By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Bonita High School football coach Eric Podley doesn’t need a history lesson when it comes to the Bearcats’ opponent on Friday, Muir.
After crushing California 51-6 in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division playoffs, the Bearcats (10-1) play at Muir (6-4) in the quarterfinals Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Mustangs knocked off La Mirada 33-14 for their sixth consecutive victory.
Podley was the offensive coordinator on the Mustangs’ 1989 Division II co-championship team that tied Santa Barbara 7-7 under head coach John Tyree, a championship that came shortly after Muir’s storied back-to-back championships in 1985 and ’86 under legendary coach Jim Brownfield.
“This is our toughest game since West Covina (55-21 loss on Oct. 29),” Podley said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence, they beat their league champion (Burroughs) and haven’t lost in over a month, so they believe in what they’re doing and what their coaches are telling them.”
Muir coach Ken Howard is in his seventh season, which is the longest tenure at the school since Brownfield was there.
In those seven years, the Mustangs have won four Pacific League titles and are making their fourth quarterfinal appearance, although they’ve never been beyond that.
When the Mustangs advanced to the quarterfinals in 2003 and ’04, they were in Division III, where they lost each time to powerhouse Sherman Oaks Notre Dame.
In 2006 the Mustangs moved to Division V but lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champ Colony.
The Mustangs suffered their first losing season under Howard last year, 4-7, but they still gave eventual Southeast Division champ Charter Oak their toughest game of the playoffs before losing in the first round 20-19 after getting stopped on a game-winning two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds.
That’s Muir, a team that always has a ton of talent, which is why they’re so upset-prone.
“There has been sort of a revolving (coaching) door since Brownfield, but he’s (Howard) done a great job,” Podley said.
“Having been there, I have the utmost respect for him. It’s not the easiest place to work and sustain a program.”
The area surrounding Muir always has been known for producing great football talent, but that talent hasn’t always remained there, with players leaving to neighboring schools more than ever.
Even Muir great Saladin McCullough’s son, Saladin McCullough Jr., is at Alemany, along with quarterback Vernon Adams, who both live in the Muir school district.
The east San Gabriel Valley has benefitted from several players who would have gone to Muir, such as Charter Oak legends Will Harris and Patrick Fuller, and there are so many more.
“That’s why I give (Howard) so much credit. He’s done a great job in a tough football environment,” Podley said. “Football means everything to those kids.”
Players don’t leave Muir because of football. They leave because of academics and safety concerns brought on by neighboring gangs.
Podley, however, never remembered anything negative happening during his only season there. He felt that was out of respect for football.
“There might be trouble swirling around the practice or during the game sometimes, but when it came time to play football it’s a community that respects the game,” Podley said.
“The kids in the community know when it comes to football, it’s all business.”
That’s why Podley’s so concerned with Friday’s game.
Muir is as healthy as it’s been all year, and quarterback Jeffrey Davis might be the most dangerous run and pass threat in the division.
Davis suffered a concussion earlier in the season that forced him out of two games – both losses – and is 7-2 as a starter.
“I’m not sure how we prepare for that,” Podley said of Davis.
“I don’t have anyone to simulate what he does, so it’s hard to predict how we’re going to handle him.”