Spring football in the air

May 31, 2002|By RICHARD MONTENEGRO, Sports Editor

As the mercury crept into the 100s Thursday, hundreds of prospective high school football players ran drills in the sweltering heat, caught sweat-slicked balls and gave their all in hopes of making the team.

More important, perhaps, football coaches around the Valley got a chance to scope fresh talent and see which of last year's players have the potential to step up and lead their teams to gridiron glory.

An annual tradition in the Imperial Valley, spring football for most high schools has been running for about a week, with early-morning weight-training sessions having begun at the start of the semester.

"It's one way coaches get to know who's gonna come out and the kind of athletes you're going to get," said first-year Imperial High varsity football coach Steve Cato. "You get to see who has dedication. You always want to find out who you can depend on, who's your leaders. It shows up."


Central Union High School varsity football coach Joe Apodaca, who will return for his third year at the helm of the Spartans, is just trying to teach his hopefuls the game.

"To be honest, at this point it is more to teach fundamentals, to teach some of the concepts to some of the kids who have never been involved (in high school football)," he said. "It's also a brush-up for the veterans, more of a mental thing for how we do it here."

With a 2-8 record last season, Apodaca is looking for a sound spring performance by newcomers and returning players to get an inkling of how the Spartans could fare. So far, what he's seen looks promising.

"We've been real pleased. … We feel we have a good nucleus of young men to work with. We don't have very many, but the ones we do have are top young men academically, athletically and work-ethically," Apodaca said.

Already Apodaca has singled out three seniors who look to lead the team.

Jonathan Creiglow has been getting reps at fullback and linebacker, and Apodaca sees him being a "fine leader for the program."

"Bernie Beltran has really come into his own as an offensive guard for us and linebacker. … He's done an outstanding job in taking the reins of leadership along with Jon (Creiglow)," Apodaca said.

As for offensive and defensive lineman Jose Arellano, Apodaca said he'll lead by example.

"They've really shown leadership and taken some ownership of the program. I'm real proud," Apodaca added.

Cato, who looks to improve on his team's 1-9 record last year, has a different set of issues with which to deal. Having no prior experience with the team, he's using spring football to introduce players and staff to his system and to find out what certain players can do.

"You can tell if a kid can throw a football, and obviously, with the big guys, you look at linemen. I time their 40s to place them in appropriate positions," he said.

Cato added, "This is my first year back coaching and I'm exposing the kids to my nomenclature and hut count."

While he sees some good, dedicated kids, Cato said he isn't willing to start singling out people just yet.

"Obviously I'm finding out who I can depend on when they're missing practice," he said.

Former Calexico High football coach Richard Gonzalez, whose team went 6-3 last season earning second place in the Imperial Valley League, said spring football is about fundamentals, but he also sees it as preparation for Youth for Christ's summer passing league.

While the Bulldogs run agility drills and basic plays during the spring, Gonzalez said it's the passing league that really allows a team to develop.

One would think a passing league would put an emphasis on offense. However, according to Gonzalez one would be wrong.

"Honestly, I think it builds the secondaries for most of the teams. You get to work on defensive secondary play. You get to look at those defensive backs. You can build on it," he said. "Obviously, you can work on your basic passing game."

Both Apodaca and Cato have high hopes for the coming season, as neither school's record can get much worse.

Said Cato: "I've always been an optimistic person. I feel the sky's the limit with our kids. Our kids are getting to know me and I'm getting to know them.

"We're undefeated right now," he added.

Apodaca said, "We'll take one game at a time and win as many as we can. You can't get to game 10 without going through game 1 first."

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