he runs his business, is still felt to this day.

"He told you things you probably didn't want to hear but you needed to hear," Sobonya said. "That's what really made him special to me. But the good thing too is that when you did something good, he told you, too."

For Sweeney, it wasn't just a football program he was in charge of. It was a family. And he was just one member you could rely on for unconditional support.

"He mentored that family amongst Bulldog football," said Sobonya. "That's the way those players felt when they were a part of that family, and after they left. And that's definitely made a mark on me."

A mark made during childhood, and one that's lasted a lifetime.


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