The cries of “Defense, Defense” at Reseda High this fall will not be some programmed chant spewed by disinterested Friday Night football fans when the other team has the ball.
No, the Regents expect to have a strong, cohesive defensive group capable of getting multiple and — if needed — critical stops on the field.
The Regents also know they will need be strong defensively in 2018. Several of their notable offensive stars — most notably quarterback Mike Martin and receiver/defensive back Ja’lani Ellison (now at the University of Wyoming) — have graduated. It may take a little time to integrate and shape new or promoted skill players into a seamless group.
Add to the mix Reseda being sent up again into Division I, the City Section’s best division that splits into Open Division and Division I when playoff seedings are revealed after the regular season.
But many of the team’s defenders from 2017 have returned. And they are prepared to carry the offense until it can stand alone by itself.
“We are a good unit,” said defensive end and linebacker Alonzo Hall, 17, a senior, and he says it like he means it.
He’s not alone. Defensive and offensive lineman Joseph Plascencia also offers a clear-eyed assessment of the Regents’ perceived strength of being stingy this season when it comes to giving up points and yardage.
“We had a good regular season, and won a lot of games in 2017. But the season stopped short [in the playoffs] because we got overconfident from the all the games we won,” said Plascencia, 17, a senior.
“This year, with many of the same players coming back, we know what to expect. We do feel we have something to prove. We have the whole offensive line coming back. I think our mentality is better. Practices have been good, with high energy. I think these have been the best practices in my four years at Reseda.”
The Regents were the third seed in the 2017 City Division II playoffs by virtue of their 10-2 overall record and finished second in the Valley Mission League (losing only to San Fernando). But Reseda was knocked off in the quarterfinals by Granada Hills Charter High in part because Highlanders running back Maximiliano Perez rolled up 210 yards in 33 carries. He scored both Granada Hills touchdowns in the second half, including the decisive one in the fourth quarter.
The loss remains firmly stuck in the craw of Hall.
“Last year we were ready for it talent-wise, but mentally I don’t think all of us on the team were as ready as we should have been in the playoffs,” he said. “It showed in a few areas…in my mind we should not have lost [the Granada Hills game]. We came up just short. It’s definitely motivation.
“Going into that game we didn’t think less of them as a team. But we knew we were the better team and should have won that game. It was a lesson: never underestimate anybody.”
Coach Alonso Arreola said he is encouraged by what he has seen so far in practice. It is obvious this group won’t be overpowered in Division I the way the 2013 and 2014 teams were following heavy roster depletion in 2012 due to graduation.
It’s a complete different dynamic than it was after [that season],” Arreola said. “We stayed in D-1 and couldn’t do anything with what we had. But [this time] we’re embracing it more. I think we’ll compete and be in the race for a league championship.
“We respect everybody, and we know the team to beat in our league is San Fernando, which may be even stronger this year. But our kids embrace the challenge, and we’re hoping to do well.”
A key replacement for Arreola will be at quarterback.
Martin was an excellent two-way performer, passing for 1,464 yards and 15 touchdowns, and running for 901 yards and 11 touchdowns. The Regents have welcomed transfer Ezekiel Savage II, a senior, who threw for 2,642 yards and 27 touchdowns at Royal High in Simi Valley in 2017.
As with all transfers, Savage’s eligibility is being confirmed by City Section officials. It is possible he could have to sit out the first four games. That would elevate Dranal Rhodes, last year’s backup to Martin as a sophomore, to starter.
“He was forced into some duty last year in the second round game,” Arreola said. “He was only a 10th grader last year and he did a good job. For being that young, he did well. The situation he came in was not the ideal situation, and it didn’t work out as well as we wanted to. But going into this year, if he has to start Game One I think he’ll be a guy we can depend on.”
Another transfer should be available to play immediately. Jourdan Jackson, 17, a senior, played at Taft High last year, recording 34 tackles including seven quarterback sacks as an outside linebacker. He predicts a seamless transition for himself into Reseda’s defensive scheme.
“I think, because [in their scheme] they have the outside linebacker blitzing a lot, it’s not a real big jump when I play the OLB,” Jackson said. He’s also taken note of the quality of practice. “I would say the practices here are more competitive. We practice harder to get ready for the games.”
That’s the kind of attitude it will take to be successful — on defense or offense, Arreola said.
“We have strength in our schedule having added El Camino. They’ve won [the West Valley League] the last two years and they’ll be ready for us,” he said. “Looking forward to that challenge. We also picked up Huntington Park, which is the (defending) Division II champ but is now a Division I program as well. Those games will definitely get us tuned up for an early matchup with San Fernando.
“Not to say it’s a two-team race. We don’t know what the other guys have until we get the season started. But we know what San Fernando has….We’d love to win the league but a lot of factors go into that. We need to have a good nonleague season, compete for league and then see where we get placed [for the playoffs]. We feel we can compete with some of those Division I teams. I just have that kind of faith in our kids.”