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Schedule Will Test Birmingham Like Never Before PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 10 July 2014 01:14

Taking Leadership Roles.

Senior David Hernandez, juniors Eric Flowers and Sterling Salguero, and senior Trevor Taufehema (l-r) are important keys to the kind of success Birmingham wants in the 2014 football season

The full-fledged mania of World Cup fútbol is starting to recede, and the annual grind of summer prep football practice is revving up. Young athletes are running, grunting, lifting and hitting in July temperatures that stay oppressively high. But with opening games less than two months away, no team can waste a day, an hour, a minute of preparation.

Especially Birmingham.

This season the Patriots, who are coming off an 8-4 year overall and reaching the quarterfinals of the City Section playoffs (losing to Narbonne of Harbor City) have “some speed, some size, some experience,” in the words of Coach Jim Rose. What they have an abundance of is youth. Rose initially mentions only two starting seniors on defense — Spencer Keyes and Trevor Taufehema — and a short list on offense, including offensive linemen David Hernandez.

At quarterback is Oreste Simi, a transfer from Taft. Last year as a junior, Simi completed 95 of 210 passes for 1,551 yards and 16 touchdowns against six interceptions. He also ran 38 times for 111 yards and three touchdowns. Birmingham is grateful to have him; no other strong quarterback candidate emerged during spring practice.

“[Simi’s] going to be a good asset to the team,” Hernandez said. “He has a good arm, has a good attitude, makes friends with everybody. He especially made friends with his linemen.”

Nearly everyone else, including returning starters like linebacker Eric Flowers and running back Sterling Salguero, are juniors and sophomores. With more than 100 players practicing, including 28 freshmen, the Patriots certainly have quantity.

Quality must develop and develop quickly because the Patriots are enrolled in the School of Hard Knocks. Birmingham opens the season on Aug. 29 against Newbury Park. The rest of nonleague schedule includes Chaminade, a state bowl game winner and a defending Southern Section champion; Notre Dame, Fairfax of Los Angeles, and Oaks Christian of Westlake Village.

Yikes.

“Our goal is to get one of those top four seeds to get a second round game at home,” Coach Jim Rose said. “Now, the way they do (playoff pairings), strength of schedule actually benefits you. And our strength of schedule will be very high.”

“We’re young. Almost everyone is an underclassman, which is good and bad. But if we can survive those games, we’ll be battle-tested. And I think we can go on a run.”

That schedule would be fine for the Birmingham teams that either tied or won the West Valley League outright the previous three seasons. It seems an awful lot to ask of this group.

But the players say they want the challenge.

“I was really happy when I saw we get to face higher ranked opponents on our schedule,” said Flowers, who had 44 tackles as an outside linebacker. “I think this team is smart. And within a couple of games we will be together as one.”

Salguero, who led the team in rushing with 1,270 yards and 17 touchdowns on 149 carries, said, “It’s going to be very tough, but we have to pull through, and show how sharp we can be in league and the playoffs. I believe we can do it.”

No Birmingham team has won four consecutive league championships. And that would include the great teams in the 2000’s, when the Patriots won four City titles.

And no Valley area team has won a City Division I title since the 2007 Birmingham squad.

The latter is the main objective, Taufehema said.

“I’ve been on the team since my freshman year. My goal this year, with all the seniors here, is to make it to [the] City [championship],” the defensive lineman said.

But Rose sees an even bigger picture.

I think we’re the one public school around here that kids see as football being a high priority,” the coach said. “I’m not sure a lot of other schools feel that way. I’m seeing [only] 30 kids on some teams. I’ve got 130 now, and that’s now counting the kids who show up in the summer we don’t know about.

“That’s how we can field three teams, which makes it even harder because it’s more games to schedule. But that’s the kind of program we want to be. We don't want to be the average City school. We want to be topnotch and compete with the Southern Section schools, and the Crenshaws and Narbonnes who compete with them already.”

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