Mar Vista running back Kyle Denney runs the ball during preseason drills.
Tyler Arciaga scanned the practice field as one of his assistants instructed the team during drills. It was early in camp, but the Mar Vista High head football coach was trying to get a feel for a squad that lost much of its talent from last year, when the Mariners went 3-0 in league, 8-3 overall and reached the postseason.
Gone were all-league standouts who were leaned on so heavily last season. Running back Khalil Spruill and offensive lineman Gabriel Preciado made all-San Diego Section teams in 2016. Spruill carried a heavy load as the team’s most dynamic offensive threat, running for 1,637 yards and scoring 22 touchdowns.
“About 90 percent of our offense is gone,” Arciaga said before Mar Vista opened the season last week with a 28-21 loss to Monte Vista. “We got a lot of holes to fill, but the kids have been working hard and we’re just going to do what we can with what we have.”
Senior running back Kyle Denney, the team’s second-leading rusher last year, will take over the featured back role. Denney, who rushed for 599 yards with an impressive 8.2 yards per carry and four touchdowns last season, gained 58 yards on eight carries against the Monarchs.
“He’s shown some promise, and now he’s got to step up,” said Arciaga, whose team will face Castle Park on Friday. “He’ll be the main horse.”
Fortunately for Denney, he has the benefit of running behind experienced all-league performers like center Michael Munoz and offensive lineman Daniel Ramirez.
Then there’s new starting quarterback Jacob Beck, who only threw 12 passes last year as a junior in a blowout loss to Valhalla. Beck didn’t seem deterred or discouraged by his limited snaps, completing 11 of 18 passes for 243 yards against Monte Vista.
“It helped me a good amount,” Beck said before the opener. “I got thrown in against Valhalla, an open division school, so I think it gave me good experience. It helped me out a lot.”
“We’re kind of in a rebuilding period since we lost a lot of seniors last year, but we’re doing pretty good.”
A wild card for the rebuilding Mariners is wide receiver/strong safety Sebastian Burke, a senior transfer from Las Vegas powerhouse Bishop Gorman, who caught two passes for 80 yards in the opener. Burke has family near the school, and Arciaga was excited that such a talented player “kind of just fell into our lap.”
“(Bishop Gorman was) the number one school in the nation,” Arciaga said. “(Burke is) coming from a program that’s been coached well and you can tell when he comes in he’s been coached to run routes well. He’s in good shape. Watching some film from last year he has some good potential, some good upside.”
If the Mariners are going to reach the postseason for the third consecutive year, it won’t be just the newcomers on offense who will have to step up. Senior linebacker, defensive tackle, and all-around team leader Niko Figueroa is well-aware of how much talent is gone from last year, but that there is plenty of time for the team to improve and jell as a team.
“We know there are big shoes to fill,” said Figueroa, who was credited with 12 tackles in the loss to Monte Vista. “I think mentally we have to all be ready to fill those shoes. When the time comes we (must) have dead-lock tunnel vision and make those changes that we need to (make). We’re going to do whatever we have to do to get to the playoffs and bring honor to the local community of Imperial Beach.”
Figueroa led the team in sacks and was third in tackles last year, showing his versatility as run stuffer and hard-hitting presence on a team that will need every bit of his production.
“(Figueroa is) a guy that we expect to step up and be a leader and be a good fill on that defensive line,” Arciaga said. “He’s a good kid, too.”
Terrones is a freelance writer.