Brian Mustain loves his new role as San Dimas High School’s defensive coordinator about as much as coach Bill Zernickow loves having him. “He is more detailed than any coach I have ever been around,” Zernickow said. How ironic, because paying attention to detail was something the Saints defense needed to do a lot better.
Remember what happened last year?
The Saints finished 10-2 with arguably the best offense in the school’s history, averaging 46 points per game and so fluid that Zernickow tried changing the phrase to “offense wins championships,” but deep down he knew better.
For all the Saints’ offense a year ago, they allowed 27 points a game, and 30 or more in five games.
Most importantly, their defense let them down in a 40-39 loss to Northview for the Valle Vista League title, and it let them down again in the quarterfinals of the CIF-SS Mid-Valley Division playoffs, losing 59-22 to Rosemead.
With defensive coordinator Craig Schuster leaving to Monrovia, it opened a spot for Mustain, who previously was just a Friday helper in the booth with Zernickow.
“We obviously had to focus on being a better defensive team,” Zernickow said. “Being an ex-head coach, Brian knew exactly what he wanted to do and how to teach it. And the kids know he knows his stuff, so it’s easy for them to buy into what he’s teaching.”
Mustain is a former head coach from Wilson, but also was part of two CIF-SS divisional championship teams as a Wildcats assistant in 1996-97.
Mustain most recently was the head coach at Beckman High in Irvine, where he still teaches. Beckman is a relatively new high school that opened in 2004 and Mustain was its first head football coach, going 2-8 his first year (2005), then following with back-to-back 6-4 records in 2006-07 before resigning and taking a lesser role with the Saints last year.
“It’s been a blessing,” said Mustain, who makes the 45-minute drive to Saints practices a few days a week. “I wanted to get back into coaching but with not a lot of commitment. Coach (Zernickow) gave me this opportunity without a lot of strings attached. He’s made it workable for my schedule and I’m really enjoying it.
“By nature I’m a very meticulous coach, so asking me to just concentrate on defense has been a blessing. I’m taking a lot of pride and pleasure in it.”
So far the results speak for themselves.
The Saints (3-1) allowed just 18 points in their first three wins before taking a step back in a 37-14 loss to undefeated Monrovia, the top-ranked team in the Mid-Valley Division.
Still, they’re allowing just 13.5 points per game heading into Friday’s Smudge Pot showdown at home against rival Bonita (1-3) at 7 p.m.
“Coach Zernickow wanted to make a defensive scheme switch to running the `50 defense,’ which is something I’m pretty familiar with having run it for a lot of years,” Mustain said.
Similar to the 3-4, it’s a defense that maximizes size on the line of scrimmage, and effective against teams that run the ball.
“It’s been a great change of pace for us,” said Saints linebacker Tre Evans. “We wanted to show everyone we’re not just about offense, that we have a powerhouse defense too. It was on us to listen and take care of business.”
There is still much to learn, but Mustain is happy with the progress.
“We don’t have any superstars, it’s more of a workman-like group,” Mustain said. “Each player has their talents and tools, but you have to get them in the right spots to be the most successful … That doesn’t happen overnight.”
That’s where Mustain’s head coaching and championship experience could pay off.
“The season is long, you can’t get to excited or to rattled over one game,” Mustain said. “We lost a tough one to Monrovia, but we’re not the team we’re going to be five weeks or ten weeks from now.
“You don’t change your defensive philosophy because you give up a few points, you have to continue to work hard and improve on the fundamentals. If you do that, everything else takes care of itself.”
With the Saints losing nearly all of their offensive weapons to graduation, they’re still a force averaging 36 points a game. But for a change, they feel like they have some breathing room when the defense takes the field.
“We’re obviously playing much better,” Zernickow said. “I wanted this to be more of a defensive-type year and coach Mustain is taking us in the direction that we need to go to improve as a program.”
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