Over the last four years, only one of the Pacific League’s eight football teams has numerically demonstrated improvement each season.
While Burroughs, Arcadia and Muir highs have all claimed portions or outright league titles, it’s only Glendale that’s bettered its record on an annual basis.
Since 2010, when the Nitros finished 1-9 under coach Alan Eberhart, the squad has won one more contest each season up until a 4-6 campaign in 2013 under coach John Tuttle.
That record translated into a sixth-place finish within the Pacific League and a 49-6 thumping of archrival Hoover last season.
With the 2014 season set to begin for the Nitros, Tuttle wasn’t ready to rubber stamp a 5-5 campaign just yet.
“Anything can happen, so you don’t want to make any predictions,” said Tuttle, who took over before the 2012 season. “Our goal today is the same as it’s been since I’ve started, which is that we want to be able to compete for four quarters.”
Glendale has a roster of about 40 players and appears thin in the trenches.
If the Nitros are to be successful, they’ll need to be able to block well enough for the one-two tandem of running backs Daniel Jung and Luis Ruiz.
Jung, an All-Area second-team selection last year, rushed for 914 yards and nine touchdowns on 120 carries and also hauled in nine receptions for 130 yards and three additional scores.
The 5-foot-10, 180-pound scatback also presented Glendale with a real threat, as Jung broke five carries last season of 50 or more yards, including a dandy 72-yard sideline score in Glendale’s 35-14 home defeat to Burroughs last season.
That carry was significant because it represented the only rush that night from Jung, who was injured shortly after and sat out the rest of the contest.
Jung was one of a few offensive starters who struggled through injuries last season, which concerns Tuttle again in 2014.
“Our health is absolutely the key,” Tuttle said. “We’re not a big team and injuries mean more to us than to other teams. When we lose a player, it’s like we’re losing two players because most of our guys play two positions. If we’re going to have injuries, then we’re really going to have problems.”
If Jung is the team’s game-breaker, then Ruiz is more of the steady workhorse.
“We really complement each other,” Ruiz said. “He’s going to make the big plays and I’m the guy who’s going to get three yards here and four yards there.”
Ruiz rushed 91 times for 590 yards and four touchdowns.
While the offense leaned heavily on its ground game, Tuttle is hoping he’s found a steady quarterback in Julian Rovira.
The senior saw a little action last year backing up starter Kevin Felix and completed eight of 20 passes for 83 yards and one touchdown.
“The coaches are expecting me to be a team leader and take over this position,” Rovira said. “I think we’ll be able to pass the ball this year and not just have to depend on the running backs.”
Rovira’s main target figures to be junior wide receiver Ricky Loudermill, who made his share of acrobatic catches last year, but is looking for more consistency this season.
“We lost a few guys in the summer, but we’re still going to work hard and compete,” Loudermill said. “We can be good this year, but we’re going to have to keep working.”
An offensive line short on depth has two solid performers in senior tackle Grey Cabrera and senior guard James Aguirre.
On defense, a 4-3 unit is looking for stability from senior defensive lineman Josh Guzman and leadership from junior middle linebacker Abraham Martinez.
“Abraham is the leader of the defense, he makes plays,” Loudermill said.
Perhaps the best group on defense is the defensive backfield, which may very well lead the squad in tackles.
Ruiz, Jung and Loudermill will either play at cornerback or safety.
The trio combined for four interceptions, six caused fumbles and three fumbles recovered last year.
“If certain things break our way, we could be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Pacific League,” Tuttle said. “You have a really good league this year and if we improve a little bit from last year, then we would have had a good year.”