M. Terry / SFVS

Where Eagles Dare — Chaminade seniors (l-r) Andrew Van Buren and Michael Wilson, and junior Ryan Stevens are gearing up for the toughest football schedule the team has ever played.

It’s only August, and no meaningful football has been played.

But one almost wants to fast forward to December and see how the 2017 season turns out for Chaminade.

Coach Ed Croson is giving the senior-heavy Eagles an amazing opportunity to be great. He has put together one of the toughest schedules any Southern California team will claim to play this season.

The nonleague part of the schedule is, quite simply, brutal. The televised opener against Oaks Christian of Westlake Village is on Aug. 25. That game is followed by matchups against Mountain Pointe High of Phoenix, AZ, defending state Open Division Bowl champion St. John Bosco High of Bellflower, and then Bakersfield High.

Of the four teams, Oaks Christian was the only one not to win a section championship and/or play in a state bowl game last year. But the Eagles and Lions had a memorable season opener last year, with Oaks Christian prevailing, 65-55.

The league schedule gets no easier. Not the Southern Section’s Mission League schedule, which includes perennial contenders like Alemany, Bishop Amat of La Puente, Crespi, Loyola of Los Angeles, Notre Dame, and Serra of Gardena.

All this even before the Southern Section Division I/Pac-5 playoffs, where other historical behemoths like St. John Bosco loom, including Mater Dei High of Santa Ana, Long Beach Poly High, Centennial High of Corona and Mission Viejo High.

This is not the season to be timid or have an inferiority complex. But Croson did this kind of demanding scheduling when he was the head coach at Birmingham. And it was successful. 

“[In 2004] we started 1-4 at Birmingham and won the City title. The next year we were 2-3 and won the City title,” Croson said. “This is a developmental age in kids’ lives. I think you have to be able to face adversity. We think we have a pretty good team coming back. So we needed to schedule some challenges in there so that our kids could get better.”

Croson and his fellow coaches would also like a closer look at St. John Bosco, a Division I juggernaut the past few years. The Eagles kept getting eliminated in the playoffs before getting a chance to face them.

“I would rather see what it’s like in the [nonleague] season,” he said. “The year we won the state title, we lost to Serra 36-0 in the league game, and ended up beating them in the CIF finals. So kids get better.

“Some guys want to have a great record. I have no idea what my overall record is, because to me it doesn’t matter. What does matter is how you finish, and the development of the kids. So we’re going to challenge ourselves.”

The Eagles prepared for this season by enduring their growing pains in 2016, and there were several. The overall record was 8-4 and included a tie for second place in league. That got them into the Southern Section’s Division I playoffs; they defeated Long Beach Poly in the first round but were knocked out in the postseason by Centennial — for the second consecutive year.

The players say they can’t wait to start playing for real. “Got to play the best to be the best” is an oft-repeated mantra at Chaminade. But the players also say that they are now at a place as a team that they could take on a schedule like this without going into it already feeling overwhelmed.

“I feel last year is going to help me this year,” said quarterback Ryan Stevens, a junior, who started five games last year while splitting time with Brevin White, who transferred after the season to Paraclete High in Lancaster.

“I’ve grown from my mistakes last year…I feel if we play to our full ability, we can beat any team. If we all work together as a unit and perfect our game this upcoming season, I think we can beat anyone. That’s how I feel. If we put in the hard work before the games…we can win on Friday.”

That degree of confidence is shared by others.

“We have a year of maturity and playing experience under our belt,” said wide receiver Michael Wilson, 17, a senior who has verbally committed to Stanford.  “Coach Croson says the biggest difference is that our whole offensive line returns. Every single lineman is a senior. And almost all our starters are seniors. That’s gonna be a big help for us. Everyone has varsity experience under their belt, so it’s not going to be anything new.

“[This season] is something Chaminade has been building toward since the year after I came in. This is exactly where we want to be right now.”

The greatest season in Chaminade history came in 2013, when the Eagles won 14 of 16 games, the section’s Western (Division IV) title game, and the CIF state bowl Division II championship game. They were moved into the Division I’s Pac-5 the following season, and have wanted to validate that promotion with a championship ever since.

Running back Andrew Van Buren, 17, a senior who has verbally committed to Boise State, said this is the kind of challenge needed to achieve that validation.

“We have a lot more seniors who have been here the previous 2-3 years. We are definitely more prepared, physically as well as mentally,” Van Buren said.

“I want to show people that we are meant to be in the Pac-5. And we do rise up to the competition, and come out to play hard every Friday night.”

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