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When "Potential" is Not a Dirty Word PDF Print E-mail
Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 16 August 2012 06:33

The Kennedy Golden Cougars Endured An Awful 2011 Football Season Due To Youth And Immaturity, But There Is Genuine Optimism For A Turnaround This Fall


Clawing Back Into Contention -- Kennedy seniors (l-r) Randle Williams, Samuel Vences and Isaiah Foster are determined not to have another season like the Golden Cougars had in 2011, finishing 2-8 overall.

Just as there are reasons that go into a great football season, there are factors that go into a bad one.

Kennedy High had plenty of reasons for suffering through a dismal 2-8 campaign in 2011, and most of them were the play- ers. That's because most of them had not played varsity football before. It's no surprise that you can't find any statistical data from last year. When you're los- ing games by scores of 34-0, 41-0 and 31-7, it can be hard to scratch out positive numbers.

The Golden Cougars' coaches and players believe the growing pains and the lessons learned by the bulk of the sophomores and juniors who went through the 2011 season have forged a different model for 2012, however. One that is stronger and more com- petitive, perhaps even a Valley Mission League contender. Coach Dion Lambert has nine returning starters and 16 returning players overall on his current 37-player roster. And beyond the lifting weights, drills, and practices under the summer sun relentlessly baking the Valley area, he said there already is one big difference showing in his players.

"Confidence," Lambert said. "There was a lack of confidence [last year] because they were all so new to the game. They just didn't have the confidence. But I see so much more confi- dence now, not only with the quarterbacks but with the receivers, the line – those play- ers coming back have so much more confidence, and they're exuding a confidence we didn't have last year."

The seeds of that increased confidence may have been planted in the Cougars' 17-14 victory against Sylmar in the 2011 regular season finale. Or it might be that several players from the 2011 team were fed up with the weekly drubbings Kennedy was absorbing.

"It was really rough," remem- bered wide receiver Isaiah Foster, 17. "Me being the guy I am, I went hard every time, I played my heart out every game, and to see us just lose was hard for me. But this year I plan to turn it around and do everything I can with the peo- ple we have, with the guys returning."

Another receiver, Randle Williams, 17, has a sim- ilar view.

"Last year was very discouraging because we didn't have a lot of leadership; and things fell apart a little bit," he said. "To make a differ- ence, I'm going to say what I have to say and do what I have to do. I want to catch every ball thrown to me, be posi- tive and motivated. I feel really good about this year."

Williams and Foster, both seniors, have the kind of size – both stand 6-feet-2 and weigh between 175- and 180-pounds – that attract college recruiters. They also play wide receiver, considered football's "diva" position, so it would be under- standable if they wanted to make the 2012 season all about them.

No, says Foster, in a shy yet emphatic voice. "I am who I am. I do what I have to do to help the team. I go hard on both sides of the ball. I do what the coaches ask, and whatever I can to make the team better."

Lambert was not surprised to hear Williams and Foster spoke to "a lack of leadership" amongst the players. He said he noticed it too, particularly with the senior class.

"I don't want to bash them, but that's just how it was," Lambert said. "They were kind of selfish guys, and looked out for themselves.

"This group is close-knit, they like each other, and the older guys are really leading by exam- ple. They're not only pushing the younger guys to come to their level, they're also coaching and teaching them so they can be knowledgeable about what they are supposed to do."

And speaking of skill players, Lambert said he could be start- ing a freshman at running back. Ninth-grader Marcus Gandy has been impressive in early team workouts.

"At first he wasn't sure he was big enough or strong enough to play varsity," Lambert said of the 5-feet-7, 160-pound Gandy. "But you can see his confidence growing with each practice."

There is also a renewed spirit among the blockers.

Samuel Vences, 17, a senior who played in three games last year but will start at both offen- sive right tackle and defensive end, may be light for a lineman at 218 pounds but plans on being an impact player on both sides of the ball. He said the linemen as a group appear to be more cohesive, although he admits, "Some of the younger guys need to learn the plays, and a few older guys need to learn the plays. They're asking me questions."

But Vences adds that, in a league race where there doesn't appear to be a dominant team the way Reseda has been the past two years, the Cougars can honestly think of making a run at the championship.

"We could win the league," Vences said. "We have to do what we should do – execute the plays and prevent their offensive scoring. Play better ball than the opponents. We try to keep a positive mind set. But I do feel things are coming together."

Good feelings don't automati- cally guarantee a winning year. Lambert said there are still decisions to make before the Aug. 30 season opener at Birmingham, starting at quar- terback. Both John Gamero and Alexander Arbello split time under center last year as sophomores; neither has put a stranglehold on the job for this season.

"I've told them both it's a bat- tle right now," the coach said. "Both are competing. I have to make a decision sooner or later, but right now I see it as an even race; I don't see one in front of the other.

"We probably won't really know until after the scrimmage with Arleta (on Aug. 24) – but we'll find out who's ahead of the other by then. I definitely want someone who can get the ball to our two wideouts, and not make bad 'reads.' All I'm asking of them is to manage the game. I'm not asking them to put the team on their shoul- ders."

Other questions persist at linebacker and the secondary, the two areas where the Cougars don't have much returning experience. And there isn't much depth yet for the offensive and defensive lines. "We're going to have to play by com- mittee on all that stuff because we're kind of thin," Lambert said Even with these obstacles, Lambert is expecting the Cougars to bounce back and contend for a league champi- onship, something Kennedy hasn't won since sharing the 2006 title with San Fernando.

"It's still going to be more teaching because there are still more young players out there.

But at the same time, it should be a results year, because we do have enough skill guys and enough returners from last year to help out," Lambert said.

Nonetheless, "I think we have a chance. It's a matter of us going out there and playing with confidence, being sound in our assignments. As long as we're doing what we're sup- posed to do and playing hard, I think we can compete with anybody. As long as they're doing what I ask them to do, we should be fine."

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 August 2012 11:22