The coaches’ office at Reseda High on Monday, Aug. 29, is filled with noise and bodies. Players are clamoring for equipment. One youth sheepishly admits leaving his football cleats in a classroom. Others wonder how practice it will be in the heat still gripping the Valley in the afternoon. And still others want to know can they come out for football even though this is now the third week of school.
The chaos is a happy one, the energy level still high coming off the Regents’ season-opening win against Monroe. And not just because the final score was 42-6. It was the way Reseda won the game, playing solidly on offense and defense.
Coach Alonso Arreola is enjoying the upbeat moment. There have been some lean years recently for Reseda football, even though last year’s team did go 6-6 and reach the quarterfinals of the City Section Division III playoffs. But what Arreola and his staff saw on Friday, Aug. 26, felt like watching bears coming out into a fresh spring day following a long hibernation.
“This one feels different,” Arreola said. “It seems like there’s more there — more substance to our team than just getting away with a win.”
Reseda — which hosts Chavez tonight, Sept. 1, at 7 p.m. — hasn’t started a season 2-0 since winning 10 games back in 2010. But even with a limited roster, the Regents are brimming with a belief that last Friday was just the beginning of what could be a memorable season.
“I felt the intensity of the whole team,” said linebacker Salvador Saucedo, 17, a senior. “I felt everybody was encouraged, and had the pursuit to play the whole game. To see that for four quarters was a great feeling. It gives me lots of hope for the season, knowing we can do great things if we put our three ‘E’s’ in order.”
That would be Energy, Effort and Enthusiasm in Resedaspeak.
Carlos Hernandez, 18, a senior running back and linebacker, was also thrilled by the collective effort against Monroe. Teams playing their first game often times have to rely on watching opponent film from the previous year, then needing some actual game time to figure out what has and has not changed. But Hernandez felt Reseda had an almost immediate sense of what Monroe was going to do.
“Most teams do what they do [year in and out] so you can anticipate some things,” he said. “But things worked out better than I thought. I see everybody trying to be on the same page, so we’re hoping for the best.”
Arreola admits he was rolling the dice a bit in 2015 by playing a lot of inexperienced players — some of them sophomores — in the hopes that it would accelerate their varsity learning curve. If the win against Monroe was an indication, that plan is working out.
“This year we have some key returners at key spots, which we did not have the year before,” the coach said. “We knew we were playing some kids a little too early last year, because they [could be] kids that are going to make an impact this year. They played a lot of football as sophomores. And you could see the development throughout the summer. It really showed on Friday night.”
One of those potential impact players is Ja’lani Ellison, 17, a wide receiver and defensive back. He had a big game, catching a touchdown pass, rushing for another score, and added two interceptions on defense, one of which he returned for a touchdown.
But in talking with a visitor at practice, Ellison did not go into a “me” mode, instead pointing out how any accomplishments by the Regents this season will be due to being part of a team.
“This offseason we put in a lot of work, through the summer,” Ellison said. “And we all love each other. So we put in the work.”
Declarative sentences like the ones above also give Arreola hope that things are turning around at Reseda.
“I’m very excited about the juniors group that has developed,” Arreola said. “And then I have a few seniors that have been in the program for three years. Again, some played earlier than they should have, because once again we’re sitting here with 29 players. We don’t have a lot of depth, so our number ‘ones’ don’t have much behind them as far as experience is concerned. It’s an uphill battle, it’s a grind. But that’s what we’ve been dealing with so it’s almost the norm.
“But I also feel good about this team. I feel good about the attitudes. There’s been some groups the last couple of years where you’ve had some highs, but you could also see some groups where…there were some dark spots — kids that aren’t fully ‘all in’ to the program, which end up being distractions. I think we’ve had some of those the last 2-3 years. But this year I don’t see that. There’s not one guy dragging other guys in a different direction.”
This will be a short week of preparation for Chavez, which also won its season opener against Panorama. And the Eagles are a team that Arreola doesn’t have a real feel for.
“I’ve seen film, but I don’t know much about the kids on that side of the Valley or on that team. I don’t know the coach [Rodrigo Nunez] at Chavez. I don’t know one kid at Chavez. And that’s not normal. But it’s going to make it interesting on Thursday.”
The Regents hope — no, believe — things will still be interesting in a couple of months.