For most of us, the 2015 prep football season started back on Aug. 28. For the Poly High Parrots, it may have started last week.
Poly was 1-3 going into its Sept. 25 East Valley League opener against North Hollywood, which was off to a 3-1 start and looking like a potential contender against Grant and defending champion Arleta. The Parrots — whose lone victory had come against Bernstein of Hollywood — were trying to find their way after a 3-9 season in 2014 after going to the City Division III championship game the year before. And they were doing it as a practically brand new team, following the graduation of 25 seniors.
Head Coach Jose Campos was silently fretting in watching the summer practices. Things had to be different this season, not only for school pride, but also because the Parrots were moved into Division II.
“We (the coaches) didn’t see a whole lot of improvement or progression. We were doing the same thing over and over,” Campos said. “Normally we have an idea what we can start installing, and by Game Two and Three we can start putting in different formations into the offense and defense. On defense we hadn’t practiced a full defensive practice until we got into full gear. We focused more on the offense and it took a while to adjust.”
So, understandably, the 2015 season had gotten off to a slow start, with losses to St. Genevieve, Westchester of Los Angeles and Reseda surrounding the victory against Bernstein. The 48-0 loss to Westchester at home on Sept. 11 was particularly discouraging.
“I thought in playing Westchester — a Division II opponent I thought we could possibly see down the line — you want to go up against speed sometimes and see what you can do,” Campos said. “I thought we would play better defense. But overall, as a team, we didn’t play very well.”
So few folks could have foreseen the 41-21 pounding Poly would put on rival North Hollywood. Even more impressive, the Parrots — who trailed 21-20 at halftime — shut out the Huskies in the second half.
For the players looking for a reason to believe that good things could still happen this season, they had found it.
The victory “has opened [the player’s eyes] to realize we can be a good team,” said senior fullback and middle linebacker Juan Guzman, 17, who had a pivotal play when he recovered a fumble in the second quarter and returned it for a touchdown.
“The past week of practice we were hitting hard, being disciplined and doing more conditioning … by us doing what we did (against North Hollywood), it showed us we can beat teams.”
Guzman — who played in the Division III final game against View Park of Los Angeles — admitted he had been a little fearful that this year’s team might unintentionally be headed down the same path as last year’s team. “I was afraid at first, due to the lack of strength we had, and lack of size. But we were motivated to go into the weight room,” he said.
“Size doesn’t matter; it’s about strength and endurance and doing the right technique. You’ll be able to take out anyone.”
Still, it took a victory like the one over North Hollywood to be the final selling point, according to junior lineman Eric Novoa.
“I think we needed to see we could win,” said Novoa, 17. “I think the guys didn’t know their full potential until last Friday. When we saw we could do this, it was like ‘why can’t we do this every other time.’
“Honestly, what I think made things turn around was them seeing how it was going head-to-head. They scored, and we got the ball, pounded it down, and scored back at them. We kept our mindset of ‘we can do this.’ On top of that being how they were fumbling the ball, not handling it well; I thought ‘we have a chance at this.’”
In the victory, the Parrots have have found a potential star at running back in Kevin Ascencio, who played junior varsity last year. Ascencio, 16, a junior, rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns in 43 carries.
The breakout performance may, in part, be due to Ascencio fully adjusting to the varsity level.
“The captains said [the game] would be at a much faster pace (than JV) with bigger people,” Ascencio said. “It’s nothing compared to JV; you’re playing against almost grown men.”
But Ascencio also felt this team’s true nature and determination was going to emerge. “I looked around to see if my teammates wanted to put the work in, and be a better team than last year. I saw it, even in the summer.”
Now it is up to Poly to hold to the momentum it created against North Hollywood. Up next is Monroe, followed by Verdugo Hills. It gives the Parrots a shot at being 3-0 in league before they have to face Arleta and Grant in back-to-back contests.
In no way is Poly talking about being the league champion.
But the Parrots realize they can now be part of the conversation.
“I’m not worried (about being flat for the Monroe game) because we’re really hungry,” Novoa said. “We want to win and make it to playoffs, and actually play in the Coliseum. We got a taste of it last year; this time we want to take it all the way.”