Luis Garcia took over the football program at Don Lugo last year. And while he had high expectations for himself and for his team, few outside the program had that kind of confidence.
“I know people we’re thinking, ‘Here we go again. Another new coach,’ ” he said. “I was totally all in though and I was just focused and I believed in the players we had. You have to buy in because if the players sense that you’re not, they’re not going to buy in either.”
The Conquistadors exceeded expectations though. They were coming off a 3-7 campaign. While a 6-4 regular season may not seem like significant improvement, it really was.
The only thing that prevented them from finishing second in the Mt. Baldy behind perennial power Colony was a 9-7 loss to Chaffey.
Don Lugo also advanced to the playoffs and battled another perennial power, Monrovia, to overtime before falling 26-20.
The season also included the first win over local rival Chino since 2009. That rivalry had been overwhelmingly one-sided lately.
This year there is optimism in the school and the community for the first time in awhile. Garcia, himself a graduate of the school, recognizes that means his team has to be equal to the challenge.
“I hate to say we had nothing to lose last year but there were were no expectations,” he said. “Now there are, so yes there is some pressure to build on what we did last year.”
The Conquistadors do have quite a few holes to fill. Among the key departed players are linebacker Preston Carr, a first-team All-CIF selection, as well as wide receiver David Delgado and running back Jorge Montelongo.
Among the key returning players are quarterback Dane Ford, who will be a three-year starter. Among the others are cornerbacks C.J. Scrimmager and Kendale Taylor, offensive lineman Chris Torres, tight end-defensive lineman Christopher Gonzalez and defensive tackle Jeffrey Bitetti.
Leading the group of newcomers on whom Garcia will be relying is sophomore lineman Chris Randazzo, a 6-foot-5, 325-pounder who is already attracting interest from Division I schools.
Others are sophomore wide receiver Thomas Delgado, David’s younger brother, as well as junior linebackers Tzion Dixon, whom Garcia says is the hardest hitter on the team.
Don Lugo opens with a scrimmage against Claremont on Aug. 21. The regular season starts the following week with the Conquistadors traveling to Walnut.