Regents are Finding Their Youngsters are Aging Nicely

M. Terry / SFVS

A Gathering of Regents — (l-r) Sophomores Saleem Marshall, Da’marrie Smith and Kaden Jones have helped senior Trent Butler make Reseda a competitive football team.

There are times when it’s good to be hidden in plain sight, to be given only a quick nod or a passing glance by others as you continue your business. If so the Reseda Regents, from their perspective, could not have picked a better time to be gliding unobtrusively through a football season.

The 2019 squad may be the youngest team ever fielded here under Coach Alonso Arreola. “I’ve got 11 sophomores — seven of them getting significant time,” the coach said, adding he has spent most of this season blending them in with the upperclassmen he and his staff depend on to show the younger players the way.

Arreola admits he’s still somewhat stirring the pot, so to speak.

“As silly as this may sound I still think we haven’t completely found our identity,” he said. “I think the combination of youth and seniors is still working to find out how good they can be. Sometimes the lack of belief or confidence in the youth, and maybe some frustration coming from the seniors, can hold us back.

“Overall, they have done a good job of staying consistent for the most part week in and week out. But it’s definitely had its challenges this year.”

Despite the inevitable growing pains and occasional missteps that  can blur progress, the Regents are still in a good position entering their final regular season game against Van Nuys High — on Friday, Oct. 25 — before their bye week. 

They have fashioned a 5-3 overall record and the losses — to Crenshaw High of Los Angeles, Palisades High of Pacific Palisades, and San Fernando High — are nothing to feel embarrassed about. The record might be even better if Reseda’s game against Sylmar hadn’t been cancelled due to the Saddleridge brushfire on Oct. 11.

Barring an upset by winless Van Nuys (0-7) on Friday, the Regents should finish no worse than second in the Valley Mission League. It probably won’t get them into the Los Angeles City Section Open Division playoff bracket; but Reseda could snag a fairly high seed in the Division I bracket, which would be an excellent postseason reward for a young team.

If nothing else, Arreola would love to see the full potential — or at least the possibilities — of the team emerge come playoff time.

The Regents have gone from a more run-oriented scheme to a passing scheme, a move necessitated in part by the transfer of last year’s lead back Derek Boyd to Oaks Christian High. Sophomore Kaden Jones, 16, moved up from the junior varsity and has averaged a more than respectable five yards per carry. But the coaches have also limited his rushing touches to 56. “We’re very happy with Kaden, he has held it down for us, but we knew we weren’t going to put a huge load on him this year,” Arreola said.

Jones would be happy to run more, but he’s been eager to learn the ways and whims of varsity ball so he’ll continue to develop, and hopefully thrive.

“It’s been very interesting,” Jones said, when asked to describe his season. “Varsity is much faster than JV, and more complex…(but) all the sophomores here are very talented. It’s been about learning. We knew we could play varsity since we were moved up. But [besides the playbook] we had to learn about our responsibilities.”

The Regents coaches decided to expand the responsibilities of quarterback Trent Butler, a senior, and receivers Mario Martinez and Dranel Rhodes, both seniors, along with a quartet of precocious sophomores — including Jason Wagner, Jr. and Kameran Charles — that help make up the four-receiver sets Reseda typically employs. And they’ve led the Regents offensive attack.

“All the young guys have matured a lot,” said Butler, 18. “They were already super-talented coming in. But there were things they  had to mature about, with learning football. They’ve been able to do that and more.

“I haven’t had to do much, other than try to guide them. And if they need anything from me, they know I’m here. I’ve been comfortable with everyone around me…I feel we’ve all been able to do our thing. And the coaches let us play our game while also coaching us very well.”

Youth has also served Reseda on the defensive side. Linebacker Saleem Marshall, 15, is already a strong, physical presence; his 34 tackles are second highest on the team. He said he was able to contribute immediately because the defense was similar to one he played at the Pop Warner level before advancing to high school.

“The coaches did throw in more things so it was more complicated that way,” Marshall said. “What I had to learn was to slow the game down, not to overthink or over-pursue. Because when you overthink, you forget to ‘read’ something else.”

Other, defined potential lurks in the 5-4, 135-pound frame of sophomore Da’marrie Smith, 15, who quickly changes the smirks and eye-rolls of opponents at his supposedly diminutive proportions to looks of respect when he catches passes as a receiver, or breaks them up as a defensive back. “He’s a real playmaker,” Arreola says, with admiration.

“I had played with some of these guys before Reseda,” Smith said. “Honestly, it feels like a family. We’re just a team, no matter how young we are.” 

Injuries have, at times, caused various combinations of players to be unavailable. But now the team is in better health, and the bye week will give it even more rest and opportunity to recuperate.

“(This week) was the first time we were 100 percent healthy on the offensive side, where we have everybody available for the most part,” Arreola said. “And we’re getting healthy on the defensive side. The positive is, we’re able to rest a little bit next Monday,  and then we have the bye week. It will give us an opportunity to hopefully heal up more before the playoffs.”

Perhaps the best yet to come for Reseda football is another year away. Or it could be starting in two weeks, once the playoffs pairings are set and the win-or-go home games begin to write their addendums to the saga that is this season. 

The only true predictable thing about youth is its unpredictability.

But it’s rarely, if ever, boring. And that often makes it worth watching.

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