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|Pats Ready to Build On Promise|
|Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, 28 June 2012 02:41|
Last Year's West Valley League Champ Plans To Take Another Step To Re-Capturing Its Championship Glory
Ballers On Display -- (l-r) Aaron Martin-Mack, Trae Smith and Isaiah Hastings form the senior backfield that Birmingham High will depend on to contend in the West Valley League this fall.
The "B" word is in vogue at Birmingham High.
As in "Back."
The Patriots enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in 2011, winning nine games last season, after winning 11 games in the past three seasons combined. They won their first outright West Valley League title since 2007.
A 9-3 overall record, as well as reaching the quarterfinals of the City Section playoffs, might not seem to warrant bells and whistles for a school that won four City titles from 2002 to 2007 under Ed Croson (now at Chaminade). But take away those titles, and according to current Coach Jim Rose it would be the best record for football since 1969.
Rose, a coordinator under Croson, feels like he and Birmingham are starting to escape the long shadow left by his predecessor.
"Winning the league title, now you feel like you're 'the coach' instead of 'his assistant," said Rose, now in his fourth season. "You don't have to be in the shadow anymore.
"So it was one of the better season's in Birmingham's history. And these guys think they can pull it off again."
Some of that will depend on how well Rose and his staff can replace 31 players from the 2011 team, blending the youth coming up from the sophomore and junior varsity teams with the holdovers – some of them underclassmen as well.
One thing Birmingham does possess is a veteran backfield that could become one of the best in City football when it is all said and done.
Lead running back Isaiah Hastings, a senior, rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 10 touchdowns last year and was named to the All-City first team. Quarterback Trae Smith, a senior, passed for 946 yards and 12 touchdowns despite being in his first full year as a starter.
And running back Aaron Martin-Mack, a senior, was not just a third wheel; he contributed 500 yards and four touchdowns, running primarily whenever Hasting needed a blow.
"You'll see both Hastings and Martin- Mack together in the backfield more than you did last year," Rose said. "We have a first team All-City tailback, return a pretty good quarterback, and have Mack. That's not too shabby; it's a good place to start.
"If you have him and Mack in the backfield at the same time, it's hard to guard both of them if you're worried about the run. So we'll run the same offense, but add more 'two-back' formations, not just power formations. We'll even run some triple option with the quarterback. All three of those guys can move."
A key to any success Birmingham enjoys will be how quickly a rebuilt offensive line gels and performs. Last year's group were pillars of punishment, helping The Patriots average 128.3 rushing yards and 32.6 points per game. They also excelled in putting together long drives of 7-to-10 plays, grinding up opponents while keeping their defense rested.
Four-fifths of that starting lineup – David Orellana, Rogelio Rodarte, Ernest Regadalo and Linner Bran – have graduated. Terrance Knighten, a senior this year, is the lone returnee. Early candidates include Alex Manu, a junior, and Dave Hernandez, a sophomore.
"I'd say we'll be young with brains, just because we're looking at only one or two seniors on the offensive line," Rose said. Knighten and Manu are the anchors. Manu might start both ways as a junior. He's improved drastically."
Hastings, for one, has faith in the eventual group of linemen. "We may not be as good as last year, but I think if our Oline can keep it up and step up then we can have the same results we had last year," Hastings said.
"I feel I can duplicate the numbers I had last year. I feel I can go higher, get more rushing yards than I got last year with this O-line."
Smith is also expressing confidence in the upcoming season, primarily because he feels more confident in his ability to play the quarterback position.
"This year I want to be more of a leader on and off the field," Smith said. "Now, on the field, in certain situations I know what's going to happen and I should react better under pressure."
He also expects to throw more in Birmingham's run-first offense. "Last year we threw about 15-20 times a game, and this year with more experience I feel the offensive coordinator will trust me more to pass the ball."
Martin-Mack should be given a larger role in the offense, but said he will accept whatever opportunities come his way.
"It's not really about my yards," he said. "I want the team to have a great season this year, since it's my last year. I'm trying to do way better than last year."
Defense, in particular the defensive line, is another area where the Patriots should improve. Rose is already high on the potential group of available players he has to choose from.
"They're going to be better than last year's defensive line," he said. "Christopher Belfond, Manu once again, Roland Thompson, Charlie Koka. We have another (Trevor) Taufahema (a sophomore, whose brother John played last year as a senior).
"We looked pretty good the other day (in a passing league competition). If they can go in June, I definitely expect them to go in August."
That's when the season starts for Birmingham. The schedule, as usual, is challenging. The Patriots have nonleague dates with Wilmington Banning, Valencia Hart and Notre Dame. And there's always the competitive West Valley League, although other teams like Chatsworth, El Camino Real and Taft have some rebuilding issues of their own.
Still, it's been a long time, at least by Birmingham standards, that the Patriots have been in this position in league – the favorite.
"I'm guessing now we are the hunted instead of the hunters," Rose said. "That's okay, I'd rather be the hunted because we're not chasing them they're chasing us. But it could be wide open.
"We are young, but other teams like El Camino and Chatsworth lost a lot of guys, too. Taft lost some guys, had some transfers. This early, I don't think you know."
Perhaps. But Smith said he would be unhappy if the Pats don't come close to the heights they reached in 2011.
"I would be disappointed in part because I just don't like to lose," Smith said. "But I know from the way we work in practice, as good as we are and as good as we can be, that shouldn't happen.
"To be as good as we can be, everybody has to come out and have the same attitude; work as hard as we can every single day."
|Last Updated on Thursday, 28 June 2012 02:44|