At this time last year, Dos Pueblos coach Doug Caines was preparing his football team for a 14-12 victory at cross-town San Marcos that pivoted his Chargers toward their fourth-straight CIF playoff berth.
But they can’t even touch the same football during this same week of October.
“It’s a bummer that you can’t do much more than condition,” he began, “but after seven or eight months of not being allowed to do anything, it has been good.
“Seeing the joy and appreciation in these kids — of being able to get out there and do something normal again — is super-rewarding, and we’re seeing it in their faces every day.”
Caines has a lot to sort out in a program that graduated eight of its 10 all-leaguers and had another — offensive and defensive back Johnny Alvarado — transfer to Bishop Diego.
He does return Daniel Santacruz, a 5-foot-10 and 185-pound linebacker who earned second-team All-Channel League honors last year after leading DP with 97 tackles and five quarterback sacks.
“He was the linchpin of our defense as a junior and we’re looking to him to take the leadership during his senior year,” Caines said. “There are a core group of leaders, along with some underclassmen, who have definitely tried to set the tone of what we’re trying to do.
“There’s not a kid at this school, including the seniors, who don’t remember what we had to do to get into the playoffs last year. There’s an expectation of at least a benchmark to try to compete for a Channel League championship and make a run to the playoffs.”
DP, a CIF Southern Section Division 10 finalist in 2017, won three of four league games to set up a title showdown with Santa Barbara in the final week of the regular season.
The Dons won 31-18 and continued on to the CIF-SS Division 8 final. The Chargers lost to eventual Division 6 finalist Crespi in their first-round game.
Competing for a conference championship will be more difficult this year in a revamped Channel League that includes Santa Barbara, Lompoc, Rio Mesa, defending CIF State 2A champion Pacifica, and Oxnard, which actually beat the Tritons in a showdown for last year’s Pacific View League title. Last year’s combined record of the Chargers’ new Channel League opponents was 48-15.
The new Pacific View League will consist of San Marcos, Santa Ynez, Cabrillo, Ventura, Buena, and Channel Islands.
“We just want to compete,” Caines said about the new alignment. “We always talk about our circles of influence and concern, and the new league structure is something we can’t control. We don’t want to waste any time on it.
“I know it makes the road a little tougher to achieve our goals of making the playoffs, but it would also make it that much sweeter. We’re looking forward to the challenge, and the kids understand the urgency.
“The conditions of the world are slowing us down, but they are spread across all sites. We’re just trying to deal with what we can control.”
He’s anxious to get a better look at senior quarterbacks Trent Jones (5-11, 155 pounds) and Josiah Severson (6-1, 201), who were part of a three-player rotation at the position last year.
“It’s tough to evaluate right now because we can’t throw the ball to anybody,” Caines said. “We’re at the start of Phase 2 (of COVID-19 guidelines) for high school sports, where each kid can possess an object but there can be no exchange of objects.
“Basically, they can throw balls at a wall, or at a can, but not to another kid.”
Jones passed for 405 yards and a pair of touchdowns in six games last year while Severson threw for 379 yards and four TDs in as many games.
“Both are super-bright kids,” Caines said. “Trent is usually the smartest kid in the room. Josiah is more physically gifted — he has more speed and size behind him — while Trent has more of a natural throwing arm and a really good football IQ.
“Trent might be able to push the football downfield with his reads, while Josiah can make those short throws and make plays with his legs. Together, they make one perfect quarterback.”
Their favorite receiver, Baylor Huyck, has now joined former DP lineman Angel Flores on the roster at Northern Arizona University. But senior Andrew “Angel” Pineda (5-10, 180) and junior Osiris Fox (6-3, 190) are ready to fill the void, Caines said.
“Angel played behind Baylor last year and, quite honestly, we can’t get that kid to stop working out,” he pointed out. “Even when we were doing the Zoom classes, he was always putting in extra workouts. I think he’s poised to have a big season.
“Osiris was a first-year player on the JVs last year — he’s a long, lanky kid with a lot of potential.”
DP graduated two dynamic playmakers in all-league backs Udy Loza and Conner Lee. Senior Alonzo Cruz (5-9, 155), a defensive standout last year at cornerback, is the only returning player with experience at running back.
Caines is hopeful, however, that senior Prince Miller, a track star who transferred to DP last year, can become a major rushing threat as well as a stalwart at outside linebacker.
“He’ll be a huge mix-in for us,” he said. “We also have a couple of running backs coming up from the JV level. Normally we know by now what they can do, but we just haven’t yet had the chance to see them and refine who the top two or three might be.
“There’s still a lot up in the air.”
That’s also true on the line, where seniors Jacob Perez (6-2, 230) and Alex Randall (5-11, 235) are the only returning starters.
“We did bring up Merrick Foster (6-1, 273) for the playoffs, and he arguably could’ve played fulltime on varsity as a sophomore,” Caines said. “Those three are going to lead the charge on the offensive and defensive line.”
The Chargers will need to find a supporting cast before they take the field for their COVID-delayed opener at Nordhoff on Jan. 8.
“Everything is pretty much on paper right now,” Caines said. “Normally, we would’ve seen a lot of these guys in spring ball and summer camp, but right now we don’t know exactly what we’ve got.
“At least Jan. 8 is still a long way away.”