Here’s my column from Friday, in case you missed it.
You don’t have to look too far to find the feel-good stories of the 2011 football season.
Just take a look at the records of Claremont, Duarte, La Puente, Los Altos and South El Monte.
Undefeated. All of them.
In addition to having no losses, all of these teams have something else in common. Each one has overcome adversity in some way, shape or form to be where they are.
For Claremont, the struggle began when a dynamic senior class graduated last summer and took with it just about all of the offensive production from 2010’s 7-4 team.
The Wolfpack coaching staff then spent the entire offseason grooming Matt Simko, likely a college prospect, to be their quarterback, only to have the 6-foot-3 junior leave the team just days before Claremont hosted its own passing tournament and transfer to Colony.
No problem. Claremont has rallied around Gabe Schaper, a 156-pound quarterback, to post a 4-0 record that has the Wolfpack full of confidence as Sierra League play approaches.
Claremont’s story is nice, but it doesn’t come close to what’s taking place at Los Altos. The Conquerors had been in shambles since legendary coach Greg Gano resigned after the 2007 season. Two coaching hires that split the alumni base in terms of allegiance set things back even farther and would-be players couldn’t leave the Hacienda Heights campus fast enough to play elsewhere.
Those who did stick around went through an 0-10 season last year and another coaching change. When Dale Ziola was hired during the offseason, few people knew who he was and just about everybody had one of the area’s storied programs dead and buried. There even was talk of Los Altos moving down in divisions so it could compete again.
Where are the Conquerors now, you ask? They are 4-0 and wondering what’s a better goal, winning the Hacienda League or simply making the playoffs. Los Altos has done it with hard work and a no-quit attitude.
The Conquerors worked extremely hard in the weight room all offseason. Even before Ziola was hired, the players were keeping each other accountable in the weight room and making sure nobody missed.
The sleeping giant has awakened in Hacienda Heights and it’s something that’s still hard to believe.
Down at South El Monte, the Eagles apparently had gone from dormant to good to dormant again. Only a half decade ago, South El Monte was every bit as good, if not better, than Mission Valley League heavyweights Arroyo and Rosemead. Heck, in 2005 the Eagles even hosted the biggest game in school history against area power South Hills in the semifinals of the playoffs.
Things have been in gradual decline since then and it culminated last year with a 1-9 record. That was enough for the school to let Ray Hernandez go and search for another coach.
When South El Monte decided on Ibis Aguilar, most people’s first reaction was “Who?” That’s right, Ibis Aguilar, a 29-year-old, first-year head coach who told this reporter in August, “There’s no question I can turn this program around.”
I didn’t believe him, and South El Monte now is 3-0. Aguilar enlisted the help of Bonita defensive coordinator Ray Medina during the offseason and the Eagles are allowing just 10 points per game.
Some of you may be wondering what adversity La Puente had to face in the offseason. True, the Warriors aren’t coming off several bad seasons. Their success isn’t really a shock to anybody. They’re starting to string together winning seasons under head coach Brandon Rohrer.
But all of that was threatened during the offseason when Rohrer was pursuing the open head coaching job at his alma mater, Glendora. It appeared just when La Puente’s program had found the right man, he was about to leave for home.
The drama of Glendora’s coaching vacancy lasted long into the offseason. Believe me, that wears on kids. They put so much trust into what their coaches are telling them, and if they start to get the vibe that coach may not be around when the pads come on, concentration and belief start to go out the window.
Well, Rohrer stayed and La Puente appears ready to take another step forward after back-to-back 8-3 seasons.
Finally, we come to Duarte, where there was some talk in the summer of 2010 that the Falcons may not be able to field a varsity team. The stampede out of Duarte by several top players was a highly publicized event that caused a crisis in confidence with the program.
The Falcons went 0-9 last season and scored just 13 points all season. They were shut out seven times.
Duarte is 2-0 this season and has scored a combined 82 points. They said this rebuilding project may have been too much, even for Tip Sanders. Not so. Things now are looking up at Duarte at a time nobody expected it.
If you look to our high school football fields for valuable life lessons, you certainly will be impressed by what you see no matter where you go. These five teams have overcome shortcomings and never stopped moving forward, even when life appeared to deal them bum hands.
Will we still be talking about these teams in November? Who knows? And it doesn’t matter, either.
The players on these teams already have shown their mettle. When somebody in the future tells them they’ll never find a job, never will get that girl or never will own that home, how do you think they’ll handle it?
You know the answer.
That’s why whatever good things happen to these teams the rest of the season is just gravy.
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