NORTHEAST GLENDALE — Anticipation for the season is running high for the Hoover High football team, which kicks off the 2012 campaign at 7 p.m. Friday against host Blair at Muir High. But over the past offseason, the Tornadoes weren't in a hurry.
Coach Andrew Policky said the team took its time installing and perfecting its schemes, formations and plays this year – Policky's first full offseason at the helm. It was a luxury the team didn't have last spring and summer.
"It was just good to kind of go slow at the beginning and work on a lot of technique stuff and not worry so much about big picture stuff," said Policky, who was forced to cram a lot into an accelerated training camp last year after being hired at the onset of the summer. "We thought we didn't have to rush anything, we didn't have to install anything right away, just go slow and let's make sure we teach everything the way we want it taught and clear up all the little mistakes and things that hurt you throughout the year."
The Tornadoes' opening night roster is on the smaller side at 28 deep, but includes 16 seniors, who will occupy a majority of the starting spots.
Policky said he liked the progress last year's team had made in the wing-T offense by the end of the season, but some of the key players from last year's offense are gone.
The offense will once again be a run-heavy attack, but whereas last season workhorse Luke Tabayoyong toted a lion's share of the carries, there will be more of a backfield by committee approach this year with seniors Justin Nam and Ryan Blanks leading the way.
"In this offense we use a lot of running backs, so it's kind of nice to not have to have a feature back," Policky said. "I think we'll be able to spread the wealth and keep teams guessing a little bit."
The Tornadoes will also break in a new quarterback with the graduation of last year's signal-caller Alex Rangel. Senior Brendon Kerr has impressed Policky with his game management skills and has won the starting job.
"In our offense there's a lot of technical stuff with the footwork and he's done a really good job with that and just understanding what we're trying to do," Policky said of Kerr. "We're not going to throw the ball a ton, so his job is to manage the offense and he's done a good job with that. He's a real smart kid and he's a good leader."
The starting receivers will be seniors Donovan Malone and Zach Hanson, while the backbone of the offense will be an offensive line featuring seniors Gio Martinez, Juan Lomeli and Jeffrey Truong occupying the center and guard spots, respectively. They'll be joined by sophomore tackles Josh Lee and Ernest Nadurata.
"I think [the running game] is going to be a big part because we're a run-heavy team," Nam said. "I think our linemen have the potential to make the blocks and we have good running backs to make the cuts. I'm feeling confident with this offense."
The Tornadoes figure to keep it basic on offense and have streamlined their defense to the same effect, devising a new 6-2 scheme based around linebackers Patrick Kesachekian, a senior, and Jose Abrina, a junior who doubles at fullback.
"We've played around with it a little bit," Policky said. "We've adjusted our scheme a little bit and tried to make it as simple as possible. Everything kind of stands out of our base formation."
Out of necessity, some of the starters from the offensive line will have to play both ways, but Policky said he intends to augment the defensive line with some younger players to limit the number of snaps his two-way starters must play.
"We're going to try to limit their snaps, especially with those guys up front," Policky said. "With the skill guys it's a little easier to go both ways, but those big guys up front, it's tough."
There will be some veterans starting up front on defense in senior Jesse Pina, junior Alvin Kim and senior Orlando Marin.
Malone (safety) and Hanson (cornerback) will lead a secondary that also includes Rafael Martinez, Ravin Tanhuenco and Nam.
"I feel like we're ready," Martinez said. "I think we can do a good job this season.
"We're working on everything — offense, defense, special teams. We're taking an equal amount of time on each part, we're strong in everything."
An offseason of methodical groundwork has the Tornadoes feeling confident enough to believe they can turn the page on the previous season, in which they went 0-10, building the program's current losing streak to 17 games. The first test comes Friday, followed by two more weeks of nonleague play before opening the Pacific League campaign against host Burbank on Sept. 20, where the Tornadoes are hoping to snap a 14-game league skid.
"It's going to be a challenge, but everything's different on game day," Nam said. "We get new confidence and we have players that are stepping up."