The Atascadero High football team is tasked with replacing its three-year starting quarterback, a dual-threat 2,206 all-purpose-yard running back, its leading tackler and four starting offensive linemen from a Greyhounds team that captured an undefeated PAC 7 championship.
Still, don’t expect coach Vic Cooper to ask for any sympathy.
“That’s the nature of the business,” the 11-year coach said. “A senior is a year more versed, and it tends to take a pretty good junior to take one of their spots.
“We have a lot of holes to fill, but we have a lot of guys who can fill those holes.”
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It’s the Next Man Up philosophy at Atascadero, with a new cast of players led by senior quarterback Tommy Carr, who’s not your average one-year starter.
Carr spent the summer at football camps at USC and UCLA as well as the Peyton Manning Quarterback Camp in Louisiana and the invite-only National Development Games at Texas A&M.
“A lot of mechanics,” is what Carr said he gathered the most from his country-wide tour. “My trainer helped me get my footwork down, but the camps really helped with my mechanics. Learning how to get more power and accuracy doing small things like raising my elbow higher and following through.”
Carr’s more of a student of the game compared to Robbie Berwick, Cooper said, but at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Carr can tuck the ball and lower his shoulder, too.
“Tommy would have been a three-year starter if he hadn’t come right behind Robbie,” Cooper said. “That’s probably one of the positions I’m most confident in on our team right now. There’s no doubt he’s going to have a great season.”
Cooper said the Greyhounds will employ “a stable” of running backs to make up for the loss of Izaiah Cooks, who gained more than 1,500 yards on the ground and scored 21 total touchdowns.
Junior Marc Martin will start at running back, but Tony Quintero and JV callup RJ Reuche will also see time. Fullbacks Ethan Hicks and Nick Ducasse both return.
“It was definitely a little different to see those guys that I looked up to as a sophomore and a junior gone now,” Hicks, a three-year starter, said, “and I know I had to take a role because we had some missing pieces from last year that we saw in our playoff game that we need to improve.”
Atascadero’s season came to a frustrating end following a thrilling 22-21 overtime win at Paso Robles to end the regular season with an 8-3 record and a seven-game win streak. But in the opening round of the Northern Division playoffs, on their home soil, the Greyhounds let a four-point fourth-quarter lead slip away in a 34-27 loss to Saugus.
Hicks and fellow senior Tyler West said team chemistry — or lack thereof — played a role in the loss, and it’s something being stressed in the preseason.
“Last year, it was more of the linemen were good with each other and the backs were together,” West, the starting center and only returning offensive lineman, said. “We didn’t really have that cohesion.”
Cooper Kuhnle, who caught a team-high 20 passes for 512 yards and three scores, is back, as is senior Jason Goossens.
The defense was forced to say goodbye to Ryan Lombardi 248 career tackles, Joel Wood’s 71⁄2 sacks, and all but two of the team’s 12 interceptions from a year ago.
Hicks and Ducasse return at linebacker and will be joined by Karson Block, who is moving from defensive end. Nick DeRose, who had those other two interceptions, will lead the secondary.
“We’re pretty much plugging into the same system, just new personnel,” said Block, who added that not having all those players from 2013 took some getting used to.
“It was weird coming into the season and looking around wondering where everyone is, but this is the new team now. It was different, but we made the adjustment.”