The 2010 football season is one that Bellarmine-Jefferson High Coach Rolando Aguirre can’t put behind him fast enough.
“We definitely had our problems last season,” said Aguirre, whose team went 2-8 and finished last in the Santa Fe League with a 0-4 record. “Things didn’t go very well for us and we just didn’t play very well either.”
The Guards have had to deal with their share of adversity in the summer, as they have been unable to practice at their usual venue, Brace Park, because of ongoing improvements to the facility. Instead, Bell-Jeff has been relegated to tiny Palm Park for its preseason workouts.
On top of that, the team — along with Burroughs and Burbank — will not have the use of its home field this season, as Memorial Field is undergoing a renovation.
“We will be playing our home games at North Hollywood High,” Aguirre said. “That was the closest field that we could find. We might not be playing our home games at our own field, but at least we have a place for our home games.
“It’s a good stadium and we’re happy to be playing there.”
Bell-Jeff will also be dealing with the loss of its best player from a year ago, Micah Shirley, who graduated. Shirley, who played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and defensive back, was a bright spot for the struggling Guards in 2010, earning him All-CIF Southern Section Northeast Division honors.
On offense, Shirley had 119 carries for 1,210 yards (10.2 yards a carry) and seven touchdowns, hauled in 24 passes for 402 yards (16.8 yards a catch) and eight touchdowns and he completed nine of 27 passes for 200 yards and one touchdown. In addition, he scored 92 points. On defense, he had 122 tackles (12.2 a game) and four interceptions.
With Shirley running the show last season, Aguirre retooled the offense, opening it up more. The Guards tried more of a passing game, which ultimately didn’t pay many dividends. But this year, Aguirre has switched to a more ball-control offense, and will try and keep the ball on the ground more.
“We are going back to the basics, we’ve got to,” Aguirre said. “The good thing about us is that we have a good [junior varsity] nucleus, and that will help us. We have some workhorses and the guys have been working very hard.”
The Guards will get a chance to start the season on the right foot when they open the campaign at 7 p.m. Friday with a nonleague Zero Week game against Flintridge Prep at North Hollywood High.
Aguirre said he has a group of running backs who should be able to implement the new offense. Junior Joshua Martinez (5 feet 10, 180 pounds) will be joined by sophomores Demitri Moreno (5-9, 160) and Vartan Bekarian (5-11, 190).
“We have some young guys in the backfield, but they also have some talent,” Aguirre said. “It’s going to be a competition to see who gets the most yards this season. We will see who wants to be the top dog. It’s going to be fun to watch.
“I’m also excited about our o-line. We have some big boys up front.”
Opening holes for the running backs on the offensive line will be senior Brian Del Valle (6-0, 310) and juniors Ryan Okiishi (6-0, 265) and Geraldo Paz (5-8, 275).
Taking over the duties at quarterback is junior Mitch Kellogg, who had two brothers who also played in the program for Aguirre. The coach said Kellogg has a strong arm and is “very competitive and brings so much to the table.”
Some of Kellogg’s targets will be tight end Matt Landini (6-0, 195), a senior, and junior wide receivers Andrew Belsito (6-2, 185) and Michael Gomez (5-11, 175).
On defense, the linebackers will be sophomore Eric Agaverdyan (5-10, 165), Bekerian, Gomez and Moreno.
“We have linebackers who are quick and have the talent,” Aguirre said. “That’s something that we haven’t had here in a while. While our linebacking is strong, our secondary is slightly suspect.”
The defensive backs will be Martinez, junior Jarel D’Costa (5-8, 145) and sophomore Alejandro Marroquin (5-8, 155).
Manning the defensive line will be juniors Trystin Navarro (5-11, 265) and Jomar Navarro (5-11, 275), along with senior Mario Ramos (5-9, 240). Aguirre said he also plans on rotating some of the offensive linemen to play on defense.
Marroquin will handle the kicking duties and D’Costa will be the punter.
While the coach said he hopes to get back to the postseason, he expects a tough going in league.
“Salesian has a great running back and they should be good,” he said. “St. Genevieve has a very good quarterback and St. Anthony will throw quite a bit. So, it’s going to be tough.
“We missed the playoff last year. But about five years ago we also missed the playoffs. But the year after missing it we came back to win the league. So, you never know.”
With just four league games, the Guards will play six nonleague contests. Following their opener against the Rebels (2-6-1), the Guards take on Fairmont Prep (4-7) on Sept. 10 at North Hollywood High, face host Rosamond (2-8) on Sept. 16, take on Malibu (1-8-1) on Sept. 24 at North Hollywood High, travel to Viewpoint (2-6-1) on Sept. 30 and take on host Mountain View (5-5) on Oct. 7.
The Guards start Santa Fe League play Oct. 14 at Salesian (2-8).