The Mission Prep football team is coming off of a memorable season in which it nearly won the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division championship.
The Royals lost 28-21 to Rio Hondo Prep in the championship game, a score that has become a battle cry in the grind of summer practice.
“We have the same goal as last year, which is to get a CIF (Southern Section divisional) championship,” senior running back Patrick Laird said. “Everyone kind of remembers that. So when we’re in the weight room, and around practice, guys will be yelling ‘28-21,’ to get that extra motivation.”
The CIF-Southern Section pollsters apparently think the Royals have as good of a chance as anyone to win it. They’ve ranked Mission Prep No. 1 in the Northeast Division’s preseason poll. Rio Hondo was third.
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Laird, also a safety, finished with 979 rushing yards last year, the team’s second most behind Michael Cardwell, who had 1,370.
Laird, who’s 6 feet tall, has gained about 15 pounds of muscle since last season to reach 205 pounds.
“I just want to hit the hole hard and take off and get extra yards,” Laird said. “That’s what I’ve been working on.”
The Royals finished 11-2 under fifth-year head coach Chad Henry, who has yet to have a losing season in his tenure, and led Mission Prep to an 8-2 mark in 2011.
The Royals are also the Northeast Division’s preseason No. 1- ranked team, according to MaxPreps.com.
They played a tough schedule last year to give themselves a better chance for a playoff seed, booking several ranked teams in their division. Those include Rio Hondo Prep and St. Genevieve, whom they’ll see again in 2013.
Mission Prep’s key returnees include Laird, tight end Evan Talbert, all-CIF Southern Section defensive back Calvin Levisay and senior wide receiver Trevor Fernandez.
But they also have some big shoes to fill after graduating Tribune County Player of the Year Tyler Baty (quarterback), running back Cardwell, defensive lineman Andrew DaRosa and linebacker Andrew DeSesa.
Henry will start 6-foot-1 sophomore Patrick Miller at quarterback. Henry said Miller has an “above average to strong arm.”
Henry has been working with Miller on improving footwork, playing through mistakes, and tightening up accuracy on shorter throws.
“The main thing we’re working with him on is learning to play within himself,” Henry said. “It’s a lot of pressure to follow in the footsteps of a guy like Tyler Baty. … As with any young guy there are days where he has looked great and days where he has struggled mightily.
“We’re analyzing his weaknesses and making sure he’s improving on them every day.”
Henry said the offense will continue to be a mix of pass and run, noting that last year’s team passed for 2,985 yards and ran for 2,544. Henry acknowledged this season’s squad may be a little more run-heavy than last year’s group.
A player who figures to be a ready target for Miller is Fernandez, who had 287 receiving yards as a junior. He’ll take on some spot duties as a zone-read quarterback. He’s the only four-year player on varsity, which gives him an added level of comfort with the offense, particularly on his receiver routes.
“Our team is young, but we have some good players,” Fernandez said. “Our offense is solid. We have some big guys on the line. We’ll need to get better at D, but I feel good about things overall.”