By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
PREVIEW: Lancers restoring honor to program
Offseason requisite helps rebuild morale for East Union
Bulletin football 2019
Defensive linemen work on their pass rush moves under the watchful eye of East Union head coach Willie Herrera.

A season that started with so much promise did not end as expected for the 2018 East Union Lancers.
Perhaps the team’s spiral to a 3-7 finish began well before opening kickoff.
Now in his ninth year as head coach, Willie Herrera looks to get the Lancers back on the upward trajectory that began with back-to-back postseason appearances in 2016-17. 
It all starts with stats not seen on MaxPreps — “honor points.”
In his early years as coach, Herrera implemented a system that helped gauge his athletes’ commitment to the program, the school and each other. For them to be on the varsity squad, they had to reach a minimum amount of honor points that are accumulated through community service. 
He decided to do away with it last year.
“It was the first year we didn’t do it,” Herrera said. “There is just so much data collection involved. I really regret that.”
The Lancers lost four of its first five games, and their heads. East Union’s wealth of talent at the skill positions proved to be more curse than blessing as players grew unhappy with their lack of reps.
The turnaround, Herrera said, has already begun.
And it starts with honor points.
Herrera said the team put in close to 300 hours of community service in less than two weeks, volunteering their time to local churches, the Boys & Girls Club and Northgate Little League, to name a few.
“It’s a great measuring tool,” Herrera said. “It tells the story of who works and who doesn’t work. It lets us know who is selfless and who puts their teammates before themselves.”
It has translated onto the practice field, where these Lancers embrace the struggle, the lessons and each other. Whether it translates into victories on Fridays remains to be seen, but they’re confident it will.
“With the juniors coming up with us seniors, it feels like we’ve been playing together forever,” returning quarterback Eric Morales said. “We respect each other and have a good time. There is no arguing and no fighting — it’s all respect. We practice as a team and we play as a team, and hopefully it shows on game day. I can’t wait for that.”
Morales may want a do-over more than anyone. He suffered a rib injury over the summer and aggravated it in East Union’s 39-19 zero-week loss at Downey. The starting job was in flux from there, as the team turned to JoJo Espinosa — the standout QB from the previous season who moved into more of a utility role as a senior — for certain matchups.
Morales did have his moments. East Union nearly upset perennial Sac-Joaquin Section contender Oakdale in the Valley Oak League opener but fell short, 35-26. Morales completed 20 of 33 passes for 235 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He was even better the following week in a 39-27 homecoming win over Kimball, throwing for a season-best four touchdowns. That was the highpoint of the Lancers’ season, as they dropped three of their final four.  Heartbreaking losses to Bear Creek, Oakdale and rival Sierra kept them from the postseason.
“We have a lot to prove,” Morales said.
They’ll have to do it with many of their top players from a year ago, such as leading rusher Raylen Carter, leading receiver Lorenzo Contreras and leading tackler Alex Alexander.
East Union replenishes much of the talent at the skill positions with juniors who are coming off a 6-3 season at the JV level. Zelmar Vedder heads the receiving corps, while Tyler Diaz, Jonathan Castaneda, Anthony Corrales, Lane Cefalu and Carlos Alvarez are competing for carries out of the backfield along with stout senior Shane Crawford.
The Lancers lack the big-play threats of seasons past but believe they can remain productive out of their hybrid pistol/wing offense.
“We have athletic kids, guys who are quick but not necessarily the home run hitters we had last year,” Herrera said. “Discipline and toughness are really going to have to play a factor in our game plan.”
That’s where the experienced linemen come in.
“Nothing beats hard work,” All-VOL first-team guard Alex Yang said. “And we have a lot of guys who work hard in the weight room and on the practice field.”
The stocky 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior typifies the grit of this year’s team. Also returning are 6-3, 245-pound tackle/middle linebacker Josh Grabowski and guard/defensive tackle Joey Aguirre. Anthony Vargas and David Alvarado are among the top juniors in the trenches. It may be the deepest crop of linemen Herrera has had.
“We’re definitely excited about our whole offensive line,” Herrera said. “We legit have 10 guys who can suit up and start on Friday. It has made the competition more fierce in practice, because nobody is guaranteed a spot. It has to be earned every day.”
The Lancers expect to be tested in all facets in the first three weeks. They’ll get chances to avenge losses to Downey and Bear Creek, while reigning Western Athletic Conference tri-champion Mountain House has been added to the schedule.
“We’ll know who we are before we get to the VOL,” Herrera said.