Around 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, on the football field at Riverdale Christian Academy in the San Joaquin Valley, the young, struggling Coast Union team will have been in competition for an hour. That should be sufficient time to determine whether the players are beginning to come to grips with the skills (tackling, blocking) and strategies (proper positioning; familiarity with routes and assignments) of high school football.
After losing its first three games by a combined score of 158-0, Coast Union canceled its home game against Cate School on Friday, Sept. 16, for what new high school principal Scott Ferguson called “the safety of our players,” adding that “their safety always comes first.”
Ferguson was referencing the fact that the fledgling team (featuring inexperienced players, including several freshmen) that came out for football — many of whom have never played the game at any level — would have been thrown to the wolves had they taken the field against an elite, high-caliber, hard-hitting team like Cate.
Because the Cate game was scrubbed — the first time that has happened in recent memory — head coach Thom Holt and his assistants had 10 full practice sessions to get his players up to speed.
The problem with this team goes back to the first of August, when coaches normally expect student athletes to show up for practices. Only a trickle of players participated in summer practices and weight training.
“Commitment has been an issue with Coast Union athletes,” Holt said.
In those 20 practice sessions leading up to Saturday, Holt explained in an email, he hopes players will have gleaned enough of the fundamentals to be more competitive.
“We have 10 days to get ready for what many would take years to learn,” the coach said. “The game of football is more complex than most people realize.”
Bronco coaches know they have their work cut out for them — in teaching a game that is foreign to many Cambria youths — because, Holt said, “most of our kids never watch football.”
“The most popular local sport for many of today’s young males is not football, but soccer,” he said. “There are also the predictable diversions like video games and other digital distractions for adolescents that (they) can become obsessive with.”
Ferguson, in his email answer to questions, is hopeful that a future feeder program — flag football at the middle school level — will build a sense of familiarity with the game of football in the community.
“This year’s young team will be strong in the coming years,” he said. “Good things are coming.”
Meanwhile, those 10 practice days offer quarterback Riley Kennedy — who took over signal-calling duties when quarterback Jack MacKinnon left the team after the first week’s brutal 75-0 trouncing by Hesperia Christian — a chance to get his bearings and develop the leadership his team needs.
Last year’s top running back, Alam Ramirez has not played in a game yet this season because of an injury, so the team has relied on senior Anthony Stonehill and junior Diego Leonardo for its running game. Freshman Emmany Plasencia has handled the kicking chores with emerging skill, and has shown talent at running back kickoffs (of which there have been many) and punts.
Riverdale Christian Academy (1-1 so far this year) is associated with the evangelical Assembly of God denomination. Tuition for a semester at the private school is $5,400 for students in grades 6 through 12. The school has no lights on its football field, hence the Saturday day game. This season they have a 1-1 record thus far.
Over the past three years, the Broncos won one game against Riverdale Christian (55-0 in 2013), but lost close ones (28-21 and 20-14) in 2014 and 2015. The game Saturday, Sept.24, will be broadcast on KTEA-FM (103.5) beginning at 1 p.m.