Longtime coach Tom Goossen won’t have to wait long to see what his newest Arroyo Grande High football roster is made of.
The Eagles open the season against Lompoc for the fifth straight year, having lost the past three to the northern Santa Barbara County power by a combined score of 97-44.
“Frankly, they’ve had our number in the past and we’re hoping to reverse course on that,” said Goossen, who enters his eighth season as head coach following an extensive stint as an assistant under Jon Huss.
“It’s a darn good team we’re facing right off the bat. They present a lot of different challenges for us, so I give them credit for being consistently good. And, overall, I think we’ve been consistently good over the years, too.”
There’s no denying that, either.
Although they’ve fallen to the Braves each of the past three seasons, the Eagles have compiled an overall record of 29-8 in that span, finishing no worse than second in the PAC 7.
The culture of success at Arroyo Grande starts at the younger levels of high school football, fostering an atmosphere of competition, unity and readiness.
The Eagles lose their defensive leader from a year ago in linebacker Grant Alton, who is walking on at Cal Poly, but the team isn’t expecting to miss a beat.
“As much as we’re going to miss Grant, we’ll be OK,” senior Ryan Teixeira said. “That’s what’s great about this football program, we always find a way to get it done, and all of our opponents never look forward to facing Arroyo Grande.”
Teixeira will take over leadership duties among the linebackers that include senior Thomas Fuentez, junior Joey De La Rosa and impressing sophomore Sam Ness.
“We’re going to play as Ryan Teixeira plays,” Goossen said of the defense. “He’s one of those kids that has an extremely high motor.”
The defense also returns Bradley Mickey — five interceptions in 2013 — and Jordan Harrigan, who will double alongside De La Rosa as the lead running backs.
“Joey’s a big kid who has been working really hard in the offseason,” said Harrigan, who rushed for 388 yards this past year.
“(Junior) Alex Cecchi is a little bit smaller but he runs hard and he’s shifty. I try to be a little bit of both.”
Added De La Rosa: “I think we have a really talented backfield, and that goes a lot with our offensive line and how we progress toward getting better.”
One of those linemen, senior right guard Nathan Pino, said his mindset is a simple one.
“Win as many games as you can,” the co-captain said. “This is my last season of football, so I’m going to do all I can to win.”
Not to be overlooked is the return of kicker Cole Ramey. The senior made 11 field goals in 2013 to go with an average punt of nearly 38 yards, including a 62-yarder.
He pinned nine of his 30 punts inside the 20-yard line, and 42 of his 73 kickoffs were touchbacks. He was named to the Cal-Hi Sports preseason all-state third team as a punter.
A pair of underclassmen battled for the starting quarterback job throughout camp, with sophomore Sawyer May earning the nod over junior Gavin Hall.
Of the 5-11 May, Goossen said: “Sawyer really brings a calmness to the spot.” The coach added Hall, a 6-4 dual-threat option, will still figure in the offense.
“I know we could have a great season with either,” Goossen said. “They both are good leaders, and they both do it in different ways. That’s what you need on a team, you need different voices contributing different ideas and thoughts, and that can make the whole that much better.”
The PAC 5 dropped St. Joseph and Pioneer Valley, but the Eagles still face both in the nonleague schedule and will also face out-of-area teams in Independence and Liberty before heading to Nipomo on Oct. 3 for the final tune up prior to the league opener at Paso Robles.
“I’m not too sure anybody knows their biggest weakness at this point,” Goossen said. “It becomes more evident about four to five games in, once you see kids compete in games and then you can put the pieces together.”
It might become evident even sooner, facing a team that’s had Arroyo Grande’s number to open the season.
“It’s good for us,” said Harrigan of the Lompoc game, which will be streamed online on the Fox Sports West Prep Zone. “That’s the kind of game we want first round. We want to play that team and show that we can compete.”