Coronado football success started at Holmes Middle School
He didn't realize at the time what an understatement that would be.
In the recently completed football season, almost the entire Coronado team consisted of boys who played their first organized tackle football at Holmes, including seniors who were seventh-graders on that 2008 team.
It's hard to dispute the difference the program has made. Until 2012, when Coronado went 5-5, the high school had been below .500 every season since 1992, and this year was the Cougars' best ever at 13-1.
Spectators applauding senior Joah Smith's long passes to his twin brother Sam - including a key fourth-quarter play in the title contest - could have seen a preview of that in middle school. “We were able to put Joah back at quarterback, and we had one little play where it was almost a touchdown every time,” Wilshusen recalled. “When I saw the games this year, I remembered that.”
Some of this year's Coronado players have even kept the jersey numbers they were assigned in middle school, noted Mike Kreidel, who shares the Holmes head- coach duties with Wilshusen in alternating years. These include Zeb Foster (44), Austin Micci (33) and Isaah Duvall (42).
The way the program works, Holmes and other middle schools coordinate with City Parks' youth sports division. Before 2008, kids who signed up with Parks would be assigned to random teams. What changed that year was that middle schools could have their own teams, taking the seventh- and eighth-graders from their attendance areas.
(Initially, on the Westside, West Middle School also had a team. But after the first year, it did not have enough signups, so ever since 2009 its athletes have played for Holmes.)
In all, Coronado's 52-man championship roster included 5 from West and 40 from Holmes, according to Kreidel.
After the program started, it wasn't long before then-Coronado coach Bruce Gross “started connecting to the middle school program,” explained Bobby Lizarraga, the current Coronado coach. And he's kept it going since taking over from Gross four years ago.
The result has been players arriving at high school with a better understanding of the game. “It's made a lot of difference in prepping these kids and helping them understand what's expected at the high school level,” Lizarraga said.
The cooperation is not just one way, either. The Coronado coaches work with their Holmes counterparts, and in some cases knowledgeable parents who've volunteered with the middle-school program have moved with their sons to fill similar roles at the high school.
Some Coronado coaches who've also helped out at Holmes are Gerry Strabala (son Ryan), Scott Edmunds (son Wesley), Darin Smith (sons Sam and Joah), Chris Gregory (sons Michael and Christopher), Craig Carly, Paul Sinatra and Caleb Muth.
“The support from the Coronado coaches has been phenomenal,” Wilshusen commented.
An early indication that something special was happening was in 2010, when Holmes won the city football championship. “That core [Coronado juniors this year] from 2010 is still there,” Kreidel said. He remembered that he and Wilshusen both had a good feeling about their chances. “They were smart and [a rarity in many schools] learned to play both sides of the ball.”
At Holmes, the budding players get insights into teamwork, fundamentals and even some of Coronado's offensive and defensive schemes. The “smashmouth” running game behind all those Cougar comebacks? The players began learning that at Holmes. “The front line is where everything starts, with a real simple blocking scheme,” Kreidel said. “You dominate the line and go in and gain yards.”
Conditioning too. Sets of small hills lie on the undeveloped land behind Holmes. To get in shape, the middle-school coaches have the players regularly run them. A pleasant memory for Kreidel is how the boys now at Coronado willingly accepted that part of the training, and that they did it together. “You could see them going up and down them, as a team,” he said.
Wilshusen also spoke to the character building that's part of the coaching effort, which emphasizes life skills, family support and “giving their best effort in everything they do. We're focused on trying to build their self esteem and confidence,” he said. “And we try to get parent involvement, to get everyone realizing that it's not just the football team, it's the success of everyone involved and that winning is a byproduct of effort.”
One of the parents, Rosa Medellin, has had two of her sons play for Coronado. Aaron, the younger, was the senior center on this year's team until suffering a knee injury in the first playoff game. He was one of the players originally from West Middle School who became part of Holmes' team in 2009. She praised the coaches for helping him and the parents from West feel at home. She also likes the part about requiring players to keep their grades up if they want to play. “Those are good coaches over there,” she said.
In summing up the current status, Wilshusen offered an understatement similar to his guarded prediction in 2008: “We're trying to create a sense on the Westside that something special is happening here, that the players we have are going to be on JV and varsity at Coronado soon,” Wilshusen said. “I'd like to think some of that is helpful.”
Westside Pioneer article