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Time To Show Their Stripes PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry Contributing Writer   
Thursday, 11 October 2012 04:22

San Fernando Needs To Beat View Park On Friday To Prove Tigers Are Worthy Of Being City Section’s Top Division II Team


Determined To Do Their Part - San Fernando quarterback Chris Solano (left) and middle linebacker Johnny Nunez, both juniors, know they have to play well for the Tigers to beat View Park on Friday, Oct. 12.

San Fernando has gotten off to the kind of start it hoped for in the 2012 football season, going undefeated in its first six games.

The Tigers are ranked No.1 in the Los Angeles City Section Division II rankings, and are the odds-on favorite to end Reseda's two-year reign as the Valley Mission League champions.

But this week's game against Los Angeles View Park will, in many observers' minds, show if San Fernando is for real.

And don't think the Tigers don't know it.

"I'm hearing a lot of 'this will show what kind of team we've got,'" San Fernando Coach Robert Garcia said. "We're up for the challenge. We're gonna do whatever it takes to prepare [the players], and win this game. The kids think we don't have the respect even though we are 6-0, and we have a lot to prove."

Indeed, because, if nothing else, View Park (4-2) will be the first team San Fernando has played with a winning record. And the Knights have talent. Kendall Tillman, a senior, is one of the top running backs in City football.

And quarterback Deandre Dunn, a senior, is equally adept at running and passing. "It's a fast team, real fast," Garcia said. "They do simple things, but they execute to perfection.

Their running backs hit the holes real fast; one mistake and they're gone for 70 yards. They run spread formations. They do throw the ball but it looks like they rely on the running back more. It looks like they've got big linemen who are physical. We'll see how it goes."

Still, the resurgence of the Tigers' football program this year, after back-to-back 3-7 seasons, has caused a definite stirring around the San Fernando campus.

"They have taken notice," said quarterback Chris Solano of the school. "People are talking about us. They're wondering what's happening.

"But at the same point, we want everyone to know we're not going to get [big] heads.

We're gonna keep our focus, listen to our coaches and work hard like we always do." Solano, 17, a junior, is one reason why the Tigers are unbeaten. He is giving the Tigers their best quarterback play in the past three years, already passing for 1,231 yards and 12 touchdowns against one interception – and that came in the season opener against Chatsworth. He has completed just under 66 percent of his pass attempts (64 of 97).

"He's very good at letting the play develop," Garcia said of Solano. "Me and the other coaches have him in the classroom going over different defenses, giving him different situations. We try to prepare him for everything that's happened or maybe would happen if I was an opposing defensive coach.

"He is a student of the game, and he's learning. He's still just a junior, and he's looking better every week."

But Solano, who came here from Bakersfield, was more of a final puzzle piece. The bulk of this Tigers team has come from its last two junior varsity squads. The 2011 team went 8- 2. The 2010 team was undefeated on the field, winning 11 games, although San Fernando would later forfeit the season opener to Inglewood Morningside.

Garcia, in his first year as varsity head coach, was the JV head coach in 2010. He said he's not surprised at the success so far at the varsity level.

"On the defensive side, I kinda knew these kids had it in them; they just needed someone to bring it out," Garcia said. "Like I've said, this is my 10-0 (JV) team; it's not something new I'm seeing. Chris (Solano) is the newest one, and he's a real great quarterback."

The defense has been impressive, pitching two shutouts and holding four of its six opponents to seven points or less.

Middle linebacker Johnny Nunez credits the progress to the energy and discipline that Garcia and staff have instilled in the team.

"Definitely the discipline," Nunez said. "Because last year, the coaches didn't really care about us. We'd come to practice and mess around, and they wouldn't care. This year, it's all different. We practice every day; stay here late and come in the mornings during the summer. And now we practice in the mornings before school.

"I like the change. Everything's like new here." Nunez added that winning six in a row has reinforced the change in attitude and direction Garcia has demanded. "The confidence has grown. Every week we come into the game mentally and physically prepared."

But so far the Tigers, through no fault of their own, have benefited from a light schedule. The combined record of those first six opponents is 6-30. Two of those opponents, Poly and Kennedy, are winless.

That won't be the case on Friday.

View Park has only been playing varsity football since 2006, beginning with 8-man. But the Knights have won four City titles since 2008; two are 8-man championships, and two are Division III or Small Schools.

The Knights have moved up to Division II this season and are showing few signs of being overmatched. Their only losses are to Southern Section teams San Juan Capistrano St.

Margaret's, and San Luis Obispo Mission Prep. They are coming of a 58-14 victory against Sun Valley, and are a heavy favorite to win the Metro League; currently none of the other four league teams has a winning record.

View Park is ranked sixth in the City Division II standings. If the playoffs started today, the Knights would start out with a home game. But a loss against the Tigers could drop View Park out of the top eight, which almost guarantees an opening round playoff game on the road.

San Fernando has its own championship pedigree, winning a total of six City football championships, the last one in 1975. Solano said his uncle, Hector Solano, played on that team which featured Charles White, who went on to win a Heisman Trophy at USC and play pro football.

At present, the Tigers are in position to win their first league title since 2008. And should they win league and finish the regular season unbeaten, they should stay at No.1 in the rankings and theoretically have the easiest road to travel in the Division II playoffs.

So with both teams having plenty of incentive, Friday's game at San Fernando shapes up to be one of the biggest for the Tigers in several years.

"We'll approach our opponent the same way we always do," Solano. "But we know we have to pick it up this week.

"Everybody's saying we've been playing easy teams. We need to show everybody what we're made of. This is our first big test. And we're gonna come out, and bring our 'A' game."

Last Updated on Thursday, 11 October 2012 04:24

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