Temperatures peaked at the triple digit level on Saturday … a sure sign that preseason football is underway.
The mid-August sun was unrelenting as the Cougars took the field for both JV and varsity scrimmages against visiting Argonaut, coaches getting a good look at where their players are and players getting a chance to line up across the line of scrimmage from someone other than a fellow purple and gold combatant.
Overall, for new varsity head coach Andrew Beam, the day was a successful one and helped set what he hopes is a good tone for the season ahead.
“I thought we did a lot of good things and we ran the ball effectively,” Beam said. “For the most part, we didn’t give up the big play defensively and, aside from Luke Anderson going down with an ankle injury, we came out of it relatively healthy.”
Anderson was diagnosed with a sprain and could miss the preseason opener against Union Mine on Aug. 17 but should be back at full strength within a couple of weeks.
“Guys that we expected to be our leaders have stepped up,” the coach added. “We have some key senior leaders that were impact players last year.”
Those players – specifically Nash Satnat, Cole Gilbert and Lucca Dutra – have taken on a leadership role, and Beam said they will serve as team captains in addition to returning senior Frank Leal, a valuable versatile player for the Cougars.
Beam said a trio of juniors, all of whom saw significant playing time last year as sophomores, will also help with the transition of last year’s JV players as they make the move to the varsity. Jacob Walden, Damien Tom and Kaden Christensen settled in to varsity roles last season as sophomores and bring added value with that varsity experience.
Satnat is a tight end/middle linebacker, Gilbert is a defensive end and guard. Dutra will be under center as quarterback and also plays safety on defense, while Leal is a running back and safety. Walden is a guard and defensive end, with Tom lining up as both an offensive and defensive tackle. Christensen is a running back and defensive back for the Cougars.
“We start eight juniors on offense, seven juniors on defense so we’re relatively young,” Beam admitted.
Getting the opportunity to see the players in action against Argonaut on Saturday gave the coaches plenty to work with, added Beam.
“Offensively, we pretty much imposed our will on them in the running game,” Beam said.
The Cougars did throw in a few passing plays but stayed with the ground attack for the most part, as it was working well.
“Our offensive line, with our physicality, we can push people back,” Beam said.
At the junior varsity level, meanwhile, new head coach Brant Rose – who spent the past three seasons as an assistant at the varsity level – is excited about the challenge in taking on the role.
He said being able to watch longtime Cougar coach Mark Loureiro and learn from him the last three seasons has given him the confidence to take on a head coaching assignment.
“I had the privilege of working with him, that has made me feel a lot more prepared,” Rose said. “If it wasn’t for coach Loureiro, I wouldn’t be up to the challenge.”
Rose said he also knows a team isn’t all about the head coach but about the assistants that work with various aspects of the overall team and game plan and he will be assisted by Mark Walden, Derek Scott and Johnathan Costa.
“Our scrimmage was about what we would expect, a lot of sloppy play early but a lot of good things and the biggest takeaway was that we had a couple of players out of position,” Rose explained, noting that against live action, coaches discovered different match ups that would be more beneficial to the team than they originally thought.
“We had some struggles early defensively, but we made some changes in the second series and it’s all about finding the right pieces with the guys you’ve got,” Rose said.
Key players for the JV team will be a core of returning players, now sophomores, who made an impact as freshmen last year. They include quarterback Ty Harris, receiver/cornerback Eli Lattig and tight end/defensive end Logan Webster. Also expected to fit in well at the JV level is Jaden Fontes, a fullback who carried much of the load last year for the freshman team.
“We’re definitely the traditional Wing-T,” Rose added. “We’re player development, we want the kids to get used to winning but more important than than, we need to get them ready to be varsity players.”
Both Beam and Rose are looking forward to the Friday night, Aug. 17 trip to Union Mine to take on a new opponent, facing them for the first time.
“They will be quite a bit different than Argonaut, they throw the ball a lot, like to get their guys into space so this will be a good test of our open field tackling and coverage skills,” Beam said.
They also will be playing on a turf field, which adds to the speed of the game.
“They were a playoff team last year and they’re well coached,” Beam said of Union Mine.
The JV game is scheduled for a 5:15 p.m. kickoff Friday, varsity following about 7:30 p.m.
Escalon heads into the contest with 39 players on the varsity roster and a group of coaches – with Beam at the helm – looking to continue the tradition of Escalon football.
“There’s the pressure aspect of it, following a guy like Coach Loureiro, you want to live up to the challenge and the tradition,” Beam said. “But that’s why we coach, it’s fun and we want to represent Escalon football the right way; our schedule is tough but it will be fun.”