The Sac-Joaquin Section’s preseason Dead Period doesn’t begin until Monday.
Willie Herrera’s East Union football team began its break a week earlier. He wants to make sure the Lancers are rested and ready for their Aug. 29 zero-week date with Grace Davis. Herrera said the Spartans of Modesto have been the focus of his players and coaching staff during offseason workouts.
“The only thing we’ve been worried about is Week Zero vs. Davis — it’s the only thing on our mind,” Herrera said. “We went 1-9 the past couple of years so there’s nowhere to go but up. Our goal is to get that first one under our best and then we’ll worry about the next one.”
The Lancers completed what Herrera called “a working man’s summer” at Downey’s full-contact camp July 7-10. There, he got a glimpse of what his team is capable of against live opponents. Also in attendance were Waterford, Ceres and Gregori, East Union’s Week-3 foe.
“We have tenacity here with some of these kids,” Herrera said. “Our numbers aren’t great but the kids we do have are ferocious. Just like every year there’s a new sense of urgency. They do not want a repeat of previous years. They don’t want that streak to continue. They want to do everything in their power to be better than the year before.”
“Power” being the operative word. Greater importance has been placed in the weight room, which the Lancers now call “The Shop.” It is there that they toil away in the offseason, many times as early as 6 in the morning on school days during the winter and spring.
“That’s kind of been our rallying point this offseason, to be that blacksmith in the shop,” Herrera said. “It has been the best output in the weight room that we’ve seen since I’ve been head coach. I would say out of the whole offseason the biggest improvement has been our weight training. We saw the benefits of it with the camp we just ended. We’re definitely at a different level as far as the strength of the team goes, and the kids have bought into it.”
These Lancers may soon be ironmen, indeed. Depth could be an issue with anywhere from 30-35 varsity players expected to show up Aug. 11 for the first official day of practice. That may not be the case in future years, as turnout for summer workouts at the lower levels was good. Heading into the team’s break, Herrera said there were 56 freshmen in the program, and six of them have been elevated to the sophomore squad.
The freshman team has a new head coach in Dan Coffman, an East Union alumni who coached for the late Jim Brown in the 1980s. Jason Stock assumes the role as sophomore head coach while remaining as the varsity’s defensive coordinator. Establishing continuity within the program was the first order of business for Herrera after last season.
“Every single detail is taught the same exact way at every single level,” Herrera said.
It’s an important step for a program that is in its second year of running a wing offense. The Lancers transitioned away from the spread last summer but had little success with their new attack. Not counting a 63-14 drubbing of Orestimba, East Union averaged just 9.5 points in its other nine games.
It is another area that the coaching staff sought to improve in the offseason and it came away from the Downey camp and four passing scrimmages pleased by what it saw with sophomore quarterback Jack Weaver at the controls. While it remains a run-oriented offense, there is a desire to allow its young slinger to throw more than the team did a season ago.
“We’re a lot further along with it now than we were last year — it’s not new to us anymore,” Herrera said. “The kids are not thinking as much, it’s more reaction and they’re able to run things faster. Another definite plus is that we are able to do more. Last year there wasn’t a whole lot of opening up of the offense because we were so new to it. Now, because of the experience, we’re hoping to keep building on it every year based on the athletes we have.”