A Valiant(s) Combination of Knowledge and Power

M. Terry / SFVS 

Whose Line Is It Anyway — It’s St. Genevieve’s offensive line: (l-r) Eric Salinas, Matthew Hernandez, Jarod Oseguera, Mikal Espinosa and Julian Arcila. 

In football, no concept is more prized than “continuity.” And no where else in football is continuity prized more than on the offensive line, where its core of five players who are typically on the massive side must work in concert and precision, play after play after play.

But continuity is hard to sustain for prep teams, in part because players do (hopefully) graduate after high school. So more often than not, the more memorable lines are made from outrageously athletic behemoths who physically overpower smaller physical specimens.

There’s an exception this season at St. Genevieve High School in Panorama City.

They’re not bulked-up monsters; instead they are a group of five physically mature high school seniors — (in alphabetical order) Julian Arcila, Mikal Espinosa, Matthew Hernandez, Jarod Oseguera, and Eric Salinas — who are all 17, are all agreeable about their roles as path-clearers and road-graders for an explosive cadre of running backs, and are connected by a kind of athletic telepathy that can only come from playing together as long as they have.

“[His team’s success] is because of the five seniors up front. This is the best offensive line I’ve had in four years here,” said Valiants Coach Billy Parra. “They have become the backbone of our offense.”

The players are mostly happy to be playing collectively.

Espinosa, Hernandez, and Salinas all transferred to St. Genevieve in 2017 from Village Christian High (which did not field a varsity team that year). They linked up with Arcila, who had worked his way up from the Valiants’ junior varsity. They began to totally click this summer, after having spent a full year together in Parra’s system, and then getting Oseguera on the team as well.

“When Jarod came in, he was our missing puzzle piece,” said  Salinas, who plays right tackle. “I had played with him and Mikal at Village Christian. We all work hard together. We’ve always played well together.”

Adds Espinosa, who plays left guard, “we all have the confidence in each other that ‘this guy is going to do his job.’ That everyone is going to do his job right, and we’ll keep running the ball down [‘teams’] throats.”

For his part Oseguera, who is the center, didn’t feel he and his reunited teammates had to ‘“build that much” again because “I knew what we could do and what potential we had to be a great offensive line.” His biggest initial challenge was winning the starting job at St. Genevieve.

“I knew when I came here that there was someone in front of me and there would be competition,” he said. “So I had to fight for my spot and win that competition as the summer progressed. And when we got into pads, I was able to take over that spot a couple of weeks before the season started.”

Integrating Arcila — who is the left tackle — into their brotherhood was pivotal.

“Since they all knew each other, I had to get used to them,” Arcila said. “In practice, it took me a while to talk to them because I had to see how they were. But … I feel like I’m part of them now. It’s a whole different vibe. It’s a great experience.”

Mssrs. Arcila, Espinosa, Hernandez, Oseguera and Salinas have provided titanium stability to a program that began the 2018 season with uncertainty.

The Valiants have moved up four divisions in the CIF Southern Section — from D-XIII to D-X — over the past four years. The team was also moved into the Del Rey League — a much tougher league in comparison to the Santa Fe League where it had played for many seasons.

Running the ball is what St. Genevieve does with ruthless efficiency. St. Genevieve is averaging nearly 400 rushing yards a game, and has five players with at least 200 total rushing yards this season. The lead beneficiary has been Malachi Meeks (who transferred here from Notre Dame), a senior who has collected 896 yards and scored nine touchdowns in 100 carries.

And the linemen know they make it possible, even as opponents scheme more and more to disrupt their timing and rhythm.

“The beauty is when you get to see your teammate, your brother, take off,” said Hernandez, the right guard. “That he’s finally running free — the beast is out of the cage. Making that happen is a beautiful feeling.”

The five seniors are smart enough to know the responsibilities of every offensive line position in the West Coast offense used by the Valiants, and are selfless enough not to get caught up in individual glory but instead share in the accomplishment of the whole.

They may play football at the next level; they may not. But the quintet is the group that has propelled St. Genevieve to its 4-2 overall record.

Parra gives a lot of credit for the line’s development to assistant coach Jake Goosen-Brown, who formerly coached at Notre Dame — “He’s brought a lot of knowledge, things he’s gotten from them and his own philosophies” — but also praises the seniors for their diligence in accepting their responsibilities.

“(The players) have learned how to make calls at the line of scrimmage, how to check out of stuff and reset some of the different blocking fronts we utilize,” Parra said.

“I say it all the time: in today’s society, everything’s about winning and losing and power. [But] I think what we understand is that it’s about building. It’s about trusting. It’s about understanding that ‘team’ is really defined without an ‘i.’”

The Valiants are preparing this week for their first Del Rey game, hosting Harvard-Westlake High on Friday, Oct. 5, at Los Angeles Valley College.

Harvard-Westlake figures to be one of the leading contenders for the league title, along with St. Paul High of Santa Fe Springs (the team St. Genevieve will end its regular season against on Oct. 26).

St. Genevieve plays a total of four league games. It probably has to win at least two of them to qualify for the playoffs.

The linemen understand the challenge before them.

They’re eager to find out if they are up to the challenge.

“I know it matters now,” Oseguera said. “If you win, you go to the playoffs; if you don’t win, your season’s done.

“What we know is we have to pick it up because the league is a different beast, and it’s also our senior year. So if we don’t perform well, we’re done after these four games. And if we win a couple of games we can go to the playoffs. So we’ll keep pushing.”

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