FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Three points. That’s what stood between the Maria Carrillo High football team and the opportunity to play for a spot in the North Coast Section Division 2 championship in 2014.
And no, the Pumas haven’t forgotten how far they went last season, or how close they were to defeating Casa Grande in the quarterfinals of the NCS D2 playoffs. But they’re ready to charge ahead in 2015, with coach Jay Higgins having some higher expectations after last season’s success.
“I expect them to execute much better and much sooner than last year,” Higgins said.
The Pumas lost three of their first five games last season before winning four of five leading into the postseason. Higgins knew there would be a learning curve with a young offensive line, but with time, the inexperience started to wane.
“It was really gratifying. We went in not knowing how well they were going to be, and it was nice to see how well they clicked,” Higgins said about the Maria Carrillo offensive line.
That line is now laden with seniors, and ready to show how far it’s grown in the offseason. Guard Spencer Macon says the same group of five has been together since freshman year.
“We’re all actually pretty close friends. Playing with guys for four years now, you become close,” Macon said.
Macon has switched positions from tackle to guard, picking up some speed to accommodate the switch.
“You get to be more a part of the play when you’re leading out in front of the running back,” he said.
The Pumas have a quarterback competition, as well.
Senior Fhestus Chomba and junior Jake Wolski are competing for the starting job. Although Higgins didn’t give any hints to who would be starting vs. Redwood next Saturday afternoon, he said he anticipates the competition will only make the duo step up.
“They both understand the competition makes them better,” Higgins said. “They both know they’re going to help their team one way or the other. It’s a healthy competition.”
Chomba, in addition to being in contention for the starting job under center, is expected to be Carrillo’s anchor in the secondary. Higgins said teams went after star defensive back Jordan Rosado early in 2014, but targeted Chomba when Rosado shut down opponents. Higgins said Chomba soon accrued four pick-sixes.
“He answered the bell. He did a great job,” Higgins said.
Tight end and middle linebacker Shawn Pabros is enjoying the competition also.
“It’s great. Both of them have different talents, different things they can offer the other team,” he said. “It’s comforting to know if one gets hurt, we have a reliable backup, whichever way it goes.”
Higgins said Wolski has shown great mental toughness: “It’s not easy to be an underclassman and tackle a top position on a varsity team.”
The coach expects the NBL to be contentious again.
“I love how competitive our league is — love it,” he said. “I think there is great parity in our league and I think it’s any given night in our league. I don’t think anybody can look at the schedule and say ‘they can beat this team,’ and I don’t think anybody can say ‘there’s a team that can’t be beat.’ ”