Ask any football coach and they’ll say they can ill afford injury to key players.
Nobody means it quite as much as Coast Union High coach Ron Garcia, though.
The Broncos, coming off a 1-9 campaign, could have as few as 15 varsity players when they kick off the season at Mission Prep at 7 Friday night.
“It’s possible the season could take a toll on them,” Garcia said. “But if we condition them well enough and give them the skills they need, we’ll be all right.”
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Unfortunately for Garcia, the injury bug has taken an early toll already. The Broncos have already lost a backup quarterback who was expected to start defensively to a broken wrist in preseason practice.
“That hurts,” Garcia said. “We’ll be struggling all year to make sure everyone stays healthy.”
The Broncos will, however, have something to draw from that they didn’t have last year — a junior varsity team.
“Because I’ve chosen to keep the sophomores down (on JV), it’s going to limit the numbers a bit on varsity,” Garcia said. “If we don’t do it, we won’t be able to field a JV team, which is detrimental to the program.”
At the heart of the issue is whether sophomores will gain more from playing against other JV teams or from playing against varsity competition. With no JV team last year, this year’s crop of juniors will have more experience playing against higher levels of competition.
A rare Central Section team in football but Southern Section in all other sports, Coast Union moved from the West Sierra League to the East Sierra League after last season.
“What it has allowed us to do is, we’ve gotten rid of the traditional bigger schools like Liberty of Madera,” Garcia said. “So hopefully it’ll give us a chance to be more competitive.”
While the Broncos won just once last year, Garcia said the Broncos’ tough season wouldn’t linger, and might even have some positive effects.
“Nobody is low on what happened last year,” Garcia said. “They were a very young team. But as a positive, a lot of our younger players gained some important experience.”
If Coast Union is going to turn things around, it will do so with a completely redesigned offense. The Broncos used the run-heavy double-wing formation last season, throwing only about four times per game.
This year, though, Coast Union will go back to the pro-set formation it used two years ago, said Garcia, who was hired this past offseason to replace David Clements.
The pro-set “should work out pretty well for us,” senior running back Zach Brooke said. “We ran it before and it seemed to work well.”
Brooke led the Broncos with 781 rushing yards in 2009.
“I like that we’re going to be throwing the ball a little more,” Brooke said. “That way they won’t be loading the box on every play.”
Garcia said the Broncos will plan to do most of their passing from play-action, giving senior quarterback and 2009 all-league first-team defensive back Omar Catalan the ability to draw linebackers in. But he said they won’t be completely changing their game plan.
“We’re still a running team,” Garcia said. “We’re going to throw a little bit more, but not a great deal.”