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Lancers preparing for brutal schedule with busy offseason program

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Placekicker Jordan Kron gives the football a boot as East Union’s varsity squad works on special teams coverage in practice Tuesday.


POSTED July 10, 2012 11:48 p.m.

In six weeks, East Union, looking to improve from a 1-9 season under second-year head coach Willie Herrera, will kick off its 2012 season with a zero-week contest against St. Mary’s.

Yes, that St. Mary’s.

It’s the start of brutal non-league schedule that includes two California Interscholastic Federation State Bowl finalists, including 2009 small-schools champion Modesto Christian in Week 3.

“I love tough schedules,” said Herrera, a former standout player at St. Mary’s. “I don’t want to go into league knowing that we weren’t tested. I know people are calling me crazy saying that we need six wins to get into the playoffs, but we really want to earn it.”

Only Orestimba remains in the Lancers’ schedule, as they dropped longtime foes Bear Creek and Ceres. They will meet in Week 1. Last year, Orestimba won 28-15 behind then-sophomore standout running back Steven Machado.

Oh, and none of those games will take place at Dino Cunial Field.

It is certainly the most challenging nonleague schedule for East Union in years, but Herrera believes the coaching staff and players are better prepared for his second go-around as the program’s figurehead.

Herrera has placed higher demands on his athletes. Voluntary workouts began during the first week of March, with many sessions beginning at 6 in the morning.

“A lot of guys volunteered their own time just to do the extra stuff and it’s paying off now,” Herrera said. “We’re farther along in our playbook than we were last year both offensively and defensively. We started everything earlier, which has been nice.”

From June 8-11, the Lancers participated in a full-contact camp hosted at Sacramento State. There they saw talent-rich programs such as Granite Bay, Vanden, Whitney and parochial power Cardinal Newman from Santa Rosa.

“We were the smallest in terms of numbers and size, but we improved every day and the last day was the icing on the cake,” Herrera said. “We had just finished the last scrimmage and coach (Marshall) Sperbeck, the head coach from Sac State, ran to our guys first and showered them with (praise) for their effort and just getting after it.

“Our highlight had to be our session against Granite Bay. We would have loved to have come back with stories about how we never let them score, but they got one in on the last play.”

East Union also competed in four 7-on-7 passing tournaments starting with the Northern California Under Armour showcase at Diablo Valley College. The team went on to reach the semifinals in other tournaments held at Stagg High, Patterson High and Modesto Junior College.

What ultimately came out of it is a quarterback controversy. With incumbent Joe Menzel transferring, senior lefty Aaron Ramos and sophomore Lucas Garcia are competing for time under center. They have big cleats to fill after Menzel set single-season school passing records as a sophomore in 2011.

“Right now it’s a back-and-forth thing. One has intangibles that the other doesn’t and vice versa,” Herrera said. “During our 7-on-7s we just rode the hot hand. They’re just competing right now. We don’t have a clear-cut No. 1, but I like to think we have two.”

While there is some uncertainty as to who will be throwing the passes against St. Mary’s, Herrera is certain the program is heading in the right direction

“I’m throwing a lot at them,” he said. “I want to make it chaotic, tough and hard so that by game time it’s easy. They’re buying into it, because the kids we have out here have just been working their tails off.

“Coming into this year it’s 100 percent different. My learning curve was gigantic. It’s a much smoother transition this year. We have improved in a lot of areas as far as organization and time efficiency. I’m already planning on next year. We’d like to be farther along next year than we are right now.”


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