When Casey Clausen returned to his alma mater Alemany High School in 2018 to be the head coach of the football team, Warriors fans were eagerly anticipating a similar level of success that Clausen developed at Calabasas High, where he won a pair of Southern Section championships.
What Clausen initially saw was a rebuilding project, a program disoriented and discouraged by back-to-back 3-7 seasons. But he felt he would be given time to install his system and attract some talent.
“I thought it would take a while,” Clausen said. “When we first got over here, the program was cleaned out pretty good with the type of kids we wanted to have — good kids that could handle their business in the classroom. For us, we figured it would take a couple of years. And we’re still young; our junior and senior classes are small.”
Yet the Warriors are ahead of schedule.
Last year’s team recorded a 7-5 overall record, and reached the section playoffs Division II quarterfinals. The 2019 squad has been even better — 9-2 overall, and playing in the Division III semifinal game against Corona del Mar High School of Newport Beach on Friday, Nov. 22.
A thrilled Clausen and coaching staff initially thought it would take Alemany about three seasons to reach the point where the program is now.
“The biggest difference: the young guys are talented and they’re playing pretty well,” the head coach said. “We’re very inconsistent because of our youth. Last year we were a mostly freshman team, and this year we’re more of a JV team because of the youth we have and the lack of juniors and seniors we have in the program. That’s kinda where we’re at right now. It’s gonna be another two years to get a full four classes in. But I like the direction we’re going.”
So do the players.
Quarterback Miller Moss, a junior, is the unquestioned leader of the offense and has produced an excellent season, passing for 2,628 yards and 24 touchdowns (against eight interceptions). He noted how the entire team — nearly all of which played together last year and collectively absorbed the growing pains — has taken a large and productive step forward this season.
“I think huge credit [goes] to our coaching staff getting us ready and developing us throughout the past year,” Moss said. “I think we are a really talented team and we’ve been allowed to grow up. You see that not only in how we play but also the results we are getting. It’s been great to mature throughout that year, and I believe we’ll only continue to get better from here.”
The Warriors are benefiting as well by the output of two superb sophomores. Running back Floyd Chalk has rushed for 1,127 yards and six touchdowns on 148 carries, and wideout Kevin Green Jr. has caught 71 passes for 937 yards and eight touchdowns.
Chalk states firmly that “the team I thought we’d be in August is the team we are now. My biggest jump was being able to mature, to step up to the plate, and coming to every game with the mindset we can beat any team if we put our minds to it.”
As for Green, the cohesive, all-for-one atmosphere fostered by the coaches at Alemany promotes a close, yet competitive environment.
“I feel like this is a second home to me now,” he said. “The coaches treat us well, and the players are my brothers. We get along well. That makes it easier for me."
Alemany is the fourth seed in Division III. Undefeated Corona del Mar (12-0) is the top seed. And the Sea Kings are a prolific opponent.
They have scored 40 or more points in 11 of their 12 games, including last week’s 42-14 drubbing of Cajon High of San Bernardino. Their quarterback Ethan Garbers, a senior who has committed to Washington University, has thrown for 3,997 yards and 58 touchdowns (against five interceptions), the second highest single season touchdown total in Orange County history.
Garbers has two senior receivers who are also college Division I commitments in wideout John Humphreys (Stanford), who’s caught 78 passes for 1,544 yards and 27 touchdowns, and Mark Redman, who’s caught 52 passes for 746 yards and 12 touchdowns.
There’s more. CDM has another 1,000 yard receiver in senior Bradley Schlom (54 catches, 13 touchdowns), and an excellent running back in senior Riley Binnquist (642 yards and six touchdowns on 84 carries).
Moss wasn’t kidding when he said, “for us, being a young team, it’s the biggest game we’ve played in so far in our high school careers.”
Just as important, the Sea Kings are hungry. The core of their team is trying to reach a Southern Section final for the third time in the past four years, and finally win it. They lost the Division IV title game in double overtime to Sierra Canyon in 2016, and lost the Division IV title game to Grace Brethren High of Simi Valley in 2018.
“They are really good,” Clausen said of Corona del Mar. “And anytime you have a quarterback, you’ve got a shot. It starts with a quarterback and [Garbers] is a really good player. He’s really accurate with the ball, a good athlete, makes plays for them.
“I know that on any given night, anybody can beat anybody. But they’re a senior-laden team, very experienced. For us, we respect every team we play. But we really have to execute our game plan against them, make plays on our side. I think it’s going to be an entertaining, fun game.”
If the Warriors were playing this Corona del Mar team with last year’s team, there would be less visible optimism. “There were some games… that were over before the kickoff because we were overmatched,” Clausen said. But that’s not the attitude these days on the Alemany campus.
“Call [last season] a baptism under fire,” Clausen said. “But I think it made them all stronger, not only as individuals but as a unit.”
Alemany must guard against careless play on Friday. In their two losses this season to Bishop Amat and Serra, the Warriors had five turnovers and three turnovers respectively. Even in last week’s win 47-28 against Tesoro High of Rancho Santa Margarita, Alemany lost the ball three times.
That won’t fly against Corona del Mar.
“Again, when we’re on our game, we’re pretty talented, pretty good. But inconsistency has been our biggest issue,” Clausen said. “Turnovers on offense, a lack of focus and execution on defense. But when you are playing so many young sophomores and freshmen, with a few juniors and seniors sprinkled in, that’s what you get.”
It’s what Clausen didn’t say that everyone else should ponder.
No one has yet seen the best of what this group of Warriors can do.