For the third straight season, the Anzar High football team has started the year with a roster of 30 players or more. That’s actually not too shabby for an 8-man football team. The Hawks play their season opener on Saturday at Fresno Christian, and coach Frank Reyes believes he’s got quality talent in those numbers.
Just as important, Reyes feels the program has a firmer grasp of its identity now, and they’ll stick to it with a bruising running game led by its best unit: two-way senior linemen Austin Io, Ben Whitman and Cody Fisher. As if often the case at every level, if you’re going to be strong in just a few areas, line play better be one of them.
“We have a well rounded and experienced line,” said Reyes who is entering his second year as coach for a program that started six years ago. “They’re basically our leaders, and we’ll need them to set the tone. They’ve got good feet, good quickness and they’re all physical. Our goal as with any small team is trying to keep these guys healthy.”
The linemen’s experience has to make up for the lack of experience of the overall roster, as roughly half of the athletes are playing organized football for the first time. Taking that into account, Reyes and his coaching staff decided to simplify things this season and stick to their strengths.
“This year we’ve developed a more specific persona with a specific direction,” Reyes said.
That means the Hawks are going to focus on their strengths: running the ball while trying to minimize their turnovers, which was a huge issue last season. Simply put, the Hawks are at their best when they can possess the ball for long periods of time.
“We have a much better chance of being competitive in games not on the 50-plus point side of things,” Reyes said. “We don’t have the personnel to get in those shootouts and be successful in a game.”
Even though the team graduated its starting backfield, Reyes said there’s plenty of emerging talent in Adam Banuelos, Kevin Jimenez and Efrain Ruelas. Banuelos is being converted from quarterback to running back, Jimenez missed all of last season due to injury and Ruelas is a transfer from Watsonville.
Reyes feels the team’s linemen depth will play a vital role as the season goes on. Injuries are always part of the game, and Reyes is confident the work that was put in a year ago with the reserve linemen will pay dividends this year.
“They took their lumps last year, but we’re hoping that experience made them stronger,” he said.
Anzar finished 3-6 overall and 1-4 in the 8-man Mission Trail League. Knowing opposing teams will stack the box, Reyes hopes senior quarterback Dave Conrath and the passing game can connect on key downs.
Conrath brings experience and savvy to the position, and he’ll need to utilize both aspects to take some heat off the run game. Reyes is high on wide receiver R.J. Scally, a sophomore who had three touchdowns in a game against Alma Heights Christian last year. Reyes is hoping to get Scally—who has eligibility concerns—back by the third or fourth game of the season.
“He’s fast, big and has tons of potential,” Reyes said.
Reyes said junior Jonathan Rocha and tight end Jacob Lindholm will be threats at receiver and tight end, respectively. Sophomore Ben Minard returns at nose tackle, and last year he did a solid job of gaining a push on the defensive front, allowing the team’s linebackers to make plays.
Rhett McCormick returns at inside linebacker, and the senior is truly an impact player who can flat-out fly to the ball and make plays. Reyes said three players—Andres Cobian, Martin Guzman and Hector Jimenez—all could produce standout seasons. Jimenez, a junior, was the team’s hardest worker in the summer conditioning and practices. A versatile talent, Jimenez could play safety or another position because of his quickness.
“Hector has the ability to be head and shoulders above everyone else on the team,” Reyes said. “He’s fast and smart, and he’ll probably start on defense. But he’s probably our second best QB, especially if we’re running the ball from that position.”
Cobian could play tight end and fullback, and Guzman will also get time at fullback because he possesses solid blocking skills. Cobian and Guzman both spent time at linebacker a year ago, but they’re also capable of playing defensive end. The Hawks, who have been more adept at stopping the run than the pass, need returning junior cornerback Marcos Galvez to shine and help lead a young secondary to prevent too many big plays.