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Getting The Swagger Back PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 02 August 2012 02:52

Taft Football Took A Beating Last Season And The Toreadors Are Out To Prove That Was An Aberration, Not A Trend


Bull Fighters -- Three of Taft's top players (l-r) Anton Hayward, Justin Martinez and Devon Hawkins are united in their plans for the Toreadors to return atop the West Valley League.

Losing football seasons don't often occur at Taft. And when they do, they're usually not allowed to multiply.

So the first order of business for the 2012 Toreadors is not to repeat the misery of 2011, when the offense struggled to score, and the defense struggled to stop anyone.

Okay the overall record – 4-7 – wasn't that bad. Taft did have a winning West Valley League (3-2) and the team still made the Division I playoffs.

It was the lopsided nature of the losses that took a toll on first year Coach Chris Rizzo: 35-0 to Notre Dame, 56-0 to Sandy (UT) Alta, 56-7 to Crespi, 48-7 to El Camino Real, and 41-14 to Venice in the first round of the playoffs.

"It was a concern," said Rizzo, when asked how he kept any feelings of discouragement from seeping into his staff or players. "I'm an emotional guy and I don't like to sugarcoat things, tell you it's going good when it's not. I like to be a realist in my coaching aspects.

"So I wasn't really hiding it, it was more looking for answers and how do we fix things. Do we move forward, get better, and keep getting better?"

There was a good reason why Rizzo – who replaced the departed Matt Kerstetter as head coach – and Taft slogged through such tough times.

The team was young; in fact, by football standards it was practically infantile. There were only seven returning starters, and not many impact juniors and seniors. Rizzo found himself having to start freshmen and sophomores to force them through a learning curve he hoped could restore Taft more quickly to the caliber of competitor it has been for the past 20 years.

How it pays off will be worth watching as the season progresses. But make no mistake; with 28 returners who now have a year's experience with the Rizzo way to play, the Toreadors are expecting dividends instead of more angst.

"Now we have 28 guys with varsity experience. It makes a big difference just going into practice," Rizzo said. "As opposed for being crunched for time to get all these guys ready, now we have a lot of guys coming back with varsity experience. We took our lumps last year but it was a learning process. These kids learned, and took things to heart."

Devon Hawkins, 16, a senior, is one of those players eager to sweep away the remaining ashes of the 2011. The 6-4, 185- pound wide receiver is the type of athlete Taft consistently attracts, as in Division I capable.

Now he and Taft have some reputations to restore.

"We want to put last year in the past and make this year an even better year," Hawkins said. "A lot of people talk about last year – 'ya'll didn't do nothin',' 'your record was weak' – so this year you want to prove people wrong, and make sure you get known and noticed out there."

Hawkins added he and other seniors would expect nothing less that full effort and full commitment.

"Everybody should go hard every play. Everybody knows the (last) season went bad. This season, everybody should know what they need to do. Everybody has played their first year, so they should know what it's like at the varsity level. Some people are giving that dedication. Certain returning players are. Some other players need to get on. And we know and see who's not (going full out)," he said.

The quarterback story at Taft is an intriguing one.

Projected starter Anton Hayward, a senior, spent his 2009 freshman year at Taft. Then he transferred to Inglewood High for his sophomore year, but didn't get much playing time. He started last season again at Inglewood but transferred back to Taft last October, and appeared briefly in a couple of late games.

Hayward, 17, said he doesn't foresee any more movement.

"I don't think I want to leave (again)," Hayward said. "We've got this season, and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna make it my best because it's my last…I'm trying to leave all that other stuff in the past.

'Inglewood was a good experience, being some players like Derrick Woods and Devian Shelton. But Taft is home."

At 5-10 and 170-pounds, Hayward is considered small in this era of quarterbacks who often measure well beyond six feet. But Rizzo likes his quickness and speed, and hints he may have some designed running plays in Hayward's offensive packages.

Hayward will be happy not to just stand in the pocket and be a stationary target for onrushing linemen and blitzing linebackers.

"I see the coach is doing a good job using the players in what they do well. The plays adjust to the players and their abilities," Hayward said.

"Me, I'm kind of quick and like to get out of the pocket because of my height. They've set up some things where it can work, can be successful."

The offense, which includes returning running backs Forrest Carter, Jeremiah Cration, and Jordan Robinson, should be better. But can the defensive, which gave up an average of 30 points per game, be sturdier?

This is where Taft's youth is still apparent. Rizzo is trusting sophomore Justin Martinez as his middle linebacker and defensive signal caller. Martinez, who is known as 'Clutch" – "My dad is a big Jerry West fan," he said, when asked who gave him the nickname – made the West Valley allleague second team as a freshman And he's been spending the summer trying to validate Rizzo's faith.

"I worked on getting bigger, studying my plays more, getting into football more, talking to the coaches more about the defense," Martinez said.

"We want to be good this year. We've got experience, and talentwise we'll be better."

The history of Taft football, which includes the 1998 City championship, and the annual high level of expectations demand it.

"Now (the players) understand we have a target on our backs now, whether we're playing Cleveland or Crespi," Rizzo said. "We've beaten up on people for a long time, so every week we're gonna get a team's best game. People get up to play Taft; we have to respect that, but not run from it. Just face it and accept the challenge."

Last Updated on Thursday, 02 August 2012 05:13

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