Thirty years ago, Bill Clough made his coaching debut by leading the Coast Union High 8-man football team for three seasons before moving on to become the school’s athletic director.
He returned to the sidelines in 2013 as an assistant, but is back at the helm this season to lead a Broncos squad that was one game away from winning the CIF-Southern Section Division I 8-man finals a year ago.
“To be honest, I thought it’d be best for program,” Clough said of his return to the sideline following the retirement of Charlie Casale. “It was a long time ago, but I jumped in last year as an assistant to get my bearings again.”
Clough couldn’t have picked a better year to rejoin the ranks, as Coast Union went 11-3 this past season thanks to an offense that outscored opponents by nearly 300 points (720-447) and averaged more than 300 rushing yards a game.
“That was a very veteran, experienced team, so we knew we’d be good,” Clough said. “You never know exactly where you’re going to go, but we certainly played to our potential.”
Unfortunately for this year’s squad, the majority of last year’s experience walked across the stage this past summer wearing caps and gowns.
The biggest loss was quarterback Angel Avina, who accounted for 3,325 yards and 26 touchdowns between his air and ground abilities.
In total, 17 players from the Broncos team that lost to Faith Baptist in the Division I finals graduated.
“We lost a lot,” Clough said. “We have guys who have experience back, but we lack depth and experience at the other places where those returners aren’t.”
Seven players that either started or saw the field in 2013 are back, chief among them being junior Lane Sutherland.
Sutherland, Clough said, has been a leader on the field since he strapped on his chin strap as a freshman, earning all-CIF distinctions as a linebacker.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder had a team-high 58 tackles this past season to go along with a standout season in the backfield. Sutherland rushed for 1,390 yards and 15 scores, averaging 7.9 yards per carry as a sophomore.
“He’s very football savvy,” Clough said. “Once again, we’ll be expecting big things from him. “He’s one of those guys that we’ve just got to get the ball to him however we can.”
Senior Binh Trieu joins Sutherland at running back and will also play defensive back — a necessity with the sizes of schools that play 8-man.
“We’re trying to get a rotation to get some guys rest,” Clough said of his 21-man roster, “but most of our guys will play both ways.”
Alexis Mireles takes over under center, and Clough said the 5-8 junior is more of a traditional drop-back passer compared to Avina’s dual-threat style.
Mireles will have the luxury of playing behind a pair of bulky returning linemen in 270-pound center Octavio Villalvazo and 260-pound Asher Armstrong.
Four-year starter Tommy Moreno is back to anchor the receiving corps and contribute as a defensive back.
Junior Jimmy Welch and sophomore Warren Smith bring experience to the underclassmen ranks. Both will start at defensive end with Welch playing fullback and Smith lining up at tight end.
The Broncos will play in a four-team Coast Valley League along with Valley Christian Academy, Cuyama Valley and Maricopa.
Low numbers caused Shandon and North County Christian to cancel their seasons before they could get started. North County Christian coach Bryan Matherly said his team will run passing scrimmages with other nearby teams with low numbers to keep momentum going.
Clough will be hoping the ball stays rolling in Cambria, too, as the Broncos begin their quest to head back to the playoff finals with today’s season-opener at Fresno Christian.
“If we can stay away from injuries, I think we’ll be able to play with everyone one our schedule,” Clough said. “We’re not going in with the confidence we had last year, but we’re going in with, I guess you could say, a quiet confidence.”