M. Terry / SFVS

Michael Martin III has helped make Reseda a strong team by playing multiple positions.

It was just two years ago that Reseda was staggering through a 2-8 season, trapped in a reconfigured Valley Mission League and unable to escape Division I, the City Section’s toughest division for which it neither had the manpower or overall talent (at that time) to compete in.

“A very frustrating time,” said Reseda Coach Alonso Arreola, looking back. “You already know that, even if you gather some wins and make the playoffs, it’s still not a fun road.”

But he didn’t think about leaving — at least on his own.

“I still have always felt that if I’m not enjoying myself as far as relationships with the kids, and feeling I am building them up with something other than football that are long-term important life lessons, then it’s time to think of not doing it anymore.”

That was 2014.

Two years later Reseda is 11-2 overall, the top seed in Division III, and going for its first City football title since 1995 when it defeated Eagle Rock in the 3A championship game. On Saturday, Dec. 3, the Regents take on No. 2 seed Los Angeles Franklin (12-1) at El Camino College in Torrance for the Division III title. The kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m.

The Regents are still in the Valley Mission League. But they were appropriately moved out of Division I and placed in Division III in 2015, where they would face more schools with similar student populations and talent bases.

Arreola said key players who endured the wretchedness of 2014 have grown and matured.

“You have kids who are young and you want to see them [develop] because you can see the potential,” the coach said.

Arreola immediately identified Leo Perales, wide receiver and safety, and lineman Louie Hernandez who played that year as sophomores. “And I had also brought up a freshman, Jalani Ellison, from the JV team even if he wasn’t quite ready,” Arreola said.

All three played a major role this year. Perales is second in total tackles (131) while contributing 387 total yards and five touchdowns on offense. Fernandez is the linchpin of the offensive line with 28 “pancake” blocks, as in knocking the defender off his feet. And Ellison has had an All-City season as a defensive back with 15 interceptions. Six were returned for touchdowns.

But the Regents also have the unexpected development of Michael Martin III, a former basketball player in his second year of playing football.

His father, Michael Martin Jr., played wide receiver and linebacker for Reseda and was on the 1995 championship team. Martin III grew up in Orlando, Fla., but had a chance to come out to California for high school. He was (and is) a promising basketball player, but Martin III also wanted to play football at Reseda, like his father.

He didn’t play football last year, but has become indispensable this season as a quarterback, receiver, and running back. He has rushed for  799 yards, caught nine passes for 165 yards, and passed for 199 yards. He has scored eight touchdowns and thrown for three more.

The toughest thing has “been getting to know the game,” Martin III said. “It’s really different from playing basketball. I’ve really had to pay attention and focus on what I’ve needed to do. I was just going to play quarterback, but then [the coaches] saw I was more athletic than they thought, and felt they could put me anywhere.”

Arreola is thrilled by Martin III’s perseverance and development.

“At first he was so raw,” he said. “But he has come a long way in understanding the game. He can throw a little bit and is mobile.He struggled the first two games … but the last 5-6 games he has really come a long way.”

Playing in Saturday’s championship game “means a lot,” Martin III said, because his dad won a ring at Reseda. “I came to Reseda because my dad wanted me to. And when I heard he won a championship [in football] I really felt I had to climb on board.”

While Reseda likes to run, Franklin favors the pass. Panthers quarterback Mario Bobadilla, who has thrown for 3,284 yards and 32 touchdowns (against seven interceptions), has a trio of excellent receivers to play catch with in David Telles, Leonel Santiago, and Guillermo Cordova. Telles is the leading threat, with 52 receptions for 1,250 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Both methods have been successful. Reseda’s losses this season were to San Fernando and Sylmar,  Division I teams in their league. Franklin’s only defeat was to Northern League rival Los Angeles Lincoln in overtime back on Oct. 14. 

Since neither team has lost to a City opponent outside of league, something has to give on Saturday.

But Reseda is eager for the chance. The Regents know how hard it was to reach this point.