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West Ranch begins again

New coach, quarterback take the reins of the 2009 Wildcats

Posted: July 9, 2009 8:57 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2009 4:55 a.m.

West Ranch football head coach Sean O'Brien, right, talks with his team during practice Thursday at West Ranch High School.

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Many people are calling this season one of new beginnings for West Ranch Football.

The coaching staff is new.

The team is young.

And for the first time in history, someone other than San Diego State-bound Jake Bernards will be the starting quarterback on varsity.

But new head coach Sean O’Brien is calling the transition something different.

“It is not building a new house,” he says. “It is refurbishing a house that has already been built, if you want to keep that analogy.

“We are not trying to figure out what we did last year and not do that. We are taking what did work from last year, which was a lot — and the years before, and improving and changing. But we didn’t come into this saying, ‘Ok, toss out everything you know.’”

O’Brien became just the second varsity football coach in the program’s history after Mike Kane resigned his post on Dec. 18 after three seasons, citing a lack of time spent with his family.

However, the first-year head coach knows there is work to do, and it starts with mentality.

“The number of times we can say West Ranch is a new school has started to run out,” he says. “So I think at the start (the team) felt the pressure of, ‘We have to win it all right now. This thing right in front of me represents everything.’ We had to teach that out of them. ... Win the now. What this is in front of you, win that.”

Junior quarterback Connor Eichten represents that mindset.

The task of taking over for Bernards could be a tough one.

After all, Bernards was as much a mainstay in Wildcats football as Kane, and was the first football player in the school’s history to receive a Division I scholarship.

“It is big shoes to fill, but it is not something I try to think about all the time,” Eichten says. “I just try to improve like coach O’Brien says, and all that stuff will take care of itself.”

Eichten is one of the many players on the roster who is familiar with O’Brien.

Though the coach may be new to the varsity ranks, he has worked with both the freshman and junior varsity squads since the school first opened.

“Everybody has a lot of respect for him,” Eichten says. “It is something he just kind of gets from all of us. He is just a natural leader. We all look up to him because he has been at our campus ever since we arrived.”

But O’Brien credits the players for making the transition an easy one, noting their humility and willingness to listen.

The coach’s style has also translated to the few returners.

As one of the few players that saw playing time last season, senior defensive back Branden Pistone has already seen a difference this season.

“He is pushing us to our limit,” Pistone says. “He is teaching us a lot more.”

Therein lies this team’s emphasis.

Understanding.

The team has attached a science to the trade, dissecting the plays they run and their performances.

Everything is a learning opportunity.

Even after a well-executed play, O’Brien says the team analyzes the factors that contributed to their success.

“We are instilling in our team culture that good enough isn’t,” O’Brien says. “The result, it isn’t that it is immaterial, but the process matters.

“We don’t high five and chest bump because we are still trying to figure out, ‘Why did that succeed? What did we do right there and how do we duplicate it?’ After some of the very successful series, we would meet as a receiving corps and quarterbacking corps while the defense was on the field. ‘Ok why did that work?’”

A round-robin tournament July 2 at Canyon High gave the Wildcats an early opportunity to test themselves.

The results were positive as West Ranch beat Canyon 34-12 and Golden Valley 32-18.

A reserve-heavy Wildcats team lost to the Cowboys’ junior varsity team 30-12.

But at the end of the day, O’Brien says his focus is on building character and giving his athletes a venue to develop the traits that will make them successful years down the road.

“Even though people will say we are here to win a championship or we are here to win games, that is not really your real goal,” O’Brien says. “That is not what you are going to be remembered for. What you want is for 20 years later, one of your ex-players comes back and says, ‘I am a success because of what happened here. I am a successful businessman or a successful teacher or doctor or whatever because of happened here.’ That is your ultimate goal.”

pputignano@the-signal.com

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