The recent football history of Cleveland High School is defined by a glorious rise and a precipitous drop. Two years ago the Cavaliers made it to the City Section Division II title game under then coach Mat Gentle, losing a close contest to Huntington Park High. The reward was a move into City’s Division I. But Gentle abruptly resigned at the beginning of the 2018 season, following a suspension for alleged recruiting violations. And the team lurched through last year under interim coaching and an uncertain future.
Enter Scott Faer, who took over last November after the season ended. Faer is a veteran face on the Southern California prep football landscape; previous stops include Poly High, North Hollywood High and Marshall High of Pasadena (which forfeited the bulk of its 2018 season due to declining participation, and is not playing football this year).
Scott would expect — make that demand — a heightened level of toughness from his team primarily by the system he plays: the Double-wing T, a running game that demands that everyone blocks for the ballcarrier (including, at times, quarterbacks), and everyone works with the precision of Intel chipset makers. More than “old school,” it’s practically a revolt against the plethora of four- and five-receiver passing games that proliferate the contemporary game.
Say what you will, but the Cavaliers are off to a 2-0 start after outlasting Grant High, 42-33, on Aug. 29. And the players seem to be embracing the change in systems and standards.
“Everything has changed — and in a good way,” said linebacker and running back Jerry Abrego, 16, a junior. “We’re getting used to it. We’re working hard and getting closer.”
“There was some frustration at first, trying to get everything down,” adds lineman Gorge Garcia, 16, a senior. “When you’re [blocking] you have to know who you’re supposed to hit. But we’ve gotten better at it…the timing.”
Quarterback Daniel Mauricio, 17, a senior, was a wide receiver on last year’s varsity team, so he wasn’t going to shy away from contact or worry about how many passing attempts he would get.
“I played (wide receiver) physically, so now being a quarterback that has to block the first person I see is fun,” Mauricio said. “I see it as an opportunity to get dirty.”
Lineman Jonathan Erazo, 17, a senior who played on the junior varsity last year, said the JV team did employ some Double-wing formations at times so, “I was kinda used to it. I showed (other players) some techniques they could use to make it easier. It is a ‘working-together” system.”
What the players probably didn’t know at the time Faer was hired was that they were getting a coach who didn’t just see Cleveland as a job opportunity, but a place he had longed to be.
“When I used to play against Cleveland (in summer passing league games as a student at Calabasas High), I used to look at Cleveland and go ‘Wow, look at all that,’” Faer said. “I’ve always had the utmost respect for the program. Even when I was coaching at Poly, if we were scouting them I’d see some film and think, ‘they're some ballplayers with so much heart.’ From when I played against them in the 1980s to all the way through now, I thought this would be the place for me. The kids here had heart.”
And now that he has gotten here?
“I’m really excited about this group. There are a few who could go on to play college ball. But they are all heart. Those are the type of players I like to coach,” Faer said.
Two imposing nonleague challenges remain in Reseda High on Friday, Sept. 6, and San Pedro High on Sept. 27, which sandwich the contest against struggling Hamilton High of Los Angeles (which was outscored, collectively, 89-7 in losses to George Washington Prep of Los Angeles and Inglewood High) and a bye. West Valley League play follows; Birmingham looms as the biggest threat, but El Camino Real— despite an 0-2 start —cannot be dismissed.
Little can shake the collective mindset of the players right now. And that includes potential success in the postseason.
“To me, everything is possible,” Erazo said.
Faer will do nothing to lessen the Cavs’ confidence and enthusiasm. But things can happen over the course of a long season — injuries, grades, family issues, all of which can turn a season sideways. Plus his players are still, honestly, in the learning phase of the Double-wing system. “Usually it’s the second year when it starts to click. And sometimes the third year,” the coach said.
But Faer is thrilled, at last, to be at his coaching “home.” He wants to be teaching sports and life-lessons at Cleveland as long as the school officials will have him there. He wants to see these young men, and others, grow and go on in life.
“I want them to believe in the system, and I want them to believe in themselves,” Faer said. “And build a good Cleveland man out of them. I’m not gonna put wins and losses on this season. But I want [this team] to believe and buy-in to what we’re doing this season, and to believe in themselves.
“Because I believe a lot of these kids have way more potential than they even know.”