OMAR TO THE RESCUE: Maranatha’s Omar Younger has been a big key — on and off the field — for the Minutemen, who have rebounded from an 0-5 start to win their past two games.
Staff photo by Keith Birmingham
By Steve Ramirez, SGVN
PASADENA - There was a time this season when it would have seemed understandable if the Maranatha High School football team gave in to adversity.
There’s just so much an individual can take, especially for a football team that drops its first five games and loses key starters, including arguably the area’s best quarterback.
But running back Omar Younger wouldn’t allow despair to settle in.
The senior is the glue that kept the Minutemen together and, after winning the past two games, has helped put them in position to compete for an Olympic League title.
“He stepped up a ton in the absence of Drew (Elffers),” Maranatha coach Peter Karavedas said. “He’s one of our captains. He’s not always going to be a guy that’s vocal, but he leads by example.
“He runs hard, not just in the games but in practice. The guys really respect him and he’s really stepped up.”
Younger, with Elffers out, has been the focal point of Maranatha’s offense in rushing for 589 yards and three touchdowns. But the senior’s value goes a bit farther than his 5.66 yards a carry.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” Younger said. “(The defense) always tried to stop (Elffers) or me. Either way, they know we can run or pass. I feel we can still pass, so it’s kind of the same situation.
“Andrew talks to me every now and then and gives me some advice. He notices when we’re down as a team and tells me that we have to step up our intensity. I feel like it’s hard sometimes, and it’s definitely different.”
The same could be said for the Minutemen, who after winning their first six games last season had high expectations coming into 2012.
But injuries, which cost eight starters including quarterback Elffers, put a damper on what looked to be a promising start.
Younger found the light at the end of the tunnel.
“It was definitely hard, especially after winning the first six games last year to losing the first five this year,” Younger said. “But as coach (Karavedas) tells us, if we didn’t lose these first five we wouldn’t know what we need to work on.
“I’d rather lose those five, work on the things we need to and get a whole lot better than win them and think you’re great when you still need to work on things.”
Karavedas and staff, with Elffers out, revamped the offensive scheme. And Younger, with improved offensive-line play, has provided the positive results. Maranatha rebounded from its five-game losing streak with wins over Heritage Christian (40-7) and Desert Christian (38-7) the past two weeks.
“He doesn’t realize that he’s five-foot-eight,” Karavedas said. “He runs bigger than his body. I love that about him. Sometimes shiftier guys are looking to dance. He does none of that.
“He’s going downhill now. But he’s also elusive. I love his physical style of play. He always wants the ball and always believes he can lead us to victory.”
Younger has been the key the past two weeks. The senior rushed for 163 yards and a touchdown in the win over Heritage Christian in Maranatha’s Olympic League opener, then dropped 187 yards and two touchdowns on Desert Christian.
The big moment came early in the game against Heritage Christian, which seemed to turn the Minutemen’s season around.
“He took a third-down run (against Heritage) and was dragging people for five yards to get the first down,” Karavedas said. “That really set the tone for the last two weeks offensively.
“His physical style of play has helped us. We’re excited, and he’s inspiring others to improve.”
Younger now is ready to put the Minutemen in position to win a league title.
Maranatha, which is 1-0 in league play, travels to Whittier College to face Whittier Christian on Friday at 7 p.m. The winner has the inside track to the crown, but there’s also also a revenge factor. Whittier Christian beat the Minutemen at home, 24-21, last season.
“I can’t wait to get there,” Younger said. “It’s a big game. They took us out (last year), and I think we can come out and shock them.
“They probably think since we lost our first five games that we’re not good. We can show them. We have to hit them in the mouth and start fast. It’s going to be exciting. We still have to show people what we can do.”