East Union’s 2017 football team may lack the experience of its predecessor, but there is no shortage of confidence and motivation as the Lancers approach their first official day of practice.
It’s a junior-dominated bunch looking to continue the work of the veteran 2016 class spearheaded by three-year quarterback Jack Weaver. Head coach Willie Herrera likes swagger of his varsity rookies.
“I think we’re bigger, faster and stronger than we were last year,” Herrera said. Last year’s Lancers finished 6-5 and made the program’s second Sac-Joaquin Section playoff appearance since 1992.
“The one thing we lack is experience at the varsity level.”
They remain hungry after a disappointing end of their sophomore season. After a 5-1 start, the sophomore squad dropped three of its final four contests all to the Valley Oak League’s powerhouse programs — Central Catholic, Oakdale and Manteca. This is the same group that went 10-0 at the freshman level.
“They talk about those games a lot,” Herrera said. “They don’t let each other forget it. They bring it up all the time in the weight room. It’s a fire starter for them and they’re ready to go.”
Herrera is encouraged by what he has seen so far from this year’s team. Among his concerns were leadership and chemistry, two areas of strength from the 2016 team that featured 10 three-year starters.
The players had plenty of opportunities to mesh during their busy summer schedule that included more 7-on-7 competitions than usual.
While some teams place little value on 7-on-7s, Herrera and his staff used them as a chance to test out new signal caller JoJo Espinosa in their shotgun/wing offense.
The Lancers competed in the Modesto Junior College and Stagg tournaments, went to a two-day passing jamboree at Clayton Valley of Concord as well as a weekly multi-team passing scrimmage hosted by Tracy High.
“Something we really wanted to iron out this summer was the passing game because we had the same guy at that spot the last three years,” Herrera said. “With JoJo coming up from JV, he’s going to be the dude this year, and we really wanted him to get the timing down with our receivers.
“The good news is that from the start of the summer to the end he got exponentially better.”
East Union ended its summer program with the MJC Tournament on July 8, where it lost to three-time champion Downey 14-6 in bracket play. The Lancers reached the finals last year but were placed in a tougher bracket.
“I saw it as an absolute honor … this year they put us with the big dogs,” Herrera said. Central California Conference power Turlock was also placed in their pool.
“The competition was pretty good. We lost Downey by the same score we lost to them at the Stagg Tournament. It was a good showing for us. In my observation, we were one of the best teams there.”
East Union had a light final week leading up the MJC tourney and the SJS Dead Period, which prohibits contact practices and use of football-related equipment. The Dead Period ends this Sunday, with football practices beginning next Monday.
On July 7, the players and coaches from all levels got together for a team-bonding activity they call “Lancer Olympics,” which, of course, included a belly-flopping competition at the school’s swimming pool.
“A lot of the guys from the senior class got to sit behind a steady bunch of guys last year and they learned a lot,” Herrera said. “The work ethic and the leadership from guys like Jack have rubbed off. Our chemistry has been very good, and that’s my biggest question mark every year. No matter how good we look, are they go into mesh and get along? They are, and they’ve gotten real close.”
The Lancers kick off their season Sept. 1 against Ceres at Dino Cunial Field.