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Lancers building off solid 1st year under Kuhnlenz
East Union summer football
Dylan Lee swings a pass during an 11-on-11 drill. - photo by JONAMAR JACINTO/The Bulletin

East Union hit the ground running as it began its second summer program under head coach Mike Kuhnlenz at the start of this month.

“It has definitely been easier this year,” he said.

The team has had consistent turnout at all three levels, and Kuhnlenz is encouraged by the promising freshman class.

Last year, the Lancers had little time to learn a new of doing things coming off the pandemic-shortened spring season. It was an adjustment for the players to practice at the demanding pace set by the then first-year coach as they received a crash course on his rapid-fire spread offense.
“The boys know what’s expected of them, as far as what we do in the weight room, how we conduct practices with tempo — just the understanding that we take it serious,” Kuhnlenz said. “If you’re not going to do what you’re supposed to, other guys on the team will let you know, ‘Hey, you gotta get it together.’

“It’s player-led team, not just the coaches. With a lot of guys coming back, they know how stuff is done here. The guys know what to expect.”

The Lancers had their ups and downs in Kuhnlenz’s inaugural campaign, which ended at 6-6 but included some winnable games that they felt slipped away against some of the Valley Oak League’s powerhouses. The highlight was notching the program’s first postseason victory since 1992. All in all, it was a successful season or a team in transition seeking to establish a new identity.

“We had some talented players last year, that definitely helped,” Kuhnlenz said. “There’s some excitement because we had a little bit of success. The boys believe that if we do what we’re supposed to we’re going to be able to compete. That’s huge. In January when the season is so far away, the guys were putting in work and getting after.”

Expect to see a different version of the spread attack that boasted some of the best passing numbers in the Sac-Joaquin Section. All-VOL first-team quarterback Luke Weaver graduated after setting single-season passing records, and his top receiver, Dylan Lee, is taking over behind center. A.J. Vazquez is also getting reps at quarterback, but he’s a first-year senior learning the system.

Lee racked up 1,350 receiving yards, second most in the Section and 17 touchdowns while increasing his stock as a college prospect on defense. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound linebacker has earned a three-star rating by 247Sports and holds NCAA Division-I offers from Arizona, Columbia, San Diego State and San Jose State.

With running back David Flores (344 yards, 7.5 per carry, nine TDs) also returning, the Lancers are likely to incorporate more of the ground game.  

“With how great (Lee) is at receiver, we’d love to keep him there but he’s looking really good at quarterback,” Kuhnlenz said. “He was in close competition last year with Luke. He has been working on mechanics and he has the reads down, but he’s a heck of a runner and we like to use the quarterback in the run game. If he’s got the ball in his hands, that’s probably not a bad thing.”

Senior offensive lineman Aaron Velasquez and junior inside linebacker Carson Sanders, both all-league second-team selections, are among the top returners who have assumed leadership roles.

Kuhnlenz has one major change to his staff with Corey Norwood getting elevated to defensive coordinator in place of Nick Ortiz, who accepted an internship with BYU’s football team.

The SJS’s three-week Preseason Dead Period begins next Monday, and official practices start July 25.

East Union has two noteworthy additions to its non-league schedule: Central California Athletic League champion Downey of Modesto in Week 1 (Aug. 26) and Stockton power Lincoln in Week 5 (Sept. 23). Both teams are visiting Dino Cunial Field, and the Lincoln game kicks off a rugged four-game stretch that includes Central Catholic (away), Oakdale (home) and Manteca (home).

East Union opens with a rematch against Ripon in Week Zero (Aug. 19 at home) after defeating the 2019 Division IV-AA state champion last year. The Lancers also face McNair and Atwater on the road in Weeks 2-3.

“We wanted to beef up (the schedule) a little bit and get ready for the VOL,” Kuhnlenz. “What better way than to play guys like Lincoln, Downey and Ripon? We’re excited for the challenge.”