Football preview: Montgomery looking for a fresh start

By PETER FOURNIER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Montgomery football players gather before breaking practice on Thursday. The once-dominant Vikings are trying to bounce back from a 3-7 season. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Montgomery football players gather before breaking practice on Thursday. The once-dominant Vikings are trying to bounce back from a 3-7 season. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)

Dean Haskins knows the expectations, whose footsteps he’s following in, and the challenge that’s ahead of him.

Then there’s the one question that is going somewhat unnoticed: What’s his football team going to look like come Week 1?

“We got a lot of athletes,” Haskins said. “We’re going to be able to get real good at running the football, and we got a little spread offense with a little inside running game.”

It’s going to be no little task, however, to return Montgomery High football to the Redwood Empire power it used to be. However, athletes like Etienne Ezeff should help make the burden easier to shoulder.

“He’s probably our top player and best athlete right now, so we’re going to have to find ways to be creative to get him involved in the offense as many different ways as we can,” Haskins said.

Ezeff said he’s going to lead by example.

“As a leader right now, I need to show that every day at practice, at film, even out in public when they see me,” he said. “I need to show leadership.”

As for the difference between the two high school coaches he’s played for, Ezeff said it’s a too early to pinpoint anything.

“I can’t really say there’s many differences, because right now what Coach Haskins is trying to do is bring back what (Jason) Franci had established here,” Ezeff said.

Etienne is also trying to leave his own stamp at Montgomery, stepping away from the shadow left by his brother Marcus, whose highlight-reel, last-second catch led Montgomery to a thrilling victory against Cardinal Newman in 2004, soon followed by a North Coast Section title.

“My past three years, I didn’t do it,” Ezeff said. “Now that it’s my senior year, now I know it’s my time.”

Mediocrity surrounded the Vikings toward the end of Franci’s tenure. Last year’s 3-7 campaign (2-5 North Bay League), which included back-to-back shutout losses to Cardinal Newman and Rancho Cotate, could be ranked as near rock bottom. Montgomery’s lone victories were a 13-9 nailbiter over Ukiah — a team that scored 43 points total in 2012 — a one-point victory over Maria Carrillo and a 40-0 blowout of Washington-San Francisco.

“I’ve seen it in the good times and I’ve seen it go through the hard times,” Haskins said. “That’s my goal, just trying to bring it back to acceptability of what Montgomery football has been about for a long time.”

This is a fresh start for the Vikings, as Haskins has never coached football at any level. He is Montgomery’s baseball coach and athletic director, so it isn’t his first time at the helm of a program.

“I’ve been around it and I’ve coached baseball for a long time,” he said. “I’ve leaned heavily on my assistants. That’s why I’ve hired as many good people as I can.”

Haskins also played football for Franci at Montgomery. But, he doesn’t want people to think he’s trying to emulate Franci 100 percent.

“I’m just trying to come in and do the best I can to continue that legacy on. I’m definitely not a Jason Franci. I’m my own person. I’m just going to be who I am and go from there.”

Haskins says coaching baseball and football are two entirely different things.

“Football is really an emotional sport,” he said. “Bringing that energy and emotion into practice on a daily basis… where baseball, it’s different. It’s a little more controlling your emotions. Keep the highs not too high and the lows not too low. That was an adjustment period I had to figure out.”

Haskins has 10 games to adjust to coaching the football team.

“We’re taking it one week at a time,” he said.

He does think earning an NCS playoff berth can happen this year.

“I think with this group, we can definitely reach the playoffs,” Haskins said. “That’s an attainable goal for us.”

MONTGOMERY VIKINGS

Coach: Dean Haskins (1st year)

2012 record: 3-7 overall, 2-5 NBL (7th place)

2012 JV record: 7-3

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Etienne Ezeff, Sr., WR – Arguably the best athlete the Vikings have.

Elijah Higgs, Sr., QB – The key component of Montgomery’s move to the spread offense.

Henry Stelzner, Sr., LB/FB – He’ll be an integral part of the rushing game and run defense.

Colton Silvers, Sr., LB/TE and Logan Francavilia, Sr., DB – Two more seniors who are being looked upon as leaders.

GAME NOT TO MISS

Friday, Oct. 4, at Cardinal Newman: Although Coach Haskins says he wants to take a week-to-week approach, on paper, the Vikings’ archrival would have to be their biggest matchup.

ALL-TIME HIGHLIGHT

The Vikings’ last-second victory in their 2004 matchup with Cardinal Newman, which led to a section title.

Etienee Ezeff’s older brother Marcus caught a game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds to edge the Cardinals. The Vikings won the section title that year.

SCHEDULE

8/30, vs. Pinole Valley, 7:30 p.m.

9/6, Bye

9/13, vs. Dublin, 7:30 p.m.

9/21, at George Washington (San Francisco), 1 p.m.

9/27, at Casa Grande, 7:30 p.m.

10/4, at Cardinal Newman, 7 p.m.

10/11, vs. Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.

10/18, vs. Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.

10/25, vs. Santa Rosa, 7:30 p.m.

11/1, at Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.

11/8, at Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

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