The final horn sounded, the sweaty and tired players trudged off the field and the first game for Granada Hills in 2014 ended, leaving Coach Tim Frost with one thought.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” the coach said afterward.
It was not just a reflection of the score — 45-17 in favor of visiting Golden Valley. It was also from the two-plus hours of actual game time that Frost and staff witnessed, and note again when they watched film.
It’s a reminder of what’s needed for a successful transition after an abrupt coaching change flipped the team on its backside. The Highlanders, who fell just short of playing for the City Section Division II last year, now have to learn a new system from a brand new staff, and forge new levels of trust and beliefs amongst themselves and their coaches on the fly.
For returning seniors like quarterback Ramon Johnson and wide receiver Sean Onwualu, the road they are presently on is not all that smooth.
“The coaching is way different. They changed the whole scheme…everything,” said Johnson, 17, who threw for 2,397 yards and 26 touchdowns (against three interceptions) last year. “It’s been very tough for me, like going to another team. You have to adjust to a whole new system that’s not like the old one, and come out with a fresh start.”
Onwualu, 17, only had 12 catches last year while waiting his turn behind Bryson Bowman and Ryan Willmore, the team’s top wideouts. He is also still figuring things out.
“It kinda shakes you up a bit,” Onwualu said. “You’re going into your senior year with the same coach you’ve had — I know the playbook inside and out — I’m ready to go in and coast. And out of nowhere a new coach comes in. You have to learn a different scheme and all this stuff. There were some growing pains.”
Frost certainly wants good fortune for seniors like Johnson and Onwualu. But he also has to establish who he is and his vision for the program, while blending in a coaching staff made from scratch, and continue to foster a winning culture at Granada Hills.
It can feel like juggling chainsaws.
“It’s a little hard,” Frost said. “We’re a new staff, a new offense. It’s really simple, but sometimes our kids want to overanalyze it. If we do what we’re supposed to do, ‘get to here, take this angle,’ it works. And sometimes [the coaches get] ‘well last year we did this last year,’ from the kids. And I don’t mean any disrespect to Billy [Para] at all. But I tell the kids ‘we’re not going to do it that way, it’s this way.’”
Frost has been at Granada Hills for 10 years and was coaching track-and-field and cross-country. He said he first coached football in 1988, and had last coached the game as an assistant six years ago.
When first approached by the school administration to replace Para, who left in March, Frost said no. But when asked again he took the job on April 1.
“I’ve always loved coaching football; and I always wanted to get back to it,” Frost said. “[When] I was asked again,I thought I may never have the opportunity again to step into something like that. I think I have some ideas, and I wanted another shot at it.”
Last year the Highlanders were 1-4 in nonleague play (including a forfeit loss to Canoga Park), but wound up sharing the West Valley League title with Birmingham. And by virtue of beating Birmingham, Granada Hills wound up the second seed in the City Division II playoffs.
Granada Hills won its first two playoff games and seemed prime to face against San Fernando in the Division II final. But South Gate ended that dream with a 26-24 victory.
“We just came up short,” Johnson said. “We had looked good for most of the game. We tried, and it’s hard to explain. We just came up short, that’s all I can say.”
One game does not decide a season. But it can outline the direction the season may be headed. The Sept. 5 game against Canoga Park — which beat Taft in its opener — can provide more clarity for Granada Hills.
“We need to try harder, honestly,” Onwualu said. “We can’t give up too early, and we have to try from first quarter to fourth quarter.”
“I still think this can be a good season,” added Johnson. “We need to keep working on it, keep practicing. Last year I felt the same way. I got down on myself at the beginning of the season, but then we started going up instead of down. And I feel we can do the same thing this year.”
That’s the kind of attitude Frost wants from all his players.
“I want us to be competitive anytime we step out on that field,” he said. “I don’t want this team to feel like ‘we’re supposed to do this against this team, and do this against that team.’ Whoever we line up against, we need to do our best.”