The Mission Prep football program has steadily been on the rise for a few years now. This season’s Royals are keeping the upswing going.
Coming off a bye week, Mission Prep (4-1) comes into today’s 7:30 p.m. home game against Sierra Pacific of Hanford (0-5) looking to continue to build a case for a possible CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division playoff spot.
After the regular season ends, Mission Prep, as an independent, will have to submit a request for at-large consideration for one of four available postseason bids within the division, section spokesman Thom Simmons said.
“I think we can get better,” defensive tackle Andrew DaRosa said. “I think we’re going to get better, too. I feel like that’s where we’re headed as long as everyone tries our best.”
While their strength of schedule hasn’t been the toughest in the area, the Royals haven’t taken anything for granted, posting shutouts against Avenal (48-0), Mammoth (41-0) and Riverside Christian (76-0), games in which there was a running clock and backups saw significant playing time.
The lone loss came 33-14 to Bishop Diego (4-1), a higher-division squad whose only defeat this year came to Santa Ynez, 23-22.
“Offensively, while we’ve been explosive, we still have been lacking consistency at times,” second-year Mission Prep coach Chad Henry said. “We’re a little bit hit-and-miss. It’s exciting football with big plays, but sometimes we need those (sustained) drives.”
The Royals often spread the field with four- or five-wide receiver sets. In a 21-16 win over Villanova Prep of Ojai three weeks ago, for instance, eight different players caught at least one pass.
“We have a lot of skill-position guys,” Henry said. “We tried to create an offense that was very flexible to get the ball in the hands of our guys.”
Joey Hall, whose eight touchdown catches are tied for the most in the state by a junior receiver, is one of many reaping the benefits.
“If we run hard, we’re going to catch balls,” said Hall, who has 22 catches for 388 yards. Trevor Fernandez isn’t far behind, also with 22 catches, for 268 yards and four scores.
Junior quarterback Tyler Baty directs the attack and has passed for 982 yards to go with a 15-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
“He’s done an extremely good job,” Henry said. “He’s a very intelligent young man, and he’s able to kind of see things. He’s getting better week-by-week.”
The defense has been led by DaRosa, a 6-foot-2, 265-pound junior who has made 39 tackles despite constantly facing double teams, and junior linebacker Andrew DeSesa, who has a team-best 42 tackles.
Nine different players have at least one interception.
“We’re giving up a few key plays we shouldn’t be,” DaRosa said, “but other than that, I think we’re a pretty solid D.”
Royals players are quick to credit their coaching staff for the early success.
“We’ve got a lot of knowledge flowing around here, so all the players try to soak it in,” Hall said.
The group assembled by Henry is steeped in experience, with numerous assistants who had notable college careers, including newcomer Jason Cox, the 2007 Great West Conference Freshman of the Year as an offensive lineman at Cal Poly.
“It helps a lot to know that your coach is talking to you as someone who’s been there and done it,” DeSesa said. “It helps a lot with the trust we have in them.”
Added Baty: “I think that we’re very fortunate to have that. They’re so knowledgeable about what they’re talking about, I think it really helps our team. A lot of kids are getting different input from every coach, and they all know things about positions they’re not even coaching. They put a lot of time and effort into it, and they really believe in us.”
Mission Prep was ranked No. 9 in the division by CalPreps.com this week.
“Of course, we would like to be 5-0, but I think 4-1 is something that is good for our program right now,” Baty said. “Our last games are going to be pretty difficult.”
Indeed, the level of competition should take a step up soon, with two all-local games at home against a pair of Los Padres League teams in Nipomo (on Oct. 28) and Santa Maria (Nov. 4).
“We’re usually underdogs,” Baty said, “but it’s cool to go play bigger schools like that, where we’re proving ourselves to other people. It’s going to be a good test.”
Wherever this season goes, next year could be even better.
The Royals have just one senior starter each on offense and defense, and 21 freshmen came out for football at the start of this year.
“I feel like we still have a lot of potential,” DeSesa said, “and I think that will really show through the rest of this year and into next year.”