The Estancia High football team is not going to outsize many opponents, but conditioning is something that coach Mike Bargas wanted to tighten up heading into the 2017 season.
To that end, Bargas hired Costa Mesa resident Sherman Cocroft as a conditioning coach for the summer. Cocroft, a former NFL defensive back, mainly played for the Kansas City Chiefs during a five-year pro career. Now he stays busy running football training camps.
Cocroft has Estancia in good physical shape headed into the 2017 season, and Bargas hopes that will mean better shape in terms of the Orange Coast League standings as well.
"I hired him for the summer, and that's kind of springboarded us to take it up to the next level," Bargas said. "When you've got an NFL guy coming in, it adds a little bit more credibility to what you do. We'll do whatever we can to try to get these kids to be better."
Bargas, in his 11th year at the helm of Estancia, aims for improvement. The Eagles lost nine of their last 10 games last season, finishing up at 2-8, 1-4 in league. The only league win was against rival Costa Mesa, but the team missed the CIF playoffs for the second straight year for the first time under Bargas.
Injuries played a key role, but the Eagles want to be back on top of the league, where they have finished four times before under Bargas.
"The past couple of years have definitely hurt," Estancia senior outside linebacker and receiver Hunter Mensinger said. "I mean, we used to make it to playoffs every year, and our team just kind of fell apart. Now we're molding back together. I think the main thing is that we all trust each other to do our job. Football always finds the mistake. If 10 guys are doing their job and one isn't, football's going to find that mistake. We know that everybody on our defense is going to give it their all. We're brothers out there."
The defense is experienced, with eight returning starters led by a veteran linebacker corps of Mensinger, fellow senior Deshandre Kerkoff and junior Raul Gonzalez. Many of the returners on the offense come on the offensive line, with guys like Gonzalez, who plays left guard, as well as senior center Francisco Zamora and senior right tackle Ervin Mauga. The other two projected starters on the offensive line, left tackle Jorge Castellanos and right guard Jacob Parsons, both started on the defensive line last season.
They will be blockers in a run-heavy attack, and Bargas knows that going into the season. He's back to calling the plays this season, as the guy who did it last season, offensive line coach Lance Chavez, did not return due to work issues.
Bargas said the quarterback position is a battle between senior Vincent Duarte and sophomore Jaycen Cash. Whoever wins the starting job will pass to receivers including returning junior Hayden Pearce and fellow junior Nathan Guyot, who played junior varsity last season. The Eagles lost their top two receivers from a year ago, Tyler Ross and Trevor Brown, to graduation.
Sophomore tight end Damien Lambert also offers potential. But again, Bargas likes to run the ball, and that's where junior tailback Trevor Pacheco comes in.
Bargas said he could see Pacheco getting 30 to 35 touches a game. At 5 feet 7 and 155 pounds, Pacheco lacks size, but he makes up for it in quickness.
Pacheco played running back at Mater Dei as a freshman. Last year, he was forced to sit out the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus while playing rugby.
"Having to watch last year, it makes me want to try even harder and perform better for this coming season," said Pacheco, who also will play cornerback for the Eagles and return punts and kicks. "But it will definitely be a big load to carry.
"I feel good. I feel like we should make the playoffs this year. I don't want to say we will, but I feel good. I think we'll do better than last year. This year, we're coming together more as a team, so that should help."
Andy Martinez, a senior who was a second-team Daily Pilot Dream Team selection last year at kicker, returns at that position and also at fullback for Estancia.
The Eagles have a three-way scrimmage against El Modena and Santa Ana on Aug. 24 at El Modena High, and they open the season Aug. 31 against Loara at Glover Stadium.
It's another challenging preseason schedule against mostly bigger schools, although only Sunny Hills made the playoffs a season ago. Estancia, though, hopes to make it through relatively unscathed by injury before starting Orange Coast League play Oct. 5 against Saddleback at Segerstrom High.
"We need to be tougher and more resilient," Bargas said. "Last year, I don't think we were like that, and we didn't gel as much. This group's a little bit more cohesive.
"We had a really good summer. We threw the ball pretty well, considering we had two guys with no [varsity] experience [at quarterback]. 7-on-7 is what it is, but I thought we were really productive. I'm optimistic."
Aug. 31: at Loara
Sept. 8: El Dorado
Sept. 15: at Irvine
Sept. 22: University
Sept. 29: Sunny Hills
Oct. 5: at Saddleback *
Oct. 13: Calvary Chapel *
Oct. 20: at Costa Mesa *
Oct. 27: at Laguna Beach *
Nov. 3: Godinez *
* denotes Orange Coast League game