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|In the Hunt for a Title|
|Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer|
|Thursday, 20 September 2012 02:40|
Leaders Of The Wolf Pack -- Running back Kyle Jean and linebacker Omar Contreras, both seniors, have Van Nuys football fans dreaming of a Valley Mission League championship.
With A Convincing Win Against El Camino Real, Van Nuys Showed That Last Year’s Success Was Not A Fluke. And With Valley Mission League Play Opening This Week, The Wolves Are Convinced They Are…
Van Nuys High football was a nice little story last year, a team that went 9-3 after finishing 3-7 in 2010, and reached the City Section Division II quarterfinals.
But not many outside of Van Nuys thought there would be a Second Act, a continuation of good times for a program that had previously been a doormat in the three different leagues since 2004. Better rethink that notion.
The Wolves are 3-1 after vanquishing El Camino Real last week, 24-6. The roster is small – 36 players listed – but 31 are juniors and seniors who have grown up and grown comfortable in Coach Sean Pollard's system.
They open Valley Mission League play against Canoga Park on Friday, Sept. 21. And the notion that Van Nuys can win the league title is not implausible, not in a season where, so far, no dominant team has emerged.
"I think we're pretty solid," Pollard said. "I wish we had one more skill guy on defense. But we have some younger guys stepping up. And we've looked good (on the defensive front).
What has been impressive about the Wolves' early run in 2012 is how well they have replaced the production of departed seniors Trevor Brathwaite and Iheanyi Obinna.
Brathwaite rushed for 1,008 yards and seven touchdowns at running back, and had a teamhigh 101 tackles at linebacker and safety. Obinna was a hybrid q u a r t e r b a c k / r u n n i n g back/receiver. He passed for 575 yards and nine touchdowns, rushed for 641 yards and 10 touchdowns, and caught 16 passes for 335 yards and five touchdowns.
"Those were two key losses, obviously," Pollard said. But there were also key returnees.
The big plum in the pudding has been Kyle Jean, a senior, who is delivering the kind of allaround numbers that Obinna did. In four games Jean has rushed for 650 yards and six touchdowns in 87 carries. He's caught 16 passes, including the only touchdown pass thrown by the Wolves. And on defense, he leads Van Nuys with three interceptions.
Although originally from Inglewood, Jean – a cousin of former USC and NFL player Joe McKnight – came to Van Nuys last year from Tampa, FL where he had been living with relatives. He wasn't going to play football last year after enrolling late, but was convinced to join the team anyway.
"When Anthony Sandoval got hurt we were a little desperate at [running back]," Pollard said. "He came out and said 'can I try?' And he's the real deal."
Jean, who first appeared in the Wolves' fourth game, had 901 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns while learning the playbook week-by-week. This time he's had the spring and summer to prepare with his teammates, and expects to be better.
"I feel more mature," Jean said. "I've learned from my mistakes last year and got faster, got better.
"I really got coordinated with my [offensive] line. When we move, everything is on time, so we can get yards and first down. We don't have to think, just flow."
Also important has been middle linebacker Omar Contreras, a senior. Pollard teasingly describes him as "five-footnothing" (actually 5-feet-7). But Contreras is also quite strong, bench pressing more than 300- pounds, and is currently the team's leading tackler with 22 despite having to fend off mastodon-sized linemen.
"I am a little guy, and yes people think they can just pound me," Contreras said. "But as I tell my teammates, 'never feel undersized.' Size doesn't matter; what matters is all that work you put in the weight room. Yes there are 300-pound boys coming after me, but technique and fundamentals will always overcome size. My coaches have taught me well how to deal with situations like that."
Contreras, whom Pollard also describes as "the heart and soul of our defense," admits holding the Conquistadors to six points was quite a feat for the Wolves who rarely see or defend an offense like ECR's double wing-T.
"We followed what coach always says; 'If we line up right we have an advantage,'" he said.
"I trust my defensive coaches that they will line us up in the exact place to stop that offense. The double wing's objective is to tire you out until you don't do your job and they break a play.
We did our jobs, trusted our coaches and that's what worked."
Last year the Wolves had a crucial win against Sylmar midway in the season that triggered a five-game winning streak, and carried the team to its quarterfinal playoff game against Granada Hills. It will be interesting to see if the win against El Camino Real has the same slingshot effect.
The win "gave the team more spirit, like 'we can beat good teams,'" Jean said. "It gave us more motivation. We have more confidence. We know our weaknesses, and our strengths…our goal is to be league champions."
They'll get their first league test against Canoga Park (2-1), which had a week off since losing to Los Angeles Fairfax on Sept. 7. The Hunters have won the last four meetings against Van Nuys, all by lopsided scores.
"It's exciting to start league," Pollard said. "It's going to be tough; we're playing one of the best teams in the league right away. And it's always a tough, solid league.
"We snuck into third place last year. But I think we're going in the right direction…we've set a goal to win league, knowing no matter happens Friday night it's gonna be a long season. But I don't think anyone's going through it undefeated. So we're gearing up for that."
|Last Updated on Thursday, 20 September 2012 02:43|