At this point last season, Monterey Trail’s high school football team had an 0-5 record after playing a slate of some of the best teams in California. They went on to dominate all of their league games and turn a winless start into a deep playoff run.
Their schedule has arguably been just as difficult this season, but they’re currently 3-2 and the no. 4 ranked team in the Sac-Joaquin section by MaxPreps, making them the only two-loss team in the top 10.
Head coach T.J. Ewing embraces the challenge of a highly competitive schedule and said he likes the way it puts his players to the test.
“We were looking forward to those games because it’s more fun for the kids to compete,” Ewing said. “You learn who you are playing teams like that.”
After losing to Folsom and De La Salle in their first two games, Monterey Trail has rattled off three consecutive blowout victories and they have not allowed more than 16 points in any of those wins.
Ewing said that he really appreciates the way that the senior players have stepped up this season, pointing to their growth as a reason that Monterey Trail, located in Elk Grove, is having more success than it did at the beginning of last year.
“There are kids that are starting for us that didn’t even play last year and they’re doing phenomenal things, “ Ewing said. “They’re getting better, and it’s a different team.”
Players from both sides of the ball have earned the admiration of their coach this year, with the defense making major improvements as the season has progressed and the offense becoming more familiar with their non-traditional play-call style.
The Mustangs run a read-option offense called the veer, which is designed to create mismatches and give run blockers better angles to stop defenders.
They very rarely call pass plays and they split the carries between at least four players so that the load doesn’t just fall on one running back.
“I communicate with the linemen a lot and ask them what they like…then I can call it and they’re confident,” said senior quarterback and team captain Vince Arcuri.
One of those linemen is Coach Ewing’s son Carmelo, a senior center and offensive captain.
Carmelo Ewing said that at 175 pounds, many consider him undersized for his position, but the blocking scheme of the veer’s offense allows him to excel.
“If I was in a different offense it’d be worrisome, but with veer, it’s not that big of a deal,” Carmelo said.
As for Arcuri’s growth in the veer system, he’s not asked to throw many passes but still leads a complicated offense and has to make sure he and his receivers are on the same page when he does throw it.
Coach Ewing joked that Monterey Trail pass plays are essentially trick plays since they hardly call them. He added that receivers are happy in their role because when they are thrown the ball, it’s usually for a touchdown.
“Would you rather have nine catches for no touchdowns or one catch with one touchdown,” asked Ewing.
The selfless attitude Ewing speaks of is not just limited to the offense, it’s spread across the whole team this year.
“We’re more of a brotherhood this year, we’re closer and can really work with each other more,” said Davon Donaldson, a senior defensive tackle and team captain whom coach Ewing has been really impressed with this year.
Senior linebacker and defensive captain Marcus Perkins expanded on that.
“This year I feel like we have deeper conversations…on game day we have a deep talk with the whole team, players go up to the front and don’t hold back anything,” Perkins said. “You just go from the heart and connect with your teammates either individually or as a whole.”
Another team tradition Perkins mentioned that seems to bring together the whole team together is their “Wednesay round-up” where players' parents provide food for them to enjoy after practice.
All four captains brought up these Wednesday potlucks when talking about catalysts for the team’s improved chemistry compared to last year.
“That’s the moment where we come together after practice, break bread with each other and have a team bonding moment,” Carmelo said. “You’ll see me after practice run off and yell ‘Wednesday’!”.
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