If anyone bleeds forest green at Monterey Trail High School it is T.J. Ewing. One of the original coaches to open the school ten years ago, he left his native San Mateo and moved to Sacramento in 2004.
He’s been the school’s biggest cheerleader, even through years of modest success on the field and in various other sports.
“Our school isn’t really identified by any street,” he said. “Other schools have that. Sheldon Road, Franklin Blvd., Pleasant Grove, Elk Grove, of course, Laguna. So, for us to have community is really big to us.”
Taking a few minutes away from freshmen orientation to talk to the Citizen Friday, Ewing bragged how many new students were at school that morning – 87 percent of all incoming ninth graders showed up Friday to become familiar with their high school campus.
“There’s a lot of excitement in our school,” he commented. “There’s a lot of things going on here that has never gone on in the past. It’s because they’ve been looking forward to coming here after playing youth football, youth basketball, hanging around here.”
Ewing knows it’s taken all of the past ten years to put his school on the radar.
After competing in three different leagues in the first three years of varsity play, Monterey Trail felt as though it was the Rodney Dangerfield of local high schools, still looking for respect.
Then, led by the football program, the school started seeing success in athletics.
In 2014, the Mustangs will join seven other schools, most of them also Elk Grove-based, in the reincarnation of the Delta League.
Ewing knows the main reason his school was included in the new super league rather than shipped off to the Metro Conference where athletic competition isn’t near as stiff was because most of the school’s athletic programs had been competitive in Division I, starting with his own program.
In 2009 and 2010, Monterey Trail made back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section Division I finals appearances in football.
The girls’ track program won the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship two years ago, and girls’ basketball has won more than 20 games in each of the past three years.
“We’ve been consistent year in and year out,” Ewing noted. “Our kids come here knowing we aren’t going anywhere.”
After consecutive 5-5 seasons, Ewing is expecting a huge challenge in the Delta this fall.
“We’ve got lots of spirit in our senior class,” Ewing said. “We also have the numbers this year after being down in the number of our seniors. We’re impressed with the number of kids at the freshman and sophomore level and that’s the result of a successful junior program.
“That’s where I’m even more excited as far as the future of our program,” he added. “Having freshman ball will be good for us. There’s a lot of sophomores who can play JV and lots of freshmen for freshman ball. We’re about 35 deep and they are all a bunch of good kids. That means there’s lots of kids that will get playing time.”
Ewing’s patented veer offense churns up the recycled tire bits embedded in the surface of Mark Macres Memorial Stadium, the Mustangs’ home field. He’ll have his offense grind out yards via the rush once again this fall.
“But, you remember in our Section finalist years we threw the ball effectively,” Ewing said. “An offense does whatever the personnel allows you. What it all boils down to is those years we had the ability to do that. If we have the quarterback and the receivers to do that, then we’ll throw it.”
Ewing wouldn’t commit to a change in the offense, but did think having a handful of players who will start on the varsity squad for their third year in a row will give him more options.
“Every year is different,” he said. “This year we have lots of good players which mean more options for us.”
Senior Trey Nahhas (6-0, 185 pounds) was last season’s leading rusher with 885 yards, averaging seven yards a carry.
Just about the entire offensive line also returns, including seniors Rodney Spidell (5-11, 245), Anthony Almonte (5-10, 210), Matt Foster (5-8, 200), Dupri Stewart (5-11, 195) and Miguel Lopez (5-10, 190).
The starting quarterback will be senior E.J. Viacrusis (5-9, 165), last year’s backup. Andre Flury, a three-year starter, will be the Mustangs top wideout. Last season, he had 20 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns.
Flury also will handle most of the kickoff and punt returns, along with senior Jerel Wilson.
Lopez is the team’s kicker.
Monterey Trail’s physicality on defense became the norm in the Delta Valley Conference along with Elk Grove, Grant and Franklin.
Nothing will change, even if the leagues do.
“We have guys who are disciplined and will hit and get after it,” Ewing said. “We have the guys who will come out and go after it every single day. That’s been the biggest thrill to me as a coach. To have that kind of guy who will sacrifice himself for the sake of the team and his fellow player.”
There’s plenty of varsity experience this year in junior linebacker Neville Bood (6-2, 210) and senior linebacker Tewayne Malone (6-2, 195). Seniors Dennis Kuma (5-8, 165), Adrian Tellez (5-9, 185) and Jamal Tatum (5-10, 200) anchor the defensive front.
Sophomore linebacker Pedro Pantoja (5-9, 175) could be one of the top newcomers in the league, and senior defensive back Jermaine Bell (5-9, 160) is a stabilizing presence in the secondary.
Bell will also be the team’s punter.
A local counterpart mentioned last season he thought of all area football coaches Ewing got more out of his players than just about anyone.
“I’m impressed someone would say something like that,” Ewing countered. “But, I’d throw that back on the players. They know we demand a higher level of commitment and they do it. And, now we’re seeing that with the number of young players excited and here willing to do that.”
Ewing has a 44-56 record over his nine varsity seasons at Monterey Trail.
This year his assistants are Rick Arcuri, Robert Longan, Tommy Thao, Joey Ah-Mu and Jose Avina.
Even though there’s a strong group of seniors, the question will not only be can the Mustangs beat talent-laden teams such as Elk Grove, Grant, Franklin, Jesuit and Pleasant Grove, but also survive a challenging non-league slate that includes Antelope and Inderkum.
“By moving into the new Delta League we know we are playing at the highest level of football,” Ewing said. “You talk about Grant, Sheldon, Jesuit, Davis, schools that have year-in, year-out had great programs in several sports. We have to teach at a competitive level to compete in the Delta League.”
Prediction: 4-6 overall, 2-5 Delta League
Ewing has plenty of experienced players and a promising group of younger players coming through the system. In the Metro, Monterey Trail would be a top three team. In the Delta, they might be closer to the bottom half. The Delta is considered among the top conferences in Northern California, and somehow Monterey Trail must get at least three or four wins to contend for a playoff berth.
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