“We discovered last year that we put up a lot of points, had lots of (total) yards and threatened a lot of records in the record books. But what good did it do us? We ended up losing our last two games and it left a sour taste in our mouth. We want to make sure we focus more on what’s going to get us to that final game. We want to play into December, and the defense is going to get us there.” — Bishop Amat coach Steve Hagerty
Below: Sophomore Koa Haynes appears to be the leading contender to take over at quarterback when Rio Ruiz leaves for the U.S. National 18-Under baseball team.
By Fred J. Robledo. Staff Writer
Bishop Amat already knows that it will be without senior quarterback Rio Ruiz for three non-league games in September against La Mirada, Damien and Cathedral while Ruiz is with the U.S National Team’s 18-and-under baseball squad that will compete in the COPABE Pan American Championships in Cartagena, Colombia, Sept. 23 through Oct. 2. But for the past week Ruiz has competed on the Milwaukee Brewers’ squad in the Area Code games in Long Beach, forcing him to miss Wednesday’s first day of football camp in preparation for the Lancers’ season opener against Garfield on Sept. 2.
The area code games concluded on Wednesday, but Ruiz also was selected to play in the Perfect Game All-American Classic on Sunday in San Diego, and will not join the team until it’s concluded. Ruiz is expected back at practice on Monday, something Amat coach Steve Hagerty is adjusting too.
“All us coaches and the kids understand why he’s not here,” Hagerty said of Ruiz. “We’ve already met and talked about it and there are agreements in place. Nobody is looking over their shoulder wondering where he is. Rio’s a great player, but we’re moving along because we got a job to get done. The other 75 kids here know that. We’ll be glad when he’s here and working, but in the mean time it’s business as usual.”
Amat is already working on a contingency plan in Ruiz’s absence with sophomore Koa Haynes earning a slight edge over juniors Ross Barrera and Angelo Rodriguez — the three battling to take over when Ruiz leaves for the national team.
“We’re going to have to look at film and see who’s making good decisions,” Hagerty said. “It will always come down to the kid that can feed the pieces that we have the best, and eliminate mistakes. We’re not going to ask him to do a whole lot.
“Koa has the most reps and Ross has spent a lot of time at linebacker trying to win a spot, so right now Koa has the edge. Angelo is a lefty and will probably end up playing on the junior varsity. Physically, he’s probably the smallest in stature and doesn’t have the arm strength to be a varsity quarterback yet.”
Hagerty’s biggest concern in the summer isn’t filling the void of Ruiz, it’s shoring up a defense that allowed 18 points a game, and one that continually showed its lack of athleticism in the secondary.
The Lancers were 9-0 when it lost to Alemany 38-30 in the Serra League title game, then lost a week later to Tesoro, 31-21, in the first round of the Pac-5 playoffs.
Statistically, Amat averaged 35 points, which ranked among the best teams in school history, quite an accomplishment for a storied program that boasts five CIF championships.
But the defense was a different story.
“The whole idea is that we want to win a title and we’re not going to win a title without shoring up our defense,” Hagerty said. “We’ve moved some kids around, and we’ve made sure that our defensive (coaches) have the pick of the litter in terms of who they want on the field at any given time. That may curtail our offense a little if someone gets tired. But if they’re going to rest, they’re going to rest on offense, not defense.
“We discovered last year that we put up a lot of points, had lots of (total) yards and threatened a lot of records in the record books. But what good did it do us? We ended up losing our last two games and it left a sour taste in our mouth.
“We want to make sure we focus more on what’s going to get us to that final game. We want to play into December, and the defense is going to get us there.”
It wasn’t so much a lack of talent, but a lack of experience. Amat started three sophomores in the secondary last year, Adam Alcantara, Dionza Blue and D.J. Daniels.
“They’re good, but sometimes the bright lights, playing freshman football the year before and wondering what you’re doing here gets to you,” Hagerty said. “We took our lumps, but any time you do that the reward comes later because all three of them have valuable experience and still have two more years to play.
“With Ajee Montes or Nathan Lozano shoring up the other corner, we think we will match up a whole lot better this year.”
Ruiz will also spend some time on defense, as will running back Jalen Moore, part of Amat’s grand plan of making sure the best possible athletes are on defense and all times.
“I see Rio playing a lot (in the secondary),” Hagerty said. “We don’t see a lot of tight end teams. We’re going to end up in a nickel a lot because teams like to spread four wide, and that’s a scheme Rio can play against. We need more guys who can run in space and cover people. When they attach a tight end and have two backs in the backfield, that’s a different gig, that’s when we might use Jalen to come in and rush the edge or play over the tight end. When we run tackling drills, he’s our best tackler technique-wise. But a lot of it will depend on the health of (Zach) Shay, who is returning from an injury.
“If we can get Jalen and Shay sharing the reps on offense the way we would like, it will give us much more options on offense and defense.”