When you have a proud and rich heritage of athletic success like the Kennedy High Golden Cougars, droughts can be hard to accept even though it happens to every program.
Nonetheless, the current lack of achievement in football at Kennedy has grown past irksome. It is now a lingering malady the school is eager to cure.
A winning football season has evaded the Cougars since 2009, when they were 6-4. The last really good year for Kennedy football was 2005, when that squad under Robert Francola went 9-2. The 2018 team went 3-8, the sixth time the Cougars have lost eight or more games since that last winning season in 2009.
New Cougars Coach Troy Cassidy is young enough to have played against that 2005 Kennedy team when he was a student at Chatsworth High.
“They were solid,” Cassidy said. “I remember it being kind of a low-scoring game, but Kennedy coming out on top.”
So maybe it is act of karma or cosmic intervention that Cassidy — who, despite his relatively tender age of 30, has been coaching football for 11 years with stops that include Servite High, Chatsworth High and Thousand Oaks High — is now in charge here. He takes over for Terrance Johnson, who was the head coach the past five years.
Cassidy, who was hired in February and who will also teach physical education and health at Kennedy, doesn’t talk in somnambulant terms of “culture change” or “rebuilding.” There is a “process” to how he plans on revitalize the Cougars’ football fortunes. But it’s not weighted down with endless slogans or immediate sky-high expectations.
Instead, it starts with…
“Discipline,” Cassidy said. “To be a good offense or defense, you need discipline. We’re an ‘up tempo’ scheme so everybody has to take their proper steps, everybody has to get off the ball and double-team when it’s time to double-team. Receivers have to run their routes hard, run good routes all the time and not give up on any play. The quarterback has to make the proper ‘reads,’ the running backs have to hit the right holes.
“I know it sounds simple, but it’s not for a high school team to get 11 guys to do what they’re supposed to do every play consistently. We have to be focused on doing the right things every single play, having all 11 guys do their job.”
The Cougars are not devoid of talent. Although All-City first team offensive lineman Esteban Marin has graduated, three second team All-City selections — lineman Frankie Argott, safety Jesus Gonzalez and receiver Jamal Price — are back. Other key returnees include lineman Kadin Elder and middle linebacker Julian Soto.
Elder shed some light on the early impact of Cassidy since the team first started workouts in May.
“He’s definitely brought more discipline to the football team. In my opinion, he’s also brought a little more fun,” said Elder, a senior. “It’s been about players respecting players, respecting the coaches more, more accountability. And guys are willing to give him a chance.”
Adds Gonzalez, a senior who doubles as a receiver, “everything’s changed in the way he makes us do things. We’re adjusting to it. Last year [the receivers] ran their own routes. But he’s strict on [running] the routes you’re supposed to run.”
Argott, who was first planning to attend a private high school when he was a freshman but came here instead and loves it, is convinced Kennedy can once again be “a football school.” And he wants to be part of the story that brought football back in a positive way.
“Our goal is a championship. But I kinda want a winning season, to be honest with you,” said Argott, now a junior. “Kennedy hasn’t had a winning season in a long time, so I think we can set a good foundation this year.”
Soto, a junior, said most of the team “has bought in” to Cassidy’s new level of standard. That will be tested when the Cougars go into their “dead period,” the mandatory three weeks where the players have no practice or scheduled events with the coaching staff.
“[The veteran players] will make sure everyone is still conditioning, that everyone is eating right and not just taking time off,” Soto said. “We can still go over plays with each other, meet up at the park and go to the gym. It’s not a time to slack off and sit on the couch. You can still put in work that can lead toward [a good] season.”
Of course, it’s still only June. The actual season starts for Kennedy on Aug. 23 against Heritage Christian. The Cougars are currently in City Section’s Division II, but that could change. There is one final coaches’ meeting in July.
However long the climb back to respectability, it still begins with a first step. And this is the one the Cougars are taking.
“I will never guarantee wins and losses,“ Cassidy said. “You can be the most talented team and struggle; you can be a team that’s not very talented and win games. We will have a team that shows up every Friday, works hard, plays hard every down, and — win, lose or draw — we’re going to be respected.”
“Some people will say we didn’t have such a good season last year,” adds Soto. “But there’s a good amount of talent here. It’s all in how we piece it together, tie it together, the chemistry. And it will work.”