When senior Jordan Bernal took his preseason reps at quarterback earlier this month, he wasn’t looking over his shoulder.
Bernal split time with the now graduated Gunnar Griffin, and the two combined for more than 1,100 yards and led a resurgent Eagles team to a share of the Northern League title and the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division.
But this season, head coach Dan Loney has handed the keys to the offense to Bernal.
“I’m looking forward to playing the whole game,” said the lefty.
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The 2014 season was a comeback season of sorts for Templeton. The Eagles had an unusually bad season in 2013, posting an abysmal 1-9 record and winning just one game in six league tries.
So Loney switched up the offense to a spread attack that got the ball in the hands of playmakers on the outside. Behind the combined offensive efforts of Griffin, Bernal, wide-receiver Christian Hauser and running back Bryson Messer, the Eagles scored 34 points or more in 10 games to finish the year at 10-4.
And you know what they say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“There are not a lot of big changes,” Loney said of the offense heading into this season. “Just tweaking blocking schemes mainly and adding a few new wrinkles.”
The biggest changes will be Bernal’s permanent role and the players at skill positions.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way he’s handled it coming in to this season,” Loney said of Bernal. “He really took ownership of the offense in the spring.”
Junior running back Nate Avery, who was second behind Hauser as a sophomore with 1,016 total yards in 2014, will be the featured back with Hauser and Messer both graduated. Avery showed he could catch the ball out of the backfield and gain solid yards on the ground last season.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year who were big leaders, so a lot of the sophomores that were last year have stepped up and taken that leadership position,” said the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Avery.
Wide receiver Jaret Butz, who grew a few inches over the summer, will be a threat on the outside after playing as a slot last season. But it’s an unknown player who plays fullback and defensive line who could make a name for himself in 2015.
Defensive X factor
Most high school football players have video highlights hiding somewhere on the Internet. Not Isaac Lindsey. But that will change.
“He put on 20-30 pounds in the offseason,” said defensive standout Clint Howland. “He’s an animal this year.”
During the preseason, Lindsey was getting reps as a fullback, but he is more suited to make his mark as a defensive lineman.
Behind Lindsey at middle linebacker is Howland. The senior was second on the team in 2014 with 111 total tackles, and plays a tailor-made role in the Eagles 3-5-3 defensive scheme.
“I moved to a different type of linebacker,” Howland said. “I’m hoping to make a little bit more tackles and just play more of a speed position.”
“We kind of feel that (defense) might be our strength this year, with Clint being there,” Loney said. “We probably have more returners on defense than we do on offense.”
The Eagles learned plenty of hard lessons in their season-ending 40-30 lost to Arrowhead Christian in November.
“We kind of lost it when we had to travel a long way for a game and we just got tired and shut down after a long bus ride,” Howland said of the four-hour drive. “Now we know how to prep for that.”
“We’re gonna come out and try and establish a new identity and learn from that mistake and move on,” Loney said.
The Eagles will need to draw from that lesson for the first game of the season that includes a two-hour drive to Bakersfield and a matchup against Bakersfield Christian on Friday at 7 p.m.
But unlike in 2014, Bakersfield Christian, and every other team the Eagles play this season, will hear them coming a mile away.
“We’re not gonna sneak up on anybody like we did last year,” Loney said. “Everybody is going to expect us to be good so we have to fulfill those expectations and surpass them.”