First it was Dylan Morrow. A year later it was Kevin Laird.
The question of how Brady Lock will replace an explosive and multifaceted player seems to pop up every year for the Mission Prep football coach.
“Yeah, we’ve lost a couple of good ones,” Lock said of the pair of Division I athletes. Laird is now playing football at Cornell, while Morrow plays baseball at San Jose State. “Let’s hope we get another one. But we’re not counting on that.”
When Laird graduated, the Royals lost their top rusher (1,171 yards), passer (827), receiver (322), scorer (27 touchdowns) and defender (10 interceptions) from last season all in one player. He was second in the CIF-Central Section in interceptions and was named a small-schools all-state selection by ESPN RISE and MaxPreps.
Much of the pressure to replace Laird on offense falls to senior quarterback Jedd Hasay, who passed for 458 yards and eight touchdowns with 15 interceptions as a junior.
“We always seem to have one guy who steps up,” Hasay said of the emergence of Morrow and Laird the previous two seasons. “So this year, I’ve got to step up and try to fill in (Laird’s) shoes and see where we can take it.”
Compounding the issue of replacing such stars, the Royals are entering their first year in the Southern Section, where they’ll compete as one of only four independent programs.
Lock said that in order for his team to be eligible for postseason play in the Northeast Division (formerly Division XIII), the Royals must win at least five regular-season games.
While five wins may not seem a tough task for Lock, who won 17 games during his first two years with the Royals, a closer look at their schedule this year shows several potential roadblocks, including two public schools that dwarf Mission Prep’s enrollment.
With nearly 300 students, Mission Prep’s enrollment pales in comparison to those of Los Padres League members Nipomo (1,250) and Santa Maria (2,200), each of which is on the schedule this year.
The Royals will also take on last season’s Northeast Division champion, Linfield Christian of Temecula.
“It’s definitely going to be a bit more challenging playing some of these bigger schools,” Lock said. “But we knew what we were getting into (transitioning to the Southern Section).”
Hasay agreed the schedule will be more difficult but said the Royals are preparing for the challenge.
“We’re small compared to some of those schools,” Hasay said. “But if we all step up as a team, I think we’ll be all right.”
Mission Prep will also be looking for leadership from 5-foot-11, 240-pound senior Joey Miller, who was named the East Sierra League Lineman of the Year as a junior in 2009.
Among promising newcomers are sophomore running back Mike Cardwell, who saw extensive playing time last year as a freshman point guard for the Royals’ varsity basketball team, and Andrew DaRosa, a 6-foot, 220-pound sophomore lineman. The Royals have also welcomed senior defensive end Spencer Rowley and sophomore defensive back Andy Rowley, transfers from San Luis Obispo High.
During the offseason period of change, the Royals initially applied to join the LPL in all sports except football, but the league voted instead to accept the school only if the football program came along right away.
“Football is a little different than other sports,” Lock said, alluding to depth and roster discrepancies. “There’s a physical portion to it — a lot of contact. We’ve said all along that was a concern for us in joining the Los Padres League. It’s not necessarily the competing, but the toll it could take on our guys playing against those schools on a consistent basis.”Despite not moving into the LPL, Mission Prep is continuing its ascent up the football food chain.
The Royals were still playing at the 8-man level as recently as 2004 and didn’t have their own full-time home field until the end of 2007.
“We’ve gotten a lot of community support,” Lock said. “We keep taking steps to improve the program, and I’m hoping it continues to get even better.”