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2012 SCCS football preview: Ready to rise

Posted: August 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Santa Clarita Christian football players, from left, Josh Benedict, Danny Blake, Jonathan Saavedra, Derek Lewis and Jacob Nogle.

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Santa Clarita Christian School spent a little more than a decade building up to juggernaut status in 8-man football in Southern California.

Lately, the team is trying to get used to the idea of being a perpetual underdog, at least on paper.

Entering its second year of 11-man, nearly every team SCCS faces this season will have more players on the roster and bigger physical size.

But there was a time when the Cardinals were a new, struggling team in 8-man too, as 11-year head coach Garrick Moss can recall.

He helped build the program from the ground up in one division, and he’s confident SCCS is well on its way down the same path in this one.

“If we can stay healthy and just play sharp football, mentally and physically sharp, we have a shot in every game, which is exciting,” Moss said.

Last season, the Cardinals learned the hard way the importance of depth and avoiding injuries.
In an Oct. 15 game against Crean Lutheran, SCCS’ starting quarterback Conner Harvey and starting running back Trevor Lopez both went down with injuries that would prove to be all-but season ending.

Though neither player is back on the team this year, the lesson was learned.

“It drops off pretty fast,” Moss said. “We don’t have a lot of depth, so that’s going to be the big unknown this year.”

Where the Cardinals lack depth and quantity of players though, they hope to make up for in returning talent and improved strength.

This past offseason, SCCS players put an unprecedented amount of time in the weight room for intense, controlled conditioning.

Seven players can now squat more than 415 pounds,something not a single Cardinal could do last season.

It all feeds into the team’s new motto of out-working opponents regardless of any visible disadvantages.

“I feel like all of us have (gotten better) just because we are a year older,” said junior offensive lineman/linebacker Danny Blake. “One year under our belt and we’re able to push guys around because of all the weight we’ve been pushing.”

Another advantage with another year of experience comes in the x’s and o’s.

Last summer, the coaching staff was scrambling to install a basic offense while teaching the fundamentals off 11-man football for the first time.

Now, the Cardinals are past that stage, and use practice time to insert all kinds of wrinkles into offensive and defensive schemes alike.

“It’s all about finding their weak points and attacking,” said linebacker/running back Derek Lewis. “All of our plays we have, if we run them correctly, there’s no way we can be stopped.”

It also helps that the team brings back most of its top performers from 2011, including a group of seven juniors who all started last year as sophomores.

That group will be the foundation of the team, considering only one senior — lineman Daniel Kim — will suit up this year.

At the top of the list is Lewis, a 6-foot, 205-pound player who led the team with 71 tackles last season.

He also rushed for 343 yards, which was second on the team behind only Jacob Nogle, another returning junior.

Though Nogle picked up 474 yards on the ground last year with an average of 9.1 yards per carry, the plan is to have him primarily play wide receiver and defensive back.

He’ll have to fill in for graduated wideout Chris Fechtelkotter, who led the team with 35 receptions for 621 yards.

Nogle, along with junior Josh Benedict will be the go-to targets for sophomore quarterback Jonathan Saavedra, another fairly new piece to the offense.

After Harvey went down last year, Saavedra went under center for the last three games of SCCS’ regular season.

He admitted it was a rocky start to his varsity career as a freshman, but the experience paid dividends.

“I feel real comfortable with it because I did it last year so I’m used to playing and everything,” said Saavedra, who completed 21-of-37 passes for 273 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions last year. “And I’ve been training with the guys and training with the coaches, and quarterback is something that I really want to do.”

Compared to some opponents on the schedule, the Cardinals seem like the experienced ones.

Two teams were added to the San Joaquin League this season to bump the number of teams to six.

That means five of SCCS’ 10 games are against league opponents, adding to the urgency of each one.

The new teams — Capistrano Valley Christian and Southlands Christian of Walnut — are both former 8-man teams making their 11-man debuts this season.

The new makeup of the league will be new to the Cardinals, but change isn’t something that’s ever fazed this football program.

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