The players on the San Mateo High School football team have a clear mission this season. More than just showing up and taking up room on a football field, more than racking up the “moral” victories, perhaps even more than simply winning the Peninsula Athletic League’s Ocean Division.
“They want to successful,” Jeff Scheller, their coach, said. “They don’t want just to play. They want to get out there and get people to realize and recognize how hard they’re working. They’re not out there just to just to be pretty. They’re out there because they want to get after it. And that’s what’s exciting about watching them play.”
The Bearcats feel they’re for real. And with some of the talent they have on the football field, coupled with an intensity that Scheller said was instilled into this bunch back in their frosh/soph days, it’s going to be very exciting to watch San Mateo stake its claim in a competitive Ocean Division.
They have plenty of great going for them.
For one, Line Latu is back for his junior season. Latu burst onto the scene last year and was electric. Scheller said, following a scrimmage against Los Gatos Friday night, that Latu is even better this year.
“He’s gotten bigger, he’s gotten stronger, he’s gotten faster,” Scheller said. “And the game, as he gets older, will start slowing down for him a little bit. So, I think once he gets into game mode and finds a rhythm every week, he’s going to shine because he’s got great balance, he’s got great instincts, knows how to read his blockers. He’s got things you just can’t coach. So, we’re lucky to have him.”
Latu isn’t the only one with flash. Jason Gonzalez assumes the quarterback role for the Bearcats and although Scheller said he’s got a nice touch, where Gonzalez will truly shine in on the defensive side of the football.
“The guy is a monster,” Scheller said. “He’s just a football player. Those two guys (Gonzalez and Latu) kind of lead the pack. If you’re a football fan, they’ll make you want to come out and watch them play.”
Gonzalez averaged 10 tackles a game last season from a linebacker position, but will shift to strong safety with Latu by his side at the free spot. Scheller said those two are the spark, but was quick to reel off a lot of players that will play key roles for the Bearcats this season.
The offensive line isn’t very big, but they’re quick, and they’re led by returning center Anthony Avina. He’ll be flanked by a couple of talented tight ends in Nicholas Pallas and Melvin Brown. Chris Woodward, Guillermo Gomez and Tyler Griffin will look to provide players like Latu with the daylight they need to shine.
“Offensively, we’re excited about what we have with some of our weapons,” Scheller said. “We’re going to be right in the mix with everyone else. I think this is a great year for the Ocean because I think everyone believes that they can win. And it’s going to make for some great games.”
Scheller added that his defense has a couple of key cogs that are young, but are natural defenders with a nose for the football. Watson Filikitonga and Lata Fasi was two newcomers who the Bearcats will count on at the linebacker position. Joey Lema also figures into the mix. Cristian Zarco is back from last year’s team to man one of the defensive back positions.
“Although our offense is going to score a lot of points and I feel we’re going to do a good job of managing the game, I feel our defense is going to win games for us,” Scheller said. “These guys are not the biggest you’ll see on the field, but they just get after it.”
And that’s the most promising thing about the San Mateo football team this year. They’re a bunch of believers who are now running with the torch handed to them by previous seasons when the idea was more than just wins and losses — it was about setting a foundation for this young squad.
“It really comes down to the attitude,” Scheller said. “I think this is really a unique bunch. We just have to play the games to see. And that’s what we can’t wait for. Now the scrimmage is out of the way. Everything else from here on out is for real.”