Dealing with the loss of former linebacker and tailback Tyler Gray is no easy task, but faced with replacing arguably the best player in Templeton High football history this season, first-year coach Dan Loney is planning to solve the big problem by shifting the focus to the smaller things.
“Once you add those up, they take care of the big things,” Loney said. “It’s huge. It’s hard to replace a guy like that, but it forces us to change the offense and get more people involved.
“We’re just trying to fill out the offense and defense and change little things. We’re still kinda early in that process. He was a heck of a player.”
Heck of a player, indeed. Gray, who signed a letter of intent with Hawaii in February, rushed 205 times for 1,628 yards and 25 touchdowns last year, while also racking up 145 tackles and five sacks as a linebacker.
He was the centerpiece of an offense and defense that helped the Eagles to an 8-5 (4-2 Los Padres League) record and their best finish in CIF-Southern Section program history, losing in the Northwest Division semifinals to South Torrance, 35-7.
“It’s hard exceeding those expectations we had last year; no one thinks we can do it,” defensive lineman Casey Dakin said. “But we know as a group we have the talent, we have the coaching. We know we can exceed what we did last year as a team.”
As a team is just how they are going to have to do it. Offensively, with Gray, running back Kory Dearie and quarterback Simon Roth graduated, the Eagles lose just over 2,800 yards of offense heading into this year. And while that is a huge gap for any offense to overcome, Loney said his team has the role players to fill that void.
“We don’t have one stud that we had last year, but we have five, six, seven kids that are great athletes that are going to contribute to a great offense and a great defense,” said Loney, the defensive coordinator before succeeding Dave Harper as head coach. “It’s going to be one of those things that, as a whole, I think we are going to be much better.”
The Eagles’ dedication can pay testament to that. They wasted no time this offseason.
“Most of the guys, we started working out the day after the last game,” junior defensive lineman Ross Berry said. “We’ve been together this whole offseason.”
That’s a mindset Loney wants his team to carry. He is teaching his players that the season is much shorter than they realize, and to get where the team wants to be, they’re going to have to take full advantage of its entirety.
“You think you have extra time, but you don’t,” Loney said. “Every senior I’ve ever coached comes back and says, ‘You know, I wish I would have done things differently’ and if we can get these athletes to realize it goes faster than you think, and not squander opportunities, I think we can achieve a lot.”
Loney is confident the Eagles can make a run at the top of the league. He’ll have two stout defensive linemen to work with, Dakin and Berry, who combined for 103 total tackles a year ago. They’ll also have some help from senior Cameron Silzer, who had 45 total tackles at safety.
Those names, among another few, may be the key to another big year, including new quarterback Andy Garretson.
“We could be a great team,” Loney said. “It’s up to the coaches and players to decide how well we are going to be and how much the kids are going to buy into what we’re trying to do. If we buy in, if we fly around and we play disciplined, we can be up there.”