Mission Prep head coach David Schuster was faced with a task not many football coaches encounter in their careers just three games into the season.
His team had played conventional, 11-man football to start the season — as promised — but now Schuster had to convince players to buy into eight-man for the remainder of the season.
“At the beginning of the year, everyone was pumped up for 11-man,” Schuster said. “The rest of the year, it became a matter of ‘We can do something historic and win the first title in school history.’”
Mission Prep was forced to drop down to the eight-man ranks last year due to dwindling participation numbers. This season was meant to be a transition as the program worked its way back to 11-man football: The Royals would play an 11-man non-conference schedule before starting the eight-man Central Sierra League schedule.
Schuster admits the transition wasn’t easy — at first. He cites the Royals’ first eight-man game against Laton as a struggle to keep his team focused. Mission Prep ended up winning the game 68-14.
“Once we understood, ‘This is part of your assignment as a man, and this is part of you growing up — this is how you handle your work,’ then everyone got focused,” Schuster said.
Mission Prep was focused on Friday night in a 55-14 victory over Riverdale Christian in the semifinals of the eight-man bracket.
The Royals have done nothing but win this year, posting an 11-0 record heading into the championship game on Friday against Fresno Christian. Coming into Friday’s game, Mission Prep had averaged 44.8 points a game and only one team, Orcutt Academy, scored more than 14 points against them.
‘Best running back on the Central Coast’
Junior running back Brian Kowall is having a breakout season.
Pat Laird — the standout running back for Cal and former Tribune County Player of the Year — is Kowall’s cousin. It’s easy to see the resemblance.
“They have very similar styles, but they’re also very different in other ways, too,” Schuster said. “Brian’s his own guy, he’s very unique, but there’s no question he’s very special. There’s a lot of schools interested and for good reason.”
Kowall has 1,179 yards and 23 touchdowns on 138 carries in 11 games this season. Five of those touchdowns came in Friday’s game against Riverdale Christian.
“I think Brian Kowall is the best running back on the Central Coast, and I can make a very easy argument to defend it,” Schuster said.
The Royals showed that they can score in other ways, too. Mark Rodriguez threw for two touchdowns, each to Mace Sherlock, before Kowall took over.
Logan Stout recovered a blocked punt for a score, and Dalton Strouss had an interception. Connor Borges and Brayden Farr each had a sack.
The Royals will play host to Fresno Christian (10-1), whose only loss came earlier in the season to Mission Prep, in the eight-man championship game. Fresno Christian beat Orcutt Academy 53-34 to advance.