Hanging Ten: Podley Starts 10th Season as Players Prep for 10-Game Season and Playoff Bid

August 23, 2009
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Eric Podley with San Gabriel Valley Tribune Prep Editor Fred Robledo

Eric Podley with San Gabriel Valley Tribune Prep Editor Fred Robledo

Football coach Eric Podley is set to embark on his 10th campaign at Bonita High School, making him the second-longest serving head football coach in Bearcat history.

Now 10 years isn’t all that long if you’re a printer or a dentist, but to a football coach, it can be a lifetime, especially in a sport measured by wins and losses and “what have you done for me lately?”

“Lately” (as in last year), Podley and the Bearcats posted a solid 7-4 record in 2008, knocking off eventual CIF finalist Diamond Ranch, but succumbing to eventual CIF champion Charter Oak.

While La Verne has never been considered a football-crazy community, Podley more than holds his own with the talent he has.

“You deal with the cards you’re dealt, and you do the best you can under those circumstances,” Podley said before heading out to Glenn Davis Stadium for a Saturday 7:45 a.m. scrimmage to get a few more questions answered before the season officially starts on Sept. 4, at home against Westview, a San Diego-area program known for its spread offense and strong passing game.

If Podley’s worried about plugging holes left by 23 seniors from the 2008 team, including standout performers like quarterback Terry Paredez, wide outs Derrick Price and Dewane Gatti, and middle linebacker Jeff Gelalich, he’s not showing it. Again, he has the benefit of his three decades of coaching experience and a veteran coaching staff, including Ray Medina, Ron Reclusado and J.T. Gardener.

Also on the plus side is a combined squad of 105 varsity and JV players, so there will be plenty of fierce competition at all of the open positions.

On the minus side is a program just as lean as the lackluster economy. Players and their families are supposed to contribute $150 each to the program. The donation is $100 per freshman player. In non-recessionary years, contributions were close to 100%; this year, revenues are running at about 60%.

“We’re always scratching for funds, no matter what,” Podley said. “We’re definitely noticing the economy like every other business.”

To address the funding shortfall, Podley has deferred non-essential equipment purchases, cut the number of freshman reserve games and pared the coaching staff by one position.

“We’re using equipment longer than we used to,” Podley admitted.

One innovation that wasn’t cut is a new videotaping system that players can access via computer to review practices and games at home. “That’s going to be a big benefit to both players and parents,” Podley said.

Ultimately, Podley is an optimist, whether he’s watching video or live action on the field. The Bearcats’ talent may be raw and untested, but it’s there, Podley believes.

Garrett Pendleton is one of the quarterbacks competing for the starting role.

Garrett Pendleton is one of the quarterbacks competing for the starting role.

Making Podley a believer is tailback Deron Holmes, who will also hold down one of the team’s linebacker positions. “We think he’s going to be an impact player for us,” Podley said. For much of 2008, Holmes battled injuries, but he’s ready to go this season.

“He can definitely make defenders miss,” Podley said of his 5-foot-10, 185-pound tailback. “That’s what you gotta have.”

The fact that Podley is moving to more of a running game this season underscores Podley’s faith in Holmes as a difference-maker and game-breaker. “He’s fast and he’s strong,” Podley said.

Joining Holmes in the backfield when the team runs a two-back set is Kenneth Calvin. “He played a lot for us last year,” Podley noted. “He’s a strong kid with good quickness.”

Podley is still conducting auditions for a fullback. “We need a fullback who’s a good-sized blocker when we run out of the I-formation, and right now that job is up for grabs,” Podley said.

Tarez Lemmons is the only starter returning from the offensive line, but at 6-foot-2 and 275 pounds he’s a good one. Podley said Lemmons spent most of the summer recovering from a fishing accident.

Podley also likes what he sees from Josh Yepez. “He’ll be starting at one of our wide receivers,” Podley said. “He’s done an excellent job for us all summer and all spring, so we’re looking for good things from him.”

At quarterback, Podley doesn’t have the luxury of penciling Paredez’s name back into the starting line-up. Instead, he’s been monitoring the competition between juniors Garrett Pendleton and Greg Spathias. “They’re both young, they’re both learning and they’re both going to make mistakes,” Podley said.

He also has Evan Highley waiting in the wings should either Pendleton or Spathias falter. Regardless, Highley will practically be on the field at all times, as a tight end, safety and punter. “He’s really an outstanding athlete,” Podley said.

Podley will also turn to the Horine brothers, Casey and Garrett, to plug more holes. Their older sister Carly is the most prolific scorer in Bonita girls’ basketball history.

“We’re going to make mistakes early on, without question, because we’re young and inexperienced,” Podley said, “but as time goes on, hopefully we’ll get better and hopefully we’ll be free of injury, and we’ll start improving.”

Every year, Podley tries to visit at least one college program and incorporate some of the practice methods and techniques he observes. This past season, he and Reclusado traveled to BYU, where former Bearcat Tanner Zylstra is on the roster.

We picked up quite a few things in terms of scheduling practice,” Podley said. “(Head coach) Bronco Mendenhall does a great job up there. We’re going to try to practice in a shorter, quicker and far more intense way than we have in years past and try to build conditioning into the increased tempo at practice.

“We’ll see how it works for us, but I like the style,” Podley added. “I like being in and out quick. We’re never out there more than two hours. The kids are fresher. We’re definitely not losing weight the way we have in years past. That used to hurt us, because we’re small to begin with.”

Podley now displays a large Bearcat flag at practice, another touch he borrowed from the BYU Cougars. Before the season, all the players will sign the flag as a sign of team unity.

“It ties them to one another and makes them responsible for one another,” Podley explained. “Every kids’ signature will be on it.”

For each game, 59 players will suit up. It would have been 60 but for No. 55, which has been retired in memory of the loss of Kevin Normington, Bonita’s outstanding lineman killed in a March 2007 auto accident. Kevin’s sister, Chrissy Normington, however, carries on his tradition of excellence as one of the team’s stat girls, a job she’s had since her freshman year.

Film and stat ladies, from left, Lissa Pina, Chrissy Normington and Kate O' Malley will provide Coach Podley with plenty of assistance.

Film and stat ladies, from left, Lissa Pina, Chrissy Normington and Kate O' Malley will provide Coach Podley with plenty of assistance.

Her presence on the field, along with stat girls Lissa Pina, Jenna Carillo, Kate O’Malley and Heather Helton, will create one more powerful bond for the Bearcat family and carry forward the feeling of family created in the Podley era, now in its 10th campaign.

Cool off before, during, or after the game with refreshments from Dippin’ Dots,

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Bonita huddles before the start of scrimmage.

Bonita huddles before the start of scrimmage.

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