Atascadero High has been playing catch up nearly everywhere but the scoreboard this season. When teams in the PAC 5 were kicking off during the last week of August, the Greyhounds could only watch. Heading into Week 8, Atascadero was the only team in the league that had yet to play a league game.
That will change Friday night as the Greyhounds (5-1, 0-0 PAC 5) travel to Santa Maria to take on Righetti (2-4, 1-0 PAC 5).
“I think the kids have ramped it up a little bit realizing that league is starting for us,” Atascadero coach Vic Cooper said. “Seems like that’s been the whole year that we’ve been following up everyone else.”
“I think it felt weird at the beginning but we’re past that now.”
Rolling with the punches has been a theme of Atascadero’s season thus far, and plenty of players have been knocked out of action. In Atascadero’s win over Nipomo two weeks ago, Cooper was forced to start five players for the first time due to injury. Senior guard Kevin Blodgett was one of those players forced to sit out against Nipomo after he suffered a partially torn medial collateral ligament (MCL) and dislocated his kneecap in the team’s second game of the season. Cooper said Blodgett’s return to the offensive line last week helped Atascadero rush for over 400 yards.
“Last year it seems like when we had an injury it was kind of hard to fill,” Blodgett said. “But this year we are deep, especially offensive line-wise and on the defensive line.”
Cooper shifted senior Jordan Council into Blodgett’s spot and also got solid play from defensive lineman Teddy Rose and backup Joshawn Tupuola.
“Everybody on the offensive line is a little more at ease (now that Blodgett is back) and maybe not pushing as much,” Cooper said, “but there was definitely a visible difference without him.”
Cooper preaches to his team that “you might not be a starter, but if you’re not preparing yourself like you are a starter, you are going to embarrass yourself when that opportunity arrives.”
So far, it has only been opposing rush defenses that have been left red in the face. Atascadero leads the PAC 5 in rushing yards per game with 276. Running backs Marc Martin and R.J. Reusche each have over 600 yards rushing through six games.
But it won’t be easy to keep up those gaudy numbers against Righetti. Cooper said Righetti’s defensive line play, led by Zach Burg and Seth Ollice, is their greatest strength.
“They get into a lot of different fronts,” said Blodgett agreeing with Coopers assessment. “They mix it up using four and five defensive linemen and they are strong.”
In practice this week, Atascadero has been focusing more on ball control to prepare for the Warriors after turning the ball over five times in the second half of its 28-27 overtime win against James Logan last week. Burg has a nose for the ball and already has one forced fumble this season.
“I think two of them were legitimate hits, strips that the other team made good plays on,” Cooper said of last week’s sloppy second half, “the other three were just lackadaisical plays.”
Atascadero has also been preparing to play Friday night using two quarterbacks. Elijah Cooks got the start last week after Carson Rinkenberger was hampered by an ankle injury. Cooper says that Rinkenberger is healthy now, but could split time with Cooks who was 3 of 7 for 30 yards, a touchdown and an interception along with rushing for 38 yards on five carries against James Logan.
“If you molded them together, the strength of one kid is maybe a little bit of the weakness of the other kid, and if you put them both in the same body you’d have an all-world quarterback,” Cooper said.
No matter who Cooper decides to or is forced to put in the game, it seems that player has been able to perform at a high level, a characteristic that will come in handy as the season moves on.
“If you’re going to have a championship football season, whether it be a league championship or a CIF championship,” Cooper said, “somebody somewhere down the line — the back up, somebody that hasn’t been playing — is going to have to step up and perform.