When Anzar High coach Kollin Kosmicki got hired last year, he only had a couple of weeks to get things in place for the team’s upcoming season. The Hawks still managed to go 3-5, tripling their win total from the previous season. With a full off-season under his belt, Kosmicki was further able to put his imprint on the program. Whether or not that translates into more wins this season remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: the foundation has been set for Anzar football to be as competitive as ever in the Pacific Coast 8-man league.
“We fully expect Anzar to continue to make improvements,” Kosmicki said. “I’m preparing these guys to compete every week and have a winning attitude every week. Last year we had a decent number of guys with experience, and this year we’ve got great leadership in the seniors.”
Greg Arispe, who is one of the seven seniors on the team, had a breakout 2017 season and expects to be even more dynamic this year. Anzar will have a more diversified playbook this season, with Arispe playing a starring role. The team’s returning Most Valuable Player, Arispe plays running back, quarterback and wide receiver.
“He’s really dynamic and extremely talented,” Kosmicki said. “We’ll move Greg around a lot, and he’ll be huge for us.”
Knowing he would once again be a vital part of the offense, Arispe worked hard in the off-season, something he hadn’t done before.
“This year I was pushing myself because I knew I was going to put a lot on myself,” he said. “I knew I had to work hard and lift weights everyday. When I wasn’t working out, I went with some of the guys to the field and did some (football-related) activities because I want us to do better than last year.”
Said Kosmicki: “If our effort matches our talent level, we have a chance to do something special this year.”
Even though Anzar graduated some key players, it returns a talented core, starting with senior offensive linemen Jose Pineda and Rafael Magana. The two have been the team’s mainstays the last couple of years and have played a big role in run blocking and pass protection. Magana and Pineda never come out on offense unless they’re hurt, and they rotate at the nose guard spot on defense along with sophomore Alan Cruz.
“Alan will be the Jose and Raf for us next year,” Kosmicki said. “We’re really lucky to have him. He’s a good athlete and very strong.”
Another newcomer, sophomore Juan Garrido, should make an impact playing on both lines. Garrido will play offensive tackle when the Hawks are playing five linemen and defensive end. Anzar will have a ton of three line formations in the spread offense to mix things up and keep defenses honest.
“We’re changing things up quite a bit playbook-wise,” Arispe said. “Last year we were kind of basic because we had to be as coach taught us the fundamentals, and teams were able to catch up to what we were doing. But this year coach is changing up the playbook, and it’s going to be way different and better for the team.”
Anzar will have a first-year quarterback in junior Matt Nickerson, who will also likely play multiple positions on defense.
“He is really talented and smart and has made huge strides,” Kosmicki said. “He’ll continue to get better as the season goes along, he has a good arm, is fast and a good athlete.”
Nickerson’s twin brother, Nick, is a junior captain and a solid leader who plays fullback on offense and the middle linebacker/safety hybrid role on defense. In Anzar’s defense, the middle linebacker has to be able to cover a lot of territory, especially in the pass-happy 8-man football league.
Senior Brian Munoz, who plays both ways, is another difference maker. Last season, the Hawks gave up some huge plays defensively, and Kosmicki is optimistic the team will give up fewer points this season.
“You can expect our defense to be a lot more aggressive,” he said.
Arispe has the capability to shut down the opposing team’s best receiver, and that will go a long way in helping the Anzar defense improve.
“To me Greg is as dangerous at cornerback as he is offensively,” Kosmicki said. “He’s essentially a shutdown corner in this league.”
Wingback Isaiah Loya will give Anzar another option offensively—“He’s real shifty and can make plays,” Kosmicki said—while sophomore Liam Angus has shown some explosiveness and playmaking ability at wide receiver. After a nice building year for 2017, the Hawks look to continue to form a solid foundation and beyond for 2018.
“Coach knew we could be a better team than we were when he took over,” Arispe said. “He really pushed us last year, and we stunned a lot of people. I feel even though we lost a lot of key players, a lot of the younger guys are stepping in and ready to make a good impact. I feel like we’re going to be better than 3-5, maybe .500 or better. That is what we’re pushing for.”
Kosmicki took over as Anzar’s coach with no previous coaching experience. However, he showed from the outset it was going to be a new era at Anzar, which for a variety of reasons has never had a typical off-season training program—almost unheard of in high school football.
Kosmicki wants to change that mindset—and for good reason. It’s only in the off-season through year-round strength-training and the summer conditioning sessions—of which most teams make mandatory to their players—when real improvement happens.
One thing is for certain: Kosmicki has instilled in the players a winning attitude. No matter what the scoreboard reads at the end, the players are expected to display excellent sportsmanship and work hard in practice. Kosmicki feels he’s a better coach as he enters his second season at the helm.
“I think it’s helped a lot having a year of coaching under my belt,” he said. “Coming in from last year with very little experience, I knew what as a coach I wanted to be, but actually having to do it and figuring it out is different. It’s something you have to go through to develop.”