Year one, step one, of the Keith Holden era at Half Moon Bay High School is in the history books.
And if he’s being completely honest, it didn’t exactly go to plan.
“We knew it was going to be a tough season, we knew we were going to be in the Bay and there was a lot against us there, we knew the preseason schedule was going to be tough,” Holden, head football coach for the Cougars, said. “So, we knew it was going to be tough. Quite honestly, I thought we would win more than one game, so that was a tough pill to swallow. But I think it set the foundation for having more success this year.”
Truth be told, the cards were stacked against Holden — not only was he taking over for a legendary coach, his team was the reigning Peninsula Athletic League Ocean Division champion and had been promoted to the Bay before his hire. Add to that a stacked preseason gauntlet and then mismatches on the football field that led to a 1-9 record overall and 0-5 in league play, and it was definitely a rough start to his head coaching career.
But talk to Holden now, as he prepped to send his troops out in a scrimmage against Mills, Sacred Heart Prep and Mission, and you could tell the second-year head coach sees a silver lining in what was a hard-knock-life type of season last year.
“I’ll tell you, we’re miles ahead of where we were last year,” Holden said. “We had a good frosh/soph, so we got a lot of decent athletes from the frosh/soph, and it’s our second year running the option. So, we’re getting better at that. It’s more exciting. The kids that we have here are good kids, they’re willing to work, they’re coachable and looking to get better.”
The Cougars are back in the Ocean Division for the 2013-14 season and given an influx of young talent from a frosh/soph team that went 8-2 last season, figure to be competitive week in and week out.
“Our league is tough,” Holden said. “We respect all the teams in our league. We know no one is going to be handing wins. But we think we can compete for one of the top spots this year.”
The optimism at Half Moon Bay revolves around a core of returning players that have had a season to adapt to Holden’s defensive scheme and offensive system. Chief among those is Jonathan Bali, a running back who played well two seasons ago as part of the Cougars’ last championship team.
“He’s the heart and soul of the team,” Holden said. “He had a really good off-season. I think he’s going to be really good for us.”
According to Holden, Bali’s success running the ball will be fueled by a talented offensive line. Leading the push there are brothers Marcos and Mario Sarabia. “We’re expecting a bunch of good things out of him,” Holden said of Mario. “He is a leader. His brother, Marcos, he’s pretty good and he’s getting a lot better.
“Our offensive line has more depth than it’s had before. If one guy got hurt, then we were in trouble. And now we have a little depth and more than just five guys that can play on the offensive line,” Holden said.
The young talent on the Cougars’ roster continues with Toby Leonardo, a running back and linebacker that Holden is very excited about. There is also Brandon Inglis who Half Moon Bay will look to for a youthful spark.
Along with Bali, fellow backfield mate Dominic Pintarelli returns. Pintarelli took over the quarterback duties midway through the year last season when Shane Acton went down with an injury. Now both players are back and are tangled in a bit of friendly competition to see who will be the premiere signal caller. Holden said both are good leaders who are going about the process the right way and that the decision will be much clearer after his coaching staff sits and views film from Friday’s scrimmage.
On defense, keep an eye out for young James Cartwright, who will also see time at the tight end position.
“We’ve always had the attitude here, that if you can play, we’ll find a spot for you,” Holden said, adding that the formula is getting the best players for the job on the field regardless of specific positions.
“The kids all really like each other, they work well together,” Holden said of the camaraderie, or brotherhood, in Half Moon Bay this season. “They’re all coachable and want to do what’s best for the team. We don’t get a lot of attitude, any moaning about playing time. They’re competitive, but they’re supportive of one another which is what you really want in a team.”
Coach: Keith Holden
2012-13 record: 1-9 overall, 0-5 PAL Bay
Key Players: John Bali (SR., RB/LB); Mario Sarabia (SR., OL/DL); Marcos Sarabia (JR., OL/DL); Toby Leonardo (JR., RB/LB); Brandon Inglis (JR., RB); Shane Acton (JR., QB); Dominic Pintarelli (SR., LB/QB).
2013-14 schedule (Home games in CAPS): 9/6 HILLSDALE, 7 p.m.; 9/13 Wilcox, 7:30 p.m.; 9/20 SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, 7 p.m.; 9/27 Menlo, 3:15 p.m.; 10/11 Woodside, 7 p.m.; 10/18 SAN MATEO, 7 p.m.; 10/25 BURLINGAME, 7 p.m.; 11/1 ARAGON, 7 p.m.; 11/8 Capuchino, 2:45 p.m.; 11/15 Terra Nova, 7 p.m.