September 4, 2009
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Bonita Head Coach Eric Podley

Bonita Head Coach Eric Podley

Entering his 10th year as head coach at Bonita with a record of 50-43-1, Eric Podley is somebody you listen to. But to hear Podley describe his team as “out of shape” on the verge of its home opener against San Diego Westview can’t have Bearcat fans brimming with confidence.

“The kids are not in condition right now,” Podley said Thursday. “They’re sore and they’re achy.”

Podley’s sober summary raises more than an eyebrow or two because he has a reputation for being a straight shooter. In other words, he’s not sandbagging his own team to deceive the San Diego invaders into overlooking the Bearcats, an old coaching trick.

Podley’s concerns stem from his players’ lack of practice time because of the current foothill fires that have fouled the air and rained ashes on the practice field all week. Limited practices were moved to the gym. After a week of taking snaps in their sneakers, the Bearcats only got back on the football field on Wednesday and players finally got to tackle something besides their homework.

Worse, Podley has an extremely young team. Nobody lost as many players to graduation as Bonita. If there’s anybody that can ill-afford to lose practice time, it’s Bonita, especially if their opponent has been practicing under San Diego’s sunny and balmy skies.

On the plus side, the Bearcats do have Podley. He is more than a football coach. He’s also the school’s athletic director and he teaches four world history classes, with a weakness for the Greeks. “They appreciated honor, bravery and courage,” Podley said about the ancients who gave the world democracy. “Those qualities are often the same ones we try to teach in football.”

Perhaps, Podley showed his team the movie “300” last night as motivation, the story of how 300 Spartans fought to the last man against Xerxes and his massive Persian Army. Although Thermopylae was lost, the inspired Greeks rallied at Plataea to drive the Persians from Europe.

Podley’s also a student of more recent history. He’s Bonita’s second-longest serving coach. He said his 50 wins just means he’s been around longer than most coaches.

“The truth is, we judge success on whether I’m invited back the following season,” Podley said, adding that his principal judges are Bonita Principal Bob Ketterling, parents, and all the fans who sit in the stands. “We’ve had a pretty good run here,” he admitted.

So the Bonita faithful has voted to keep the Bearcats’ destiny in Podley’s hands.

As familiar a face as he has become, Podley won’t be using the same playbook as he has in the past. For one, he’s handed off his play-calling duties to coach Andrew Rodriguez, something he’s never done in his decade at Bonita. So that should be one relationship on the sidelines worth watching early in the season.

“We look forward to him doing a good job, picking up where the old man left off, and doing even better,”  Podley said. Podley will still be wearing his headphones, however, “so I’m sure I’ll be giving quite a few suggestions as we go,” he reminded.

Bonita’s former pass-happy offense guided by strong-armed Terry Paradez the last two seasons will also convert to a more traditional running game this season. Until quarterbacks Garrett Pendleton and Greg Spathias gain experience, look for the two signal callers to mainly hand the ball off to running back Deron Holmes 15 to 20 times a game.

“We’re going to limit what the quarterbacks have to do early in the season and let them grow,” Podley said. ”We hope as the season progresses, we’ll throw the ball more.”

As for the ongoing quarterback duel, Pendleton will get the starting nod, “but I know Greg is going to see playing time,” Podley said. “I’m not sure it’ll be equal when we get into the game, but if one is having a bad time, we’re not going to hesitate to put the other guy in.”

If on offense, the Bearcats have the ball near the goal line with the choice of trying to win the game on the last play before time expires or sending the game into overtime, expect more of a go-with-the-game-flow approach from Podley than what convention dictates.

“We’ve been in games where we’ve had two field goals blocked and an extra point blocked,” Podley recalled. “If that’s the case, we’re going for the touchdown. If we have a great kicker, and he’s having a good night and we feel that momentum is on our side, we’ll probably play for the tie and try to wrap it up in overtime.”

One thing that won’t change is Bonita’s attacking, gambling defense with three defensive lineman and a swarm of linebackers ready to shoot the gaps.

“People know that when they play us, they’re going to get blitzed,” Podley said. “We’re not looking to change that at all.”

Many of his top athletes will also play on both sides of the ball.

“We kind of have to do that,” Podley said. “ We don’t have a choice.”

Another thing that won’t change this season is Podley’s reliance on film.

“There’s a saying in football that ‘the big eye in the sky doesn’t lie,’” Podley said. His staff tapes every practice and game from two angles, from the end zone and the sideline, “because I think it’s the most accurate judgment of a kid’s ability to perform.”

Podley uses video not only as a talent evaluator to complement his on-field observations, but also to help the staff prepare game plans. On Saturday, they’re breaking down the previous night’s action and on Sunday, they’re using film sent by their next week’s opponent to construct their game plan for the following Friday.

