For Kennedy High, the only thing that could have made the 2019 season even better would have been to win a championship.
The Golden Cougars weren’t greedy, however. After the final 2019 game was played, the team’s overall record was 6-5. But it meant the season — Kennedy’s first under head coach Troy Cassidy — was a winning one, the program’s first winning season since 2009. Kennedy even qualified for the City Section Division II playoffs.
It would have been great to build on that initial rush of success in 2020. But Kennedy, like so many teams, did not have a fall season because of the pandemic.
Their league, the Valley Mission, could be one of the most competitive in the City Section this fall, stocked with stalwarts like Canoga Park (2019 Division II champion), Reseda (2019 Division I champion) and San Fernando (2019 league champion) all expecting to contend this fall for the title.
Yet the Cougars are not feeling or acting as if they are starting all over again. And if the 3-1 record they posted in the City’s 2021 spring season is a legitimate indicator, they could be — will be — involved in the chase for the Valley Mission title this as football returns to a regular schedule.
Judging from what he has seen so far regarding player motivation and commitment, Cassidy is not anticipating a regression.
“They played hard,” he said, recalling the first season. “They played hard for each other. It will be a season I always remember because of how they enjoyed it. Guys stepped up to be leaders, and those who were quieter still wanted to lead by example.
“Getting [those four spring games] was special, particularly for the seniors. Going 3-1 was great; but most important, we got to play. We got to continue to build our culture. Obviously the times are going to be a little different right now. But we feel strong about where we’re at.”
Cassidy said he has 20 returning players, several of them starters. And those who comprised the junior varsity team that went 7-2 in 2019 and are ready to move up, want to keep the Cougars in position to sustain this surge.
But Cassidy is not going to weigh them down with unrealistic expectations.
“We want to compete every Friday night with whomever is in front of us,” the coach said. “Win, lose or draw, we want to put ourselves in position to win football games. I don’t guarantee wins and losses, and nobody should. But we want to put ourselves in position to compete with these teams, and be in a position to win these games.”
Cassidy expressed tremendous confidence in senior quarterback Ryan Avalos to keep the Cougars offense purring. “He doesn’t play with fear. And he always seems to be doing the right thing. When your quarterback is ‘that’ person, it goes a long way for the whole team.”
Avalos, 17, said it was apparent to him that everyone was on the same page during the spring.
“It was [seeing] how fast everyone picked up the system,” he said. “People weren’t lacking on the field. Everyone put in the effort. So…I could see the possibilities.”
“I feel we’re talented this year. We could have a really good year.”
Sione Manu, 17, a converted lineman now playing running back and linebacker who Cassidy expects to have “a good senior year,” is also eager to see how Kennedy matches up against the best in the Valley Mission League.
“We’re gonna have some tough games,” Manu said. “But we have a good enough team to [compete for the championship]. We have to play together and play confident. But I think we have good chemistry.”
A potential wild card for Kennedy could be wide receiver Gor Abrahamian who, Cassidy said, is someone the coaching staff would like to get the ball to “a lot. He’s a guy who plays 100 mph all the time. Great effort guy who can do a lot of things.”
Abrahamian, 16, a junior, is one of those who moved up from the junior varsity. He was so determined to be an impact player on varsity, he worked out in a sauna suit during the summer to get his weight down to a more elusive 168-pounds.
“I’m ready,” Abrahamian said. “The seniors all say that football is fun, but don’t take it for granted. The years go by fast.”
The nonleague schedule features potential helmet-rattling encounters with Chavez and Granada Hills, which should help prepare the Cougars for the physicality of their league matchups. And it’s going to make the latter part of September and the month of October intriguing if Kennedy is, indeed, competitive enough to hang with the best in Valley Mission.
“We love that we get an opportunity to compete on Fridays against Reseda, Canoga Park, San Fernando and others,” Cassidy said. “It is a very strong league. We want to get up to the levels of those programs, and the only way can do that is to play them.”
Manu said he wants that challenge now because the Cougars are figuring out how to win.
The formula for Kennedy is simple.
“You have to play every game like it’s your last,” he said. “You have to put everything into the games and get the most out of them.”