The new football season presents renewed hopes and expectations for the La Cañada High team, but it also presents a whole new set of challenges.
After barely making the playoffs last year, the Spartans are looking to do some damage in the postseason this time around.
La Cañada will first have to overcome two major obstacles: a small team and a revamped offensive attack.
The Spartans made their way into the playoffs through the air in 2009, as the senior quarterback/wide-receiver duo of Rocky Moore and Josh Hanson headlined the team's aerial attack. Moore accumulated 2,143 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. He connected with Hanson 31 times for 800 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Spartans finished third in Rio Hondo League (3-2) after going 5-5 overall. They made it to the CIF Southern Section playoffs, losing to Cerritos Valley Christian in the first round, 45-0.
"We're looking to improve on last year," second-year Coach Dan Yoder said. "Last year we made the playoffs and this year we're looking to make the playoffs and do something with it."
The road to the playoffs will likely come on the ground for La Cañada in 2010. The Spartans spent the majority of spring football transitioning from the pass-first offense that defined them last year to a predominant running game.
"[The transition] is going really well," Yoder said. "I have been really happy with the ground game. I feel like [Scott Gray] is reading the option really well. He's picking up his read keys and pitch keys really quick and seems to know what he's doing out there."
Gray, a senior, is hoping to replace Moore's production with his legs. Daleep Sandhu, the Spartans' senior running back, won't be too far behind, as the team will turn to an option offense to keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Sandhu, last year's main halfback, ran for 668 yards in 143 carries and got into the end zone eight times.
Coming into this season, La Cañada is gunning for its rival Monrovia, which it will play in final game of the year on Nov. 12. Last season, the locals fell to their rival, 43-7.
"I'm just focused on the next game," Yoder said. "These guys are all fired up about Monrovia because this senior class has a had a hard time with them in every sport, every season. It's a tough row for them to hoe and it leaves a bitter taste in their mouth; so I know they'd like to get a win against them."
No matter who the Spartans are playing, they'll be relying on their intelligence on the field to make up for their lack of size.
"Our kids are able to adjust on the fly and pick each other up in terms of assignments and things like that," Yoder said. "We're communicating really well. It will be hard to get us flustered. I think that's our biggest advantage."
La Cañada opens the season at 7 p.m. today with a nonleague home game against Alhambra.