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SCCS football: Filling the void

Espinosa ready to lead SCCS to third straight CIF division title

Posted: August 27, 2010 10:38 p.m.
Updated: August 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Santa Clarita Christian senior wide receiver and linebacker Ryan Espinosa, the team’s captain, holds the plaques honoring the school’s consecutive CIF-Southern Section Division I 8-Man Football championships from the past two years.

After his team won back-to-back titles, it could have been easy for Ryan Espinosa to get complacent.

Instead, Santa Clarita Christian's senior linebacker and wide receiver decided to do the exact opposite. Shortly after the team brought home its second consecutive CIF-Southern Section Division I 8-Man championship, Espinosa organized the SCCS football team's first voluntary spring workout program of its kind.

By rule, no coaches were allowed.

"He wants to finish his senior year just continuing what we've done the last two years," says Cardinals head coach Garrick Moss.

Espinosa, who mostly played defensive back last year, says it was an easy decision to try to put together spring drills.

"I knew we'd need more time than we ever had before to prepare for the season," he says.

The Cardinals lost all but two starters from last season, including the team-leaders in scoring, yardage and tackling. Of the 34 total players on the 2010 roster, 13 of them are freshman. Espinosa, the team's captain, knew things were going to be different this time around, but his teammate Chris Fechtelkotter said that didn't phase him.

"This year, he stepped up tremendously," says the junior wide receiver and defensive back. "He's the one that makes us condition, and he's the one that tells us we can go all the way."

Fechtelkotter, who is also Espinosa's good friend on the team, wasn't always so quick to compliment his teammate. When Espinosa first transferred from Valenica High School his sophomore year, Fechtelkotter didn't like the idea that a newcomer was competing for his position on both sides of the ball.

"I was sort of jealous of him, to be honest," Fechtelkotter says.

The junior looks back and laughs about it now, he says, because he's happy to have a talented player like Espinosa as his captain.

The title of captain isn't something the former defensive back takes lightly either, especially given the youth of the team. He takes it upon himself to be a leader and an inspiration to all his companions on the field.

Throughout camp, Moss received several comments from the parents of younger players praising Espinosa for his work.

"The parents say this kid is such a big help to my son," Moss says. "To have a senior that takes time with the freshman and doesn't overlook them... that just shows his character and how he's a natural leader."

After watching the majority of the former championship roster graduate, though, Espinosa admits he had his doubts about this year's squad at first.

"I knew I was going to really have to step up being the only two-year returning starter," he says.

It wasn't until he spent a few weeks practicing with some of the new players that he began to believe in the Cardinals' potential. Coaches repeatedly told him and the rest of the team that they were capable of winning a third straight title. Espinosa had to admit this coaching staff had a pretty good track record.

"When coaches have told us we could win the championship in the past, we've done it," he says. "It's kind of hard to doubt them now."

Things are different this time around, not just for the team, but for Espinosa personally. In the past two seasons, all eyes were on Collin Keoshian, former SCCS running back, linebacker and CIF-SS Division I 8-Man Player of the Year.

During his sophomore and junior years with the Cardinals, Espinosa said the outside perception was that it was "Keoshian's team." Now, the senior captain wants to take home a title of his own. He wants to prove SCCS can win without a star player.

"We're not just a one-man team," Espinosa says. "We're a team and we're out there and we're competing just as hard as would with without (Keoshian)."

The departure of Keoshian also opened the door for Espinosa to play linebacker this season, a position at which he feels more comfortable. He spent the last two years playing some form of defensive back, but has experience playing linebacker dating back to his freshman year at Valencia.

Though Valencia plays 11-Man football, Espinosa doesn't feel it's much of a transition playing with a few less guys on the field.

"It's all the game of football, and I'll hit somebody whether it's 8-Man or 11-Man," he says.

After this season, the senior hopes he can continue playing football at any level. He said he can't imagine going to college without playing football and will take any opportunity given to him.

"If God presents it in front of me, I'll go with it," Espinosa says.



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