Posted: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 1:11 pm
By MICHAEL LINGBERG
Having started training camp about a week after the other teams in the area besides Lindsay, the Strathmore High School football squad is gearing up for a new season almost a year after Farmersville defeated the Spartans in the Division IV Valley title game.
That loss was tough to swallow for Strathmore considering how hard the squad worked in that game. Despite losing a handful of starters to injury during the game, they still held star quarterback Sam Metcalf in check for the first half. As with all great players, Metcalf played more like himself in the second half, slinging passes everywhere and making his teammates better. But the play that defines that game for Strathmore was late in the fourth quarter. Farmersville, in possession of a small lead, punted the ball to Strathmore, and while the ball was bouncing, a Spartan tried to make a wild, diving catch unnecessarily. The ball bounced off him, and an Aztec fell on the ball, thus giving Farmersville possession deep in Spartan territory.
That play will provide extra motivation to the Strathmore returnees, including junior quarterback Carlos Lopez.
“It was just one mistake,” he said. “But if we made more plays during the game it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Lopez is another year older and a few inches taller. With more receiving options around him, according to head coach Jeromy Blackwell, Lopez and the rest of the offense can be that much more dangerous.
“I’m more motivated, older and more experienced,” Lopez said. “I’m looking forward to getting to know these guys and leading them.”
When Strathmore began practice on Monday, Blackwell said there were 70 kids on his hands, which was the most he’s seen in his long tenure with the program. On Tuesday there were 61. But once school starts up soon and physicals are dealt with, Blackwell said he expects about 20 more kids to show up. And considering there won’t be an SHS freshman team this season, those numbers will make for very large junior varsity and varsity teams with plenty of options. With this being the beginning of the season, those at practice are encouraged to sprint everywhere so as to improve conditioning.
Though there are a lot of kids, the squad hasn’t yet focused on finding its next placekicker or punter. Since last season’s captain in Sergio Hernandez was a tight end, linebacker, field-goal kicker and punter, the Spartans have big shoes to fill after he graduated.
But one area where the team is not short on depth is in the backfield. Strathmore is a team that will run the ball down your throat. Opponents know a run play is coming but still aren’t able to do anything about it most of the time. Though the squad lost starting running back Ricardo Madrigal to graduation, it still has junior fullback Javier Moreno, whom Blackwell called a “beast of a man.” There’s also junior Jade Church who is best known for rodeo events, specifically team roping, in the California State High School Rodeo Association.
And of course Strathmore’s running attack wouldn’t be as strong as it is without its offensive line, and that includes senior tackle/nose guard Tristan Pinzon, a kid Blackwell said works hard, has good feet and is football savvy, and starting guard Ricky Meraz, who will also play as a defensive tackle.
But what’s different this season about Strathmore’s offense is the threat of an aerial attack. Daniel Guzman is the best offensive threat the Spartans have right now, according to Blackwell, but they don’t know where they’ll utilize this athlete yet. He’ll definitely see some time at wide receiver considering the amount of success he had at Strathmore’s few passing tournaments over the summer. He’ll combine with Andrew Avalos, another athletic wideout, to at least keep defenses from loading the box too much in the run game. Though the team has the ability now, it won’t shift the focus of the offense, which is handing the ball off.
Since there won’t be a freshman team, some young players will be called up to varsity. With that being said, this will be a young yet experienced team considering the amount of junior leaders there are on the squad. Blackwell had a simple, yet powerful message for his squad:
“Finish everything you started,” he said to the huddle.
Strathmore’s first game of the season is on Sept. 5 against Robert F. Kennedy at home. Two road games follow against Laton and Orosi on Sept. 12 and 19, respectively. McFarland comes to Spartan Stadium on Sept. 26, and the Spartans go on the road to play Avenal Oct. 3. Woodlake comes to Strathmore for the first East Sequoia League matchup of the season on Oct. 10, then on Oct. 17 the Spartans host Sierra Pacific.
Granite Hills will host Strathmore on Halloween for Senior Night, and the final game of the season will see the Spartans host archrival Lindsay on Nov. 7.