Bob Molyet arrived in the desert in late July unfamiliar with the valley where he’d be residing and with perhaps even less knowledge of the group of players awaiting him.
Hired to take over the Xavier Prep football program, Molyet had convinced his wife to relocate 1,300 miles so that he could accept the challenge of coaching a team that had won just a pair of games in two years. On top of that, he had just two months to put it all together before the season began.
But three games in, the early results are starting to turn heads in the valley. Despite merely nine weeks on the job, Molyet has led the Saints to as many wins as the previous two seasons combined, now boasting a 2-1 record with victories coming against teams Xavier Prep lost to a year ago by a combined scored of 100-7.
“Ideally, you make a hire like this in November or December,” Athletic Director Mark Campbell said of offering Molyet the job in mid-May. “There was a lot of work to do and he didn’t have a lot of time.”
With the clock ticking, Molyet opted to simplify everything. As opposed to coming in with lofty goals of making a playoff run or going undefeated, Molyet instead preached the importance of giving effort, playing with intensity and precision, and in making the next play the most important one.
“We’re just keeping it real simple,” said senior quarterback Rex Rover, who has thrived in the newly installed spread offense, throwing for 604 yards and seven touchdowns in three games.
“We are not thinking about tomorrow, we’re not thinking about yesterday. We’re focused on right now, and that’s made a difference for us.”
Not that the transition was seamless. In the first game of the season, the Saints were humiliated by Yucca Valley, falling 51-13 on the road. Molyet’s criticisms were fierce, as the team didn’t play together and failed to do the little things that often go unnoticed until you go to the tape.
“Looking at the film,” Molyet said, “we did so many things wrong. I’ll be honest, we didn’t play as a team that first game. That’s what we’ve focused on since.”
In the second game, Xavier Prep turned a corner in a matchup with Twentynine Palms, a 23-win team from 2010-12 that beat the Saints 56-0 last year. Now unified, the Saints took it to the Wildcats, eventually prevailing, 25-12.
Xavier Prep built upon that result a week later, beating Desert Hot Springs, 40-14.
“I think, offensively and defensively, they played even better against (Desert) Hot Springs,” Molyet said. “They all of a sudden decided, ‘Hey, if we do this, and we do it right, we can win some games.’ “
As the weeks go by, Molyet is becoming more familiar with his team, and he’s been able to make game-to-game adjustments. In addition, he has at least seven assistants involved on a daily basis, a support system predecessor Darrell Lewis didn’t have during his time as the head coach.
Several of those assistants ran practices and installed the spread offense for Molyet before his arrival from Texas.
Others have helped solidify the defense, where the Saints have held opponents to 26 points in two wins after allowing 51 in the season-opening loss. Molyet has a trusted friend and assistant coaching the defensive line, he’s handling the linebackers and Lewis has been brought back to coach the secondary, where Molyet said his expertise has helped tremendously.
“I actually don’t think a lot has changed,” said Jake Ashton, a senior wide receiver and defensive end. “I just think the mindset has changed. That’s always been the issue around here and we’re trying to change that.”
The two wins have gone a long way toward players buying into Molyet’s schemes, philosophy and what he’s trying to accomplish. Players are now confident, entering games expecting to win instead of merely hoping.
With the new offense, they’re also having a lot more fun and there’s motivation to avenge some of the past two years on teams that have had their number.
“It’s nice to come out here to practice and know that we can work and achieve something greater than we ever have before,” Ashton said. “But I’m still not satisfied. You look at the schedule and there are still teams that we want to beat.”
It’s also helped that Molyet inherited a number of legitimate weapons that fit his offense well. Junior Daniel Stabile leads all valley players in receptions (22), receiving yards (298) and touchdowns (4). Ashton is another dangerous receiver who has been perhaps the most important player on the defense.
Still, Molyet insists it doesn’t matter what players do individually. If they don’t play as a team, it’s all for naught. The defining moment of the season for Xavier Prep, he said, is not a touchdown catch or a long run. It came against DHS on a fourth-and-1 with the Golden Eagles attempting to convert on their own 30-yard line.
Instead of trying to pursue the ball, Ashton dove at the DHS offensive line, taking out at least two blockers and creating a hole for two teammates to enter the backfield and make the play.
“That’s just sacrificing yourself,” Molyet said, “knowing that if I do this, somebody else will make the play. If we all get that attitude on this team, we’ll be pretty tough to beat.”