By ALLIE COLOSKY
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Maria Carrillo football players aren’t looking for redemption from last season, but rather focused on reaching the potential that has built up in the past few years.
“I don’t hear these guys talking about last year,” coach Jay Higgins said. “For them, they are trying to come up with their own identity.”
After finishing the 2013 season 4-6 overall and in fifth place in the North Bay League with a 3-4 conference record, the Pumas are excited to play with the intensity that will help them win those close games, senior running back Alex Netherda said.
“Last year we had great potential, just like this year, and we would be up against these teams and not know how to win,” he said. “This year, we want to come out on top.”
Netherda, a 6-foot-1-inch running back, is in a prime leadership role to help get the Pumas into the postseason, a goal, he said, is long overdue. He joins Jared Brazis, a second-year varsity tight end and defensive captain, as both seniors have stepped into the leadership roles that have been crucial for the 2014 Pumas, Higgins said.
“What’s nice is that there are a few guys who lead by example. There is no power struggle,” he said. “They are recognized and they are worthy of that leadership role.”
Quarterback Walker Rotherham and a strong group of new players from the JV squad has made Maria Carrillo a very cohesive team from the veterans to the rookies, Higgins said.
“I want to make them feel like they are just as much a part of the team as the seniors are,” Netherda said. “Everyone is important because the team is only as strong as the weakest link.”
The preseason has been full of intensity, as the Pumas are pushing to be as game-ready as they can be, Higgins said.
“It’s like a race against the clock because there is so much to prepare,” he said. “It’s just been a matter of installing everything we feel we need and then drill it enough that we feel we can execute it at a great level.”
Strength and athleticism are a few of the Pumas’ biggest advantages, Higgins said, but in order to reach the postseason, the Pumas will strive to remain as healthy as possible, as will any other team.
“If we can do that and put our best out on the field then let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
On the field, effort will play a vital role in how successful Maria Carrillo is on both the offensive end and the defense end, Higgins said.
“Offensively, we want full speed execution,” he said. “Defensively, when we recognize where the ball is, we want speed and discipline, and we want 11 guys closing in.”
With all 11 players playing with that degree of intensity, Higgins continued, the Pumas create the potential to be highly successful.
“We have a lot of athletes on the ground,” Higgins said about the team’s talent. “I think people are going to have to defend honestly because they won’t be able to focus on just one guy.”
In their final season at the high-school level, the senior captains are ready to find their own identity and make a push for the postseason, while also closing out tight games.
“Playoffs are our No. 1 goal,” Brazis said, “but we just want to finish games this year.”
The Pumas are focused on bringing their intensity to each snap of the ball, Brazis said, including each play in practice.
“We want everyone to be game ready,” he said. Maria Carrillo will look to be game ready in its season opener when it hosts Redwood on Aug. 29. at 7:30 p.m.
MARIA CARRILLO PUMAS
Coach: Jay Higgins (14th year)
2013 record: 4-6 overall, 3-4 NBL (fifth place)
2013 JV record: 4-5-1
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Alex Netherda, Sr., RB/SS — Three-year varsity player will lead with speed.
Jared Brazis, Sr., DE/TE — Leader by example, will anchor the defense.
Walker Rotherham, Sr., QB — Experience will help him in his starting QB role.
GAME NOT TO MISS
Sept. 9 vs. Analy. The Pumas opened their 2013 season with a 34-30 loss to powerhouse Analy, which came down to the final minute.
After consecutive league losses, the 2005 Pumas won four consecutive games behind quarterback Adam Froman to earn a North Coast Section playoff spot and finish 5-2 in the NBL and 8-5 overall.
Aug. 29 Redwood 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 at Analy 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Benicia 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 Bye
Sept. 26 at Montgomery 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 Cardinal Newman 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 Santa Rosa 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 Rancho Cotate 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 at Casa Grande 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31 at Windsor 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7 Ukiah 7:30 p.m.