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A New Roar In The Land Of Tigers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 30 August 2012 03:36

Robert Garcia May Be Young For A Head Coach, But He Could Be The Jolt Of Energy The San Fernando High Football Program Needs


New Direction, New Hope - Senior running back Daemon Thompson and junior quarterback Chris Solano say new head Coach Robert Garcia is re-energizing the San Fernando football program.

It's not uncommon to see young head coaches leading sports teams at the high school level. But it is a surprise to see it in football. Even a man in his 40s can seem boyish for this game.

So what exactly does that make Trinidad Roberto Garcia – "Call me Robert" – the new head football coach San Fernando High who, at 28, is young enough to sport diamond studs in both ears, be well versed in Facebook and Twitter, sport several tattoos and appears not that far removed from the campus of Kennedy High, where he graduated from in 2002 before going on to UCLA?

Garcia's hiring in April may have sent choruses of "Who?" reverberating throughout the Valley – unless they were area football coaches who already know about him.

And Garcia certainly wasn't unfamiliar to San Fernando officials. He has previously coached the junior varsity team and the varsity linemen here as an assistant since 2006. But Garcia, whose football team opens the 2012 season at Chatsworth at 7 p.m. tonight, Aug. 30, was not hired because he grew up in Pacoima or might listen to the latest rap tunes. He has been given the chance to revive a proud program that has slipped into mediocrity.

As an undersized defensive tackle at UCLA – if a 5-10, 275- pound frame can be considered undersized – Garcia knows something about taking on challenges, be it oversized offensive linemen or the quarter system.

"I've been an assistant here for seven years," Garcia said. "I've been coaching the defensive line, and I've had some All- City linemen. And I've grown attached to San Fernando High School. I went to Kennedy High (graduating in 2002), but my brother worked here, that's why I came.

"I went to UCLA, graduated in 2006. Right after I finished I came here. I wanted to help the kids out. A lot of these kids don't have the tools to get to the next level, or coaches helping them."

Garcia replaces Tom Hernandez, who played football at San Fernando High and earned All- City honors as a lineman, coached the team for two different periods totaling 20 years. The second stint lasted from 2004-2011, and Hernandez managed just a 38-37 record in that span before resigning in February.

Garcia inherits 18 returning players from teams that posted consecutive 3-7 records, and missed the playoffs the last two years. Many are kids who Garcia coached at the junior varsity level; in fact, the junior varsity went undefeated under him two years ago.

He is determined to recover what's missing in the varsity squad. He said he already knows one ingredient. "I want toughness," Garcia said. "We couldn't close out games last year and the year before. I believe it's mental toughness and preparation for the kids.

"My whole team is eligible this year; and guys have gotten faster and stronger. We're not just creating a team but building a program. That's what I'm trying to do – build the program back to where it used to be."

He talks earnestly about the pride the players should have in their school and about being from the neighborhood. "We are playing with all the guys who come to San Fernando that want to play here, know what I mean? There's no transfer guys coming in; all the guys are from San Fernando, the Pacoima area, the borderline of Sylmar."

He said he would lean on veterans like senior running back Daemon Thompson, and junior quarterback Chris Solano to provide leadership and production, to be examples of what it means to play football at San Fernando.

Both players seem eager to embrace those roles.

Thompson, 17, was a starter as a sophomore in 2010, but injured his right ankle on the second play of last year's season opener. His 2011 season was basically done after that. "There's going to be a chip on my shoulder," Thompson said.

"I've got to prove to people that my 10th grade year wasn't a fluke year. I've got to come out and do the best that I can."

Solano, 16, split time at quarterback with Javier Aguilar. He wound up completing 34 of 85 pass attempts for 370 yards and threw four touchdowns, but also five interceptions.

He said he spent his summer dedicated to being the only starting quarterback San Fernando needs. "I have to lead the team more. I have to step up as a junior, show that I'm serious about playing quarterback and leading this team. I've been working hard, working out routes after practice, the weight room. But we've all been putting in more time than we usually do, just to know we're all on point."

Both agree that Garcia and the staff he's assembled have surrounded the team with positive vibes about the direction of Tiger football.

"It's been a big change, a good change," Solano said. "Everybody's ready to play. Everybody's out there hyped up, as in pumped up, ready to go." "The players are showing a lot more stamina, a little more enthusiasm," adds Thompson.

"Everybody's pumped up all the time, ready to play the game. … It's the environment he's brought to us.

"I feel the weight has been lifted. I don't know about everybody else, but I feel it's been lifted off our shoulders."

Thompson is referring to the probation given to the San Fernando football and wrestling teams two years ago for using an ineligible player. But he could also be speaking about the general fortunes of Tigers athletics that, with the exception of the wrestling and baseball teams, have endured some tough times.

Garcia sees turning things around as his mandate. And being only 28 should give him plenty of time.

"I am bringing to them the best coaching staff I can to mentor them. As for uniforms, we're all going to wear the same thing. Nobody is going to outshine anybody else. This is one team. That goes from the best guys down to the decent guys. They all have a lot to prove after going 3-7 the past two years," Garcia said.

"It's gotta start somewhere. And I'm proud it starts here with me at San Fernando High. My neighborhood school was Kennedy, that's why I went there. But I know the tradition here; I've seen it from a bunch of the alumni, how seriously they take it. The least I can do for them is win, and give them something to look back at."

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 August 2012 04:15