David Machuca is ushering in a new era with the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football program and he hopes the fresh approach breeds winning.
With the Guards' spring practices just concluded, the first-year coach believes the team is on the right track and he has been pleased with the effort of the program's players.
"Like anything else, you have to change some things around and do things the way you would like them to be done." Machuca said. "But the guys have been very receptive to what we've been doing and I think we have a really good group. The hardest thing is getting them to fully commit, especially in the weight room. But they've done the work."
Machuca said he was initially concerned about the commitment factor shortly after taking over the program in December.
"In January, I only had eight kids in my class," he said. "But now we're up to about 22 on the practice field. So, with that number, that's encouraging."
Machuca, a Burbank High graduate and former player for the Bulldogs and Burbank Vikings Youth Tackle Football program, takes over a program that endured its share of struggles the past few years, as the Guards finished last in the Santa Fe League the last two seasons. Bell-Jeff went 2-8 (0-4 in league) in 2011 and was 5-15 (0-8) over a two-year span.
The coach was hired after Rolando Aguirre stepped down in December after leading the program for 13 years. Aguirre finished with a 69-68 record.
Improving on last season's mark is an attainable goal, according to Machuca, who estimates he has 14 to 15 returners from the 2011 team.
"We have some good players," Machuca said. "I'll be perfectly honest with you; I'm pleasantly surprised with what I see with this group. Right now it's all about learning, and that's what spring ball is about. We're not concerned about how much we win in passing leagues or tournaments, we just want to learn the proper way to play football."
One of the individuals who Machuca has been impressed with during the spring is junior Joshua Martinez, who will likely be the team's most potent offensive returner. Martinez is a running back who also plays in the defensive secondary.
"Josh has a lot of speed and you get instant offense when he's out there," Machuca said. "We plan to use him a great deal."
Speed is something the Guards look to have plenty of. Martinez, along with London Webster and Jalen Henry, were members of the Bell-Jeff boys' 4x100-yard relay team that recently made history by qualifying for the CIF Southern Section finals. Machuca said he will find places for Webster and Hanry.
Also catching Machuca's eye is junior defensive end/tight end Andrew Belsido.
Machuca said he has encouraged some basketball players to come out for the team.
"We welcome anybody and everybody," he said. "I would love to have anybody come out who wants to play. I definitely have an open-door policy. If we are going to turn this thing around, we have to get the best athletes from the school out."