By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
Sierra Vista High School football coach Keith Locklear, struggling with the spread offense and a defense that gave up too many points, turned to former Dons coach Don Le Gro and asked for help. “Do you think you can do for us what you did in the 90s?” Locklear asked Le Gro. “He said, `(Heck) yeah,’ and that was that.” As Sierra Vista head coach in the 1990s, Le Gro groomed back-to-back Tribune player of the year winners Oscar Interiano (1995) and Oscar Arzu (1996). Arzu left as the Valley’s all-time single-season rushing leader with 3,219 yards in 1996. Le Gro retired in 1999, but he’s back as the Dons’ offensive coordinator and hasn’t lost his touch.
It may come as a mild surprise, but undefeated Sierra Vista (4-0, 1-0) leads the CIF-Southern Section in rushing at 486 yards per game and more than 10 yards per carry (1,944 yards on 181 rushes), a startling turnaround from the pass-happy offense of recent years.
Junior Giovanni Rivera leads the Southern Section with 1,111 yards and averages 277 yards a game with five touchdowns. But he’s not alone. Senior Erick Garcia is averaging 157 yards and gives the Dons a fighting chance going into Friday’s showdown against back-to-back Montview League champion Azusa (4-0, 1-0), which opened league with a 28-0 win over La Puente.
Azusa is ranked No. 2 in the Mid-Valley Division and brings a 21-game league unbeaten streak into the contest at Citrus College against the No. 7 Dons.
Le Gro’s offense, sort of a combination between the double-wing and I formation, relies on precise blocking and backs who follow the game plan.
“Going from not being able to run the football at all to what we’re doing now changes everything,” Locklear said. “I’m not surprised because I remember watching Le Gro’s teams when I was an elementary school teacher in Baldwin Park in the late 90s.
“It’s all about adhering to the system, and it’s quite a system. What it has done is manage the game much better for us. It shortens the game, helps you control the clock, control the time of possession and we haven’t turned the ball over.
“When you run the spread it’s feast or famine, games last forever and if you don’t score you fall behind in a hurry. This offense gives us a chance and makes our defense better because they’re not always on the field.”
The Dons, however, realize their four wins have come against Hoover (35-27), Mountain View (10-7), Keppel (42-12) and Duarte (41-6), opponents that have a combined record of 3-13.
Azusa, meanwhile, has been to the Mid-Valley Division quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, the past two years and boasts three shutouts in four games. The Aztecs have outscored their opponents by a 32-point margin and allow just 2.5 points per game.
“It’s nice for a league like ours to have a team like Azusa because they’re doing it the right way,” Locklear said. “They don’t cheat, they don’t recruit, they just block, tackle and carry out a game plan better than anyone else. You have to give (coach) Joe (Scherf) a lot of credit, he’s done an incredible job.”