By Fred J. Robledo
From the large grassy area that forms tailgate haven east of Kiefer Stadium to the legion of bloggers and faithful fans that dissect everything that is Bishop Amat football, Lancers coach Steve Hagerty knows his rookie season was a calming and rewarding experience for all involved.
The Bishop Amat alum took over a 3-7 slumping program that had missed the playoffs for the third consecutive season, leading to the resignation of young coach Mark Verti.
After Hagerty’s debut resulted in a 24-20 loss to Los Osos in the season opener, the Lancers mounted a comeback for the ages, erasing a 24-point deficit at powerful Orange Lutheran to pull out a shocking 47-39 victory.
The Lancers used that momentum to start 6-1, then knocked off Serra League foe Crespi 22-21, paving the way for a Pac-5 playoff berth.
In the playoffs the Lancers went to Veterans Stadium and nearly shocked eventual Pac-5 champion Long Beach Poly, losing in the final minutes of the first-round playoff opener 21-17, giving the Lancers and Hagerty all the proof they needed to show the Lancers were once again headed in the right direction after finishing 7-4.
If only it was that simple.
“We know the risk after what happened last year is that we could take a step back,” Hagerty said. “The second year is always the hardest on a coaching staff. If we take a step back everyone is going to say last year was a fluke, that we got lucky.
“But that’s why you go to Bishop Amat, to take on that pressure and that expectation. We have no intention of taking a step back, we’re moving forward.”
That’s a lot of confidence for a coach that loses defensive standouts Sheldon Price, Isaiah Bowens, Brent Seals, running back Deshawn Gaisie and depth on both sides of the ball.
The Lancers do not have a weak opponent on the schedule, starting with Dominguez followed by West Covina, Damien, St. Bonaventure, Diamond Ranch, St. Paul, Alemany and the unforgiving trio of Loyola, Crespi and Sherman Oaks Notre Dame in the Serra League.
Still, the expectation remains the same.
“This is who we’re, this is what we do,” Hagerty said. “The seed was planted a long time ago. Our players know they’re supposed to be good enough, they’re well aware of our tradition and legacy. The reality is if we don’t do well there will be a selection committee again looking for a new coach. That’s not a fearful thing, it’s a reminder of what the expectation is, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
So what’s Hagerty dealing with?
After averaging 27 points a game, the Lancers have the potential to be better offensively, starting with the return of senior quarterback Jerry McClanahan, who passed for 1,174 yards and 10 touchdowns.
More importantly, McClanahan only threw four interceptions and is confident in the offense and his abilities, especially with receivers like Darian Johnson, Austin Lacy and sophomore Rio Ruiz, McClanahan’s back-up at QB, but a dangerous receiver as well.
In the backfield 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior Jay Anderson showed tremendous promise as a sophomore, rushing 75 times for 308 yards in a back-up role behind Gaisie. He’s a bruising back that Hagerty will turn to for the big yards.
“Teams are going to have to defend us from tight end to tackle, that’s a better situation than last year,” Hagerty said.
And with Johnson, tight end Josh Tierney and other receivers, Hagerty said their offense should be more balanced and less predictable.
“We hope so,” Hagerty said. “We think Darian’s just an exciting, explosive player. We’re going to rely heavily on him in the secondary, but we think he will be an impact receiver as well.
“He takes a short pass and makes stuff happen. He’s pretty elusive in the open field, so we’ll see how that works out.”
Defensively, the second-year coach has reason to be concerned.
After allowing 22 points a game in 2008, they have several holes to fill, not an inviting thought considering the offenses they will match up against.
“We’ll have to answer that challenge, what more is there to say,” Hagerty said. “We know that you can’t expect to beat teams (in a shootout) week in and week out. You might get away with that once or twice, but not over the course of a season. So, a lot of guys have to step up and assume that responsibility. A lot of times it’s just effort, confidence and belief. Regardless of who we lost (on defense), I always think we can get better.”
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