There is a crop of new players on the roster of the Bellarmine-Jefferson High football team this season.
There is also a new coach at the helm for the Guards, as Burbank High product David Machuca takes over with a new staff.
Change is likely good for Bell-Jeff, which suffered through two lackluster seasons under former coach Rolando Aguirre.
Bell-Jeff has struggled the past two years, finishing last in the Santa Fe League both seasons. The Guards went 3-7 (0-4 in league) in 2011 and are 5-15 the past two years.
Under Aguirre, who finished with a 69-68 record in 13 years as head coach, Bell-Jeff proved it could be a successful program. In just his second season as coach in 2000, the Guards won a share of the Santa Fe League championship. It was the program’s first title in 46 years.
Bell-Jeff also captured undisputed championships in 2004 and 2007, as the teams finished with 9-2 records both seasons.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that Bell-Jeff was able to win a league title,” said Machuca, a 2002 Burbank graduate who also served as an assistant coach at Chaminade. “We feel we can get back to that level and put a successful team on the field.”
The Guards will open the season at 7 p.m. Friday in a nonleague game at Monroe.
Machuca said since being named head coach in December, it has been a smooth transition for the program. He added that the players have been very receptive to his coaching style and the goals he has outlined for this season.
“They have been extremely receptive,” he said. “That has really been the best thing with this group. They have been willing to buy into what we’re trying to accomplish here and I really think they’ve done that. They feel like they are getting better as players. When you’re feeling successful in what you’re doing I think it’s a little easier for you to make those new changes in a new system.”
The coach said this year’s version of Bell-Jeff football will look vastly different to the product that took the field a year ago. Machuca has installed a no-huddle, spread offense to take advantage of what he calls a “wealth of athletic ability.”
The personnel on the team is also different.
“We had a couple of kids transfer out, but we also had a couple of kids transfer in,” Machuca said. “So, it all equals out. Our team definitely looks a little different from last year.”
One returning player who has impressed Machuca during the preseason is Noah DeCorsi, a 6-foot-2, 180-bound junior who also competes for the Guards’ boys’ basketball team. Machuca expects DeCorsi to be an impact two-way starter at wide receiver and defensive back.
“He is playing free safety and receiver for us and he just has an amazing knack for the ball,” Machuca said. “I keep telling him you might want to put the round ball down because you can be a real successful football player. He just has that natural ability.”
One of Bell-Jeff’s new players is quarterback Jonathan Porter (6-0, 170), a transfer from Golden Valley. Porter is the younger brother of Johnece Miller, a former Bell-Jeff girls’ basketball standout who is playing at Cal State Northridge.
Machuca said Porter has been a quick study.
“I think he’s a natural fit for the spread offense,” Machuca said. “He can do everything we need him to do. Every day he’s getting better and I’m expecting that he’s going to have a big year.”
Porter will have a big target in 6-4 freshman wide receiver Justes Nance (155). Nance is fresh off a successful summer in which he competed in the 2012 USA Track & Field Junior Olympic Championships. In the national meet last month in Baltimore, Nance — competing for the Valley United Track Club — placed fifth with a leap of 19 feet 10 1/4 inches.
Another basketball and track and field standout, senior Jalen Henry (6-1, 175), will also be a wide receiver.
Another key returner for the Guards is senior running back Josh Martinez (5-9, 170). Martinez’s play last season was one of the few highlights for Bell-Jeff. He was an all-league first-team selection after rushing for 785 yards.
Machuca said he expects Martinez to get his share of touches this season.
Also at running back will be junior Michael Fox (6-0, 175), a transfer from Pasadena.
The anchor of the team’s offensive line will be senior Trystin Navarro (5-11, 235). Senior Andrew Belsito (6-2, 109) will also play on the line, as well as on defense.
Bell-Jeff’s quarterback from a year ago was senior Mitch Kellogg (5-7, 155). Making way for Porter, Machuca said Kellogg will be utilized at a number of other positions.
“Kellogg is the kind of kid you can put anywhere on the field because of how smart he is,” Machuca said. “He will play a little at receiver, he’s starting at cornerback, he will play quarterback in certain packages, he will do some long snapping; he will do a little of everything for us.
“I think he’s been receptive to the move and he understands what we’re trying to do to be successful.”
On defense, Machuca said he has been impressed with linebackers Fox and senior Micheal Gomez (5-11, 185).
Joining Kellogg in the secondary will be freshman Kristian Galindo (5-8, 160).
The Bell-Jeff squad features six freshmen.
“It’s a youth movement,” Machuca said.
Doing the punting and kicking will be sophomore James Armas (5-7, 155).
Despite having a relatively young team with some new players in place this season, Machuca has high expectations for the squad.
“Our goal every week is to go 1-0,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to win our last game. If you win your last game you know you’re a champion.”