For most of a Mission Prep football practice earlier this month, junior quarterback Bryce Fledderman was in a world of his own.
He went through drill after drill, working on footwork and accuracy, segregated from the rest of the team. He’s got a lot on his mind.
For the first time in at least four seasons, Mission Prep’s quarterback will take snaps out of a shotgun pistol formation.
The change from a predominantly under-center offense the past few seasons has been put in place by coach Chad Henry to help Fledderman. He figures to be the focal point of a Royals team coming off a 4-7 season and 1-3 record in Northern League play.
“We felt it would be better to get him back from behind center and move him into the shotgun pistol formation where he can see the field a little bit more,” Henry said.
The offensive balance showed by last season’s team will likely shift towards a pass-happy offensive attack, but it will be the play of the offensive line and running backs around Fledderman that will determine Mission Prep’s fate this season.
Noodle No More
When Fledderman started playing football at Mission Prep as a freshman, his teammates gave him a nickname.
“I was called ‘Noodle,’” the 6-foot-4 Fledderman said. “I came in really skinny because I grew a ton.”
Last season, he says, he was still getting his legs underneath him after growing four inches from his freshman to sophomore year. But he hit the weight room and the cafeteria hard. He now says that his playing weight is about 205-pounds, 40-pounds more than what he weighed two years ago.
His teammates have taken notice.
But now that he has become comfortable with a larger frame, he still has a new offensive scheme and a young offensive line to get used to.
“Pistol (offense) is completely different,” Fledderman said of the popular spread scheme. “It’s just different with the mesh with the backs and the drops are different. We’ve just taken it really slow and it’s progressed really well.”
Protecting Fledderman and blocking for junior running back Brayden Corona, who rushed for 237 yards last season, will be a smaller and younger offensive line.
“They’re young up front as far as playing experience, but we’re excited about their athleticism.” Henry said. “We’re not going to be the biggest line, but we definitely have some guys up there that are pretty good.”
Last season, Fledderman showed flashes, but ended up with a poor touchdown to interception ratio, tossing 15 touchdowns against 11 interceptions at a completion rate of just 44 percent.
“Sometimes it was hard for me because I was always trying to make the right play for my teammates, but I learned that I’m going to make mistakes,” said Fledderman, who added he got too down on himself last year. “And last year as a sophomore, I made a lot of mistakes.”
“So this year I’m going to try to grow on that and try to not repeat those mistakes and just lead my team a little bit better.”
During the summer Fledderman has looked more comfortable in the pocket and exhibited good arm strength and accuracy and has an experienced group of wide receivers. If the offensive line can do it’s job, “Noodle” could have a breakout season. Miller Time
At Mission Prep, you can expect to hear the name Miller plenty this season.
Patrick Miller (who wears No. 14) and his younger twin brothers Timmy (No. 22) and Joe (No. 5) will be all over the place this season.
Patrick, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior who led the team in receiving yards last season, will also be a key piece of the linebacker corps and again a favorite Fledderman target.
Joe, a junior, has been getting reps in the offseason as a slot wide receiver and cornerback.
But it’s Timmy who has made the biggest impression in camp.
“Timmy is one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen,” said senior linebacker/tight-end Sal LaCasto. “This year I think (the younger brothers) really stepped up their leadership. They’re following in Pat’s footsteps.”
Henry said the 6-foot, 170-pound Timmy will be a top cornerback and could be the answer at running back.
“Timmy has really been putting in the work and I think he’s actually going to be a key part of our team this year,” Fledderman said.
Team Building, Hovering Lawsuit
For the first time in the Henry coaching era, the team held a five-day football retreat to “build team chemistry.”
“Last year we didn’t have the cohesiveness that we have this year,” LaCasto said. “We didn’t have all the leadership, we didn’t have all the leaders that we have this year. We really bonded together as a team, as brothers.”
Mission Prep’s team atmosphere was brought into question earlier this year when the parents of a former football player filed a lawsuit alleging bullying by teammates. The lawsuit, which also alleges helmet-to-helmet contact encouraged by coaches, continues to move through the courts. Athletic director Vic Ecklund says the retreat was not a reaction to the lawsuit.
The retreat included team breakfasts, two-a-day practices and motivational speakers.
“The kids really bought into it, they really enjoyed themselves,” Henry said. “It could be something that could be the foundation for how we move forward and for what we are really trying to build here.”
LaCasto echoed Henry’s sentiments: “We really embraced the whole brotherly mojo this season and I really think that’s going to help us moving forward.”
Mission Prep will begin to move forward Sept. 4 in the season opener on the road against Rio Hondo Prep.
“Our expectation is to win the first game,” LaCasto said. “Win the first game, keep our ball rolling, stay together as a family, win league and ultimately make a CIF run and get back to that championship game.”