Last year’s 1-9 season for the Cathedral City High School football team was a struggle from start to finish.
The Lions were a young team trying to learn on the fly, and when adversity struck in the form of injuries, or bad luck in games they didn’t handle it well. Head coach Richard Lee said the issues with last year’s squad started at the top.
“I thought I was the worst coach in the league last year,” Lee said. “Not that I don’t think I can coach, but it starts at the top and we went 1-9 and there a lot of things that I feel like I could have and should have done differently.”
But that was then and this is now. That 2015 team, while taking its lumps, did gain experience and even more importantly, a desire to not let something like that happen again.
It’s clear to Coach Lee that the 2016 version of the Lions is in a much better place entering the season. He can sense it and the players can sense it.
“Seems like we’re moving in the right direction,” Lee said. “Our kids have bought in. Things are flowing a lot better. They’re picking up the schemes a lot better. Offense is better. Defense is dialed in better. “
A good place to start when trying to translate that improvement into wins is at the skill position players and the Lions have two guys they can count on.
Quarterback Cameron Lee and running back Jordan Wallace.
Lee gained some valuable experience behind center last year before missing the back half of the season with a neck injury he suffered against Xavier Prep. He’s back. He’s healthy, and much like his coach, he’s ready to shake the bad taste of last year out of his mouth.
“Last year was my first time starting at QB so I was not experienced at all,” Lee said. “This year I’m excited to be healthy, and I have more confidence, particularly in my throwing game.”
Wallace interrupted and said: “Yeah, we actually had fun at passing league for a change this year.” Drawing laughs from both of them.
The players confirmed the notion that last year’s tough times have motivated the whole team.
“Everybody is more comfortable this year,” Lee said. “Last year wasn’t successful but now everyone knows what level you have to be at to play against good teams. Everybody’s excited. Excited to have a better record than last year, for sure.”
“Last year we started with confidence but after we started losing a lot, we lost that confidence,” Wallace said. “This year guys hit the weight room harder, and I expect us to be a lot more competitive.”
Coach Lee said that the offseason commitment to improve has been noticeable.
“You know Cameron has only played QB one year in his life, which was last year, and he’s really come a long way with his field awareness and picking up his progressions better. And he’s always had the athleticism,” coach Lee said. “Jordan really made a commitment and it shows. He improved his speed. He’s seeing things better out there, and he’s finishing all of his carries in practice with speed and power.”
The player poised to have a breakout year. The name on the tip of everyone’s lips surrounding the program is James Green.
Green played in the defensive backfield and at receiver last year as a sophomore, one of five sophomores to play both ways last season for the young Lions.
Green will be playing both positions again this year, but according to coaches, something clicked for him in the offseason.
“He has really come into his own, and he’s starting to realize that he can impose his will on the game a little more,” said Lee of the long-armed speedy junior. “He can be a mismatch, and he’s starting to realize that when he’s locked one-on-one with somebody. He can take advantage of that more than he did last year.”
So with those three talented players holding down the key skill position spots as well as forming a formidable defensive backfield, the Lions will look to the line to ensure the offense has time to do what it hopes it can do.
And coach Lee said this is another area where he’s happy to see some familiar faces returning. Players that are ready to put last year behind them as well. Center Danny Morales and two-year starter Mario Gonzalez are back to anchor the line.
So the pieces are in place and the hopes are high, but keep in mind that for a team that didn’t score 20 points in any game last year, success is certainly not assumed.
“The bottom line is you gotta line up and play,” coach Lee said. “Our big thing is improvement, not wins and loses per se. Getting to the point when you play up to your potential, that’s what we’re shooting for. I expect us to be an improved team this year. Will that translate into a bunch of wins? We’ll find out on Fridays.”
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Looking deeper at the Lions
Coach: Richard Lee (22-29 in five seasons)
Last league title: 2002
2015 record: 1-9 (1-5 in DVL)
Biggest personnel loss: Anton Petee was a second-team all-DVL performer who graduated last season. The 6-foot-4, 280-pound two-way lineman will be a big presence missing from the offensive and defensive fronts.
Biggest question: How will the Lions handle adversity? Last year, when things started to go south for the young Lions squad in the course of a game, they did not bounce back well. That will be the key this year. In the course of the game, do they have the experience and leadership to right the ship when things don’t go well.
Breakout player: James Green. Get ready to hear a lot about this talented junior. He is a defensive back and wide receiver and according to his coaches he’s just now starting to realize his enormous potential. He uses his speed and long arms to create mismatches on the outside, and should be one of the top players in the desert these next two years.
Coach quote: “I’m excited about this year because it seems like we’re moving in the right direction across the board. We’re focusing on improvement. If we keep improving, and I feel lie we have after a 1-9 year last year, that’s what we’re will about. In that respect wins and losses aren’t the main thing. It’s about improvement and the wins will come.”
Projected record: 5-5, 3-3 in DVL
Aug. 26 …Coachella Valley
Sept. 2 … at Hemet
Sept. 9 … Heritage
Sept. 16 … at Tahquitz
Sept. 23 .. Shadow Hills*
Sept. 30 … Xavier Prep*
Oct. 7 … at Palm Springs*
Oct. 21 … at Indio*
Oct. 28 … Palm Desert*
Nov. 4 … at La Quinta*
*indicates Desert Valley League game