Imagine being a high school football coach going to a new job where you have to convince players weaned on video games and YouTube highlights that they could be competitive and successful using an offense whose core concepts date back to Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner.
Scott Hurst had that type of mission when he took over the Heritage Christian High football program in 2014. He not only had to rebuild a program that had struggled to win more than three games the preceding five seasons, he wanted to do so with a West Coast wing-T, a triple-option run offense (that includes passing) in an era where almost everyone else primarily wants to throw.
Now in his fourth season Hurst, his coaching staff, and his methodology are reaping bushels of fruition.
The 2017 Warriors are 7-0 entering their game against Maranatha High of Pasadena, which takes place at Granada Hills High on Friday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. It’s already the team’s winningest season under Hurst, and the most wins by a Warriors team since 2004.
But it’s more then simply piling up victories. For Hurst and the players, it’s also about creating something strong and lasting about the football program here, that what they’re creating is not an anomaly or a momentary blip on the Valley area’s athletic radar.
“When you take over a program that has struggled, the hardest part is building a culture of working really hard and putting in so much time and effort,” Hurst said. “These kids have done a great job of buying in. Now they’ve been under the same coaches for four years. This is my first senior class, and they have a good understanding of what we’re doing.”
Even though the Warriors have reached the Southern Section’s Division XI playoffs each season under Hurst, “this year we really took a step forward,” the coach said.
“The team is still young — six seniors. But they get better every week; they’re fun to watch. And we didn’t ‘bring’ any players in….it’s easy to turn a program around if you bring guys in, but we wanted to show you can do it with the players you have.”
Being primarily a run-oriented team has not hampered the Warriors even as teams do more and more scheming to stop them. Even though Hurst says “we will throw the ball,” Heritage Christian has four running backs with at least 300 rushing yards, led by Nasir Marshall, a junior, with 1,070. And they’ve been without their best running back, Luke Ramos, because of an injury sustained against Verdugo Hills on Sept. 15. He could still return before the season ends.
Seniors like offensive lineman Adrian Chacon, a three-year varsity player, admit they initially needed some convincing that Hurst’s system could work. But it was hard not to be captivated by his enthusiasm and drive.
“The first day I met Coach Hurst, I knew he was nuts,” Chacon said, chuckling at the memory. “But he’s had systems at other programs that have worked. So it was a matter of the guys buying into what he had for us.”
And now, as he looks back at it?
“Honestly, as the years have progressed, we’ve become a better, stronger team. Before, [opponents] were like ‘Oh, it’s just Heritage football.’ Now, teams don’t want to play us. It feels nice. It makes us more confident, knowing that the work that we’re putting in is being recognized for once.”
Receiver and slot back Garrett Clark, a senior, also had some early reservations about going to a wing-T offense that tends to pass infrequently — especially when the running game is working.
“It’s definitely an older system that a lot of teams don’t use, but it gives us an edge,” Clark said. “When we first started, it was kinda weird getting into it because it was old. We just had to trust it and believe our coach would take us to the right place.”
At 6-feet 3-inches and 185-pounds, Clark has the kind of physical dimensions that would make him attractive to plenty of area programs that would promise him more receiving opportunities than he gets at Heritage Christian. Strictly as a receiver, Clark has caught nine passes for 209 yards and four touchdowns, while rushing for 506 yards and six other touchdowns.
But Clark said he hadn’t thought about transferring.
“I saw the fire that my coach has for the game, and I really liked it,” he said. “[Hurst] was not a pushover about anything, he has a strong passion for the game.”
No player is more grateful for the demands and discipline Hurst has instilled in the program than Jason Parraz, who became a quarterback almost by accident.
“When I first got here I could barely throw the ball,” said Parraz, who has thrown for 621 yards and seven touchdowns while overcoming an early season injury against Kennedy on Aug. 25. He is back at full strength.
“I was going straight to wide receiver. But one of our starting linemen pushed me to play quarterback. and I thought, ‘why not, the worst that could happen is they move me to wide receiver.’ But I got the job, kept going at it, kept pushin’.”
If he could go back in time and meet himself as a freshman, Parraz said he would impart the following advice.
“I’d tell myself ‘study the playbook,’” he said. “Once you get the hang of that, you’ve got it all. What they’re teaching us out there, it’s good.”
There are still current team goals like winning the Olympic League championship and heading into the section playoffs, which includes teams as close as St. Genevieve High in Panorama City, and as far away as Victorville High in the High Desert.
They are being careful not to look past Maranatha or look ahead to next week’s finale against Valley Christian. But the Warriors collectively think they are more ready and prepared for the postseason than they have ever been.
“I don’t feel we’re going to go into the playoffs as the team we’ve been known for, the ‘one-pump chumps’ — just one game and we’re out,” Chacon said.
“Everyone is going to know who we are by the end of the playoffs.”