“That plan will change as the week goes along,” Podley offered. “Monday is an offensive practice. We’ll take a look at the film on Monday of what we did and try to pare it down. Usually we try to cut, cut, cut, so as the week goes along, we’ll have a smaller package of new plays to insert. Sometimes, we do well with that; sometimes, we don’t.

“Most of the time, however, we’re going to play to our strengths, so we try not to abandon our plan too quickly.”

Although Podley is concerned about his team’s lack of preparation time, he’s excited that his team will be with him for more than one season.

“We’re a young team, we’re primarily juniors,” Podley noted. “I think this team is going to be around for two years, and that is an exciting prospect. With this group, I think we have two years to get it done. Obviously, we’re not waiting for next year to get it done, but we’re going to have some patience early. We know we’re going to make some mistakes and we know we’re going to be learning and we know that down the line we should be a whole lot better.”

Exactly how much better will depend on the play of Podley’s returnees as well as newcomers. Here are some to look for, with the coach’s comments in quotation marks:

Some Top Returnees

Evan Highley – senior punter/kicker/tight end/QB: “He’s probably our best athlete, a returning all-league kicker. He’s a tight end for us. He may play some quarterback at times. He’s also our starting safety. We didn’t see him all spring because of baseball, and I think we had him two days of summer practice before he broke his hand. He’s just now coming into shape.”

Tyler Cortez – senior defensive/offensive lineman: “He’s probably physically one of our toughest kids. Big, strong, and good quickness for his size.”

Deron Holmes – senior running back/outside linebacker: “We’re counting on him quite a bit. He’s a very quick player on defense. As our running back, we expect him to carry the load. He’s going to carry 15, 20 times a game we hope.”

Tarez Lemmons – junior offensive line/defensive line: “He’s a big young man – a 15-year-old, 275-pound lineman. Intelligent, smart, good kid, dedicated.”

Derrick McCanless – senior linebacker: “Experienced. He got injured last year. Very intelligent player. Wants to go to Annapolis. We look for him to be a leader on that side of the ball.”

Chris McNich – senior defensive line/fullback: “He’s going to be helping us on both sides of the ball. We’ve moved him to a fullback spot on offense to give us some more blocking ability. He’s done a great job there. He’s a returning player who saw a lot of time as a defensive lineman last year. So we look for his experience to help us.”

Kyle Moderow – senior linebacker/tight end/wide receiver: “He brings a lot of experience from last year. He’s doing a great job for us at outside linebacker and we expect him to have a good year.”

Matt Gelalich – junior wide receiver/defensive back: He played all last year as a sophomore, so he’s our most experienced defensive back.

Some Top Newcomers:

Casey Horine – junior linebacker/fullback: “He broke his leg last year against West Covina. Last year, we were trying to find a spot for him because he’s a great athlete. We moved him to several different positions, and that probably didn’t help him out. This year, we know where he’s playing. We’ve got him settled into a position. Ultimately, that’s going to help him. He’s getting better all the time. Good speed, great size, still growing. We think he’s going to be a real good player for us.”

Zach Braumgarb – junior defensive back/wide receiver: “Probably one of the top two or three athletes on the team. He has really come on. You’re going to see good things from him at the end of the season. He’s going to have a lot of stats on both sides of the ball.”

Kevin Flickenger – senior tight end: “Big tight end. 6-foot-5. Tallest kid on our team. Good blocker. He’s been dedicated all throughout the year. He’s gained some size. He’s going to play quite a bit at tight end for us.”

Adam Ferreras – junior fullback/defensive lineman: “He’s been coming on, and we expect him to have a good year as well.”

Garrett Horine – sophomore tight end/free safety: “He’s been out the last two weeks with bronchitis. He’s played some safety and some tight end for us. He’s going to have to work his way back into the fold after being out for a couple of weeks.”

Robert Moss – junior tight end/linebacker: Due to some injuries yesterday, he just recently became a linebacker. He’s a very good athlete. I think that’s a good position for him. Very athletic, aggressive.”

Giamani Johnson – junior running back/wide receiver/outside linebacker: “He’ll play some running back for us and some outside linebacker. Pretty good speed, and again, we’re kind of counting on him to step up this year and become a factor for us.”

Kenneth Calvin – senior running back: “He’s also played some defense for us. He played running back for the JVs last year. We got him in some games late. Physically, a tough kid. He doesn’t quit. He’s not going to go down on the first hit. He gives a great effort each time he’s out there.”

Casey Huff – junior running back/linebacker: “He’s done a fantastic job for us through all the two-a-days. Day in and day out, he’s probably our most consistent player. He plays at a high level of intensity. He’s going to come and hit you. He has really distinguished himself on the team over the last several weeks.”


So there you have it, a Greek drama about to unfold. The smoke has cleared from the battlefield. Bonita’s 10-game season begins tonight, ready or not, in full view of the coaches, players, family members, fans, friends, the ubiquitous “eye in the sky” and perhaps, most important, the eye of history.

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