Part 2 of 2 parts
Several senior leaders are one of the elements that distinguish the 2012 Calabasas football team from the squad that went 1-9 last year.
"It's huge," second-year head coach Christian Pierce said, when comparing the senior leadership this year to 2011.
"Last year we only had, I believe, 12 seniors," he said. "Out of the 12, only three of them played, really, and only one was a main contributor. This year we've got 24 seniors right now and there's a humongous difference."
Last year, when these players were juniors, there was uncertainty about the program. Now, the seniors have a different mindset. And the dedication has improved.
"We've got guys who don't get a ton of press, (but) that are football players," the coach said. "We've got guys that can make it happen. I think after this season, people's perception of this program will be a little bit different."
Ike Fuchs started his high school football career as a strong safety. He was converted to quarterback and now, as a senior, he is definitely growing into the role.
"Ike is playing very well at the quarterback spot," Pierce said. "He's a much better quarterback this year."
Coyotes beat Oak Park for season's first win
In the Coyotes first win of the season, a 51-20 thrashing of Oak Park last week, Fuchs was an efficient 7 of 13 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown on a night when the Calabasas running game was the primary offensive weapon.
Fuchs was the team's second leading rusher, as well, with 46 yards on only three runs.
Although he struggled in the team's 37-7 loss to Royal (completing 6 of 18 passes) Fuchs completed 18 of 32 attempts for 197 yards and two TDs in the season opening 18-15 heartbreaking loss to Saugus on the road. He also threw two interceptions in that game.
"We're looking to get more out of our receivers," Pierce said. "A couple of guys haven't been eligible (to play) yet, but they're back now. But we've got Devin Doyle; Anthony Freeman had a 72-yard kickoff return against Oak Park. He didn't make it to the end zone, but he's a guy that can make it any time."
Doyle and Freeman are both seniors who play wide receiver who also return kicks. Freeman is second on the team with seven receptions and 97 receiving yards through three games.
The leader in both of those departments is another senior, Matt Guttridge. He has nine receptions for 98 yards and like Doyle, Guttridge also plays defensive back on defense.
Ryan Tiefen is another senior who plays both ways. He's a tight end on offense and a defensive end on defense.
"These are guys that are just good athletes that can play football and time will tell," said Pierce. "We're in the tough Marmonte League, but I think these guys might perform very well this year. We've just got to stay healthy."
On defense, a nose for the ball
One player whose health - at least as it pertains to getting up in the morning and going to school - has never been a concern is senior linebacker Jordan Pierce. The head coach's son, Pierce leads the Coyotes in tackles.
He averages 14 per game through three games this season but that isn't a surprise. Last year, as a junior, Pierce led the Marmonte League in tackles with 140 (15.6 per game), of which 85 were solo tackles.
"He's got a nose for the ball," said Coach Pierce. "He's got a very high football IQ. He calls the plays for us on defense. He's the captain of the defense. He's a hell of a ball player and we're lucky to have him.
"(But) the thing I love most about this kid - in three and a half years of high school - he's never missed one day of school. He's a great football player, but that's what I'm most proud of."
And the coach said the seniors have bought into his philosophy and, therefore, the culture that he talked about in yesterday's post, is indeed changing.
"These senior leadership guys: Ike (Fuchs), Pierce, Guttridge, have stepped it up," Pierce said. "These guys have been around for a while and they've been around me for a while. And they take it pretty seriously and they want good things for this year."
The coach says the Coyotes' junior class is strong
"You'll be hearing about them soon, I'm pretty sure," Pierce said.
Anthony Wright, the junior transfer from Crespi High, who gained 214 yards in the Coyotes win over Oak Park last week, also leads the team with 315 yards rushing in three games and is averaging 8.1 yards per carry.
The team's offensive coordinator, Matthew Hatchette, who played in the NFL for eight years, has been given the play-calling duties this year, something previously under the auspices of Pierce.
"(Hatchette) is bringing in more of a conventional offense to our personnel," Pierce said. "Which matches our personnel better. So we're a much more balanced offense. We can run or pass. We can do it all."
Along with Wright, two juniors who are making an immediate impact are Mitchell Smith, who plays tackle on both offense and defense. And Aaron Bastian, at 6-foot-4, 305, is also a tackle on both sides of the ball.
In addition, Martin Barboza is a middle linebacker who came to Calabasas after transferring from Notre Dame in Sherman Oaks.
The new look Marmonte League
Pierce became head coach last year, the second year of the newly revamped 10-team Marmonte League that featured three top-tier teams in Oaks Christian, Westlake and St. Bonaventure.
This year, instead of playing nine league games, the league was split into two, five-team divisions, something that was desirable for the seven teams other than the aforementioned Big Three.
The other four teams in Calabasas' division are Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Oaks Christian and Agoura. This week's game against Simi Valley is considered a non-league game this season as was the loss against Royal. An October 5 contest vs. Newbury Park, at home in Calabasas, will also be non-league this year.
But Westlake and St. Bonaventure aren't on the schedule, while Saugus and Oak Park are. The main goal was to allow some of the under-performing teams to schedule games that would be more competitive; more on their own level.
"I like it," Pierce said of the new format, which will stay in place next season, the last of the four-year commitment with Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure being in the league.
"It's allowed us to go out and (schedule) teams like Oak Park," said Pierce. "It's always good to have some diversity. And it's good for morale. You have guys play against new teams and get some confidence."
Coyotes coach doesn't take Pioneers lightly
Friday's match up with Simi Valley, which begins at 7 p.m. at Calabasas High School, is an interesting one.
Simi Valley (2-1) beat Saugus by a touchdown. Calabasas (1-2) lost to Saugus by a field goal. However, the team the Coyotes beat 50-21 last week, Oak Park, beat Simi Valley 39-14.
That can be deceiving said the Coyotes coach.
Oak Park scored 39 points, but only had 91 yards of total offense. Simi Valley turned the ball over 10 times.
"You never underestimate anybody," Pierce said. "You approach them the same as anybody else. Anybody is beatable depending on what day you play them and how prepared you are.
"Last year Simi Valley had an amazing front four," he added. "I hear they have another defensive front four which is not quite as good, but almost as good. I tell you what. We expect a hardnosed football game."
A win over Simi Valley would even the Coyotes record at 2-2. It would also double last year's win total after only four games of a 10-game regular season.
But while Pierce said he is "confidently prepared" for the Pioneers, and glad to be home for the second straight week - "It's always nice to get a good crowd like we did last week" - he is also aware that it's still early in the program-building process.
"You know what? We're not there yet as a program," he said. "But we're headed in the right direction. And that's what I'm optimistic and enthusiastic about. I think we're putting the pieces together right now."