“You’re asking for measuring sticks and what this and that means to this point. I don’t see how you can measure something that isn’t finished.” — Bishop Amat coach Steve Hagerty on the Lancers’ 7-0 start, and what it means.
By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
There’s more than just good old- fashioned tailgating and the fresh taste of kettle corn on Friday nights at Kiefer Stadium. The Valley’s proudest football tradition continues on its comeback trail, albeit with cautious optimism. With Bishop Amat 7-0 and off to its best start since beginning 9-0 in 1998, it’s a reminder of how far the Lancers have come under second-year coach Steve Hagerty, but also a reminder of how prestigious the Lancers’ program once was. To continue, click thread
For instance, seven straight wins is nice, but the Lancers have a long way to go to match their 26-game winning streak from 1992-93, or the 34-game regular-season winning streak from 1992-94.
Just how dominant was Bishop Amat more than a decade ago? Well, consider that from 1985 to 1996 the Lancers won 11 consecutive league titles, and in 1995 won the last of five CIF-SS titles.
That’s impressive, considering that when the Lancers open Serra League play Friday at home against Loyola (3-4), they will be chasing their first Serra League title since joining the league in 2002.
In fact, the Lancers have never finished higher than third in the Serra, which is where they finished last year after starting 6-1 but finishing 1-2 in league, which was good enough for a Pac-5 wild-card playoff berth.
Before Hagerty took over, the Lancers were 33-33 since 2002, with just one winning season during that span. In the Hagerty era they’re already 14-4 overall and 13-1 in nonleague games, which all means, well, virtually nothing to Hagerty.
The Lancers also are ranked No. 9 in the state by CalPreps and No. 8 in the Pac-5 Division.
“I wish I could give you more to talk about,” Hagerty said. “Is being 7-0 scary? Does it add any more pressure? No, I think it’s great. It’s better than being 6-1 or 5-2. It’s better than being 0-7. But it doesn’t indicate anything.
“What I can tell you is that our kids are grounded. They’re not thinking about winning streaks, they’re ready for this week’s challenge, which is how they have approached every week. What we have done to this point has no (bearing) on the future.”
When Hagerty joined Bishop Amat, he put together a star- studded cast of coaches that included former head coach Mike DiFiori and defensive coordinator Daylon McCutcheon, along with Rodney Sermons, Bill Mulvehill, Wilhans Ili and Ealar Gallagher.
But this Lancers team was supposed to struggle, having lost so many key players from last year’s 7-4 team, making you wonder how much of an influence the coaching staff has had on the players’ mental approach.
“I wish I could measure that for you,” Hagerty said. “That’s a hard one. The best indicator I know is that our kids show up to work every day ready to practice, and they listen and do their jobs. I suppose that’s as good an indicator as you’re going to get.”
After losing standouts Jesse Prieto, Sheldon Price, Isaiah Bowens and Brent Seals on defense, the Lancers somehow picked up where they left off, allowing just 17 points a game and holding five of their seven opponents to two touchdowns or less.
“It’s not always about the star players,” Hagerty said. “Sometimes that’s overrated. It’s about having 11 guys that are coordinated in their efforts.”
Offensively, the Lancers are starting to roll, too.
Quarterback Jerry McClanahan has passed for 672 yards and four touchdowns. But his most impressive stats are his 66 percent completion rate with just one interception.
Running back Jay Anderson is averaging almost 100 yards per game, and electrifying specialist Darian Johnson already has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns to go with two punt returns for TDs.
But again, discipline has been the biggest factor. In the giveaway-takeaway department, the Lancers are at plus nine.
“Anytime you’re at plus nine more than you have given it away, that’s going to win a lot of games,” Hagerty said. “Jerry has kept us in so many games by not being too aggressive. If he had been forcing the issue, we wouldn’t be 7-0.”
Listening to Hagerty explain it, he feels confident about where the program is headed, but isn’t ready to pat himself on the back after running the table in nonleague games.
With only four teams in the Serra, only two are guaranteed a playoff spot, though there is a wild-card berth in the Pac-5, which the Lancers would likely grab with a third-place finish, considering their resume includes wins over St. Bonaventure and Alemany.
And with two of those Serra games at home (Notre Dame in the finale), beating a struggling Cubs team without 6-foot-4, 224- pound running back Anthony Barr, out for the season with a broken ankle, is a must for the Lancers to secure a wild- card berth. It would also remove the pressure of having to win one of the final two games to guarantee a playoff spot.
“Every game is a must win,” Hagerty said. “If we go 0-3 and finish 7-3, what are you going to think about our season then? It won’t mean much, will it?”
That’s Hagerty, who always has a way of explaining things.
“You’re asking for measuring sticks and what this and that means to this point,” Hagerty said. “I don’t see how you can measure something that isn’t finished.”