By Aram Tolegian, Staff Writer
History says nobody should be too worried about the Diamond Ranch High School football team’s 0-2 start. After all, the Panthers are notorious for slow starts that empty the bandwagon only to see it swell up again with a strong run in November. But things feel a tad different this year after Diamond Ranch was blown out by Santa Margarita 56-0 in Week 0, then saw what most consider to be a very average Damien team go on a 19-0 run in the fourth quarter to post a 26-19 win last Friday.
“I’m far from hitting the panic button,” Diamond Ranch coach Roddy Layton said before Tuesday’s practice. “Hitting the panic button means you change everything you’re doing and we’re not doing that. I do want these kids to have a sense of urgency. Each game is a new start. Each game is a new challenge and a new season.”
Trouble is, for Diamond Ranch that new start this week will come against Elsinore, which is ranked No. 1 in the Central Division. Kickoff is 7 p.m. on Saturday at Ganesha High.
Diamond Ranch won its first game last season, but then suffered six consecutive defeats. But by playoff time, the Panthers put it together and reached the finals before falling to Charter Oak.
Two years ago, Diamond Ranch followed a similar path in losing five of its first six games before a playoff march to the finals, where it also lost to Charter Oak.
So is Layton banking on something similar happening this season with his team in a much tougher league and a still difficult division?
“No, we’re not (good enough),” Layton said. “I told them yesterday to stop living off what the last two classes did. Two years ago, I knew I had the players, but we had internal issues to get through. Last year, I knew I had the players, but it was just kind of getting the buy in from the star players.
“This year, I don’t think we have that star-caliber player we’ve had the past two years. Are we horrible? No. But right now, our boosters are the only thing that’s making us a great program.”
Diamond Ranch has scheduled up under Layton, a trend started by former coach Tommy Leach. Layton said he learns much more from his team by playing, and often losing to, some of the Southland’s top teams than he would scheduling creampuffs in order to build confidence before league.
But what Layton learned last Friday wasn’t quite what he was looking for.
“I didn’t have one kid stand out this last game,” Layton said. “We’re playing Damien High School, it’s the fourth quarter and I’ve got players on the sidelines with issues – tired and muscle cramps. This is the way we find out what we have. I don’t think by playing blah blah blah High School from the San Gabriel Valley I would’ve learned that.”