T.J. Ewing has a football program that is quite unique and, after 10 seasons at Monterey Trail High School, he manages to get a core of players who play at a very high level every Friday year in and year out.
The Mustangs, though coming off a 5-5 season and only six seniors on the 2013 squad, are annually one of the tougher teams to play, primarily because of their physical style on both sides of the ball and also their difficult to defend veer offense.
Ewing’s teams have always been known to be low in number of players, generally only 25 or 26 suited up with almost all going both ways offensively and defensively.
But, in the words of one opposing coach, “they leave it on the field. They just play hard.”
This fall, Ewing says he’ll actually have more players available, mainly sophomores and juniors.
“This year I have lots of players coming back who have been brought up in the system,” he said.
That system is one in which the offseason work is grueling.
Ewing is beginning to rely more and more on the experience his players have gained at the junior football levels.
That wasn’t the case when he first arrived in 2004.
“Our youth football program is building into a strong community and I’m excited,” he said.
Monterey Trail is renowned for its veer offense. That deceptive ground game was mainly responsible for the Mustangs making it to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game in 2009 and 2010.
Ewing admits he went away from the “Three yards and a cloud of dust” philosophy the past couple of years, but he’s returning there this fall.
“Bottom line, our experience on offense causes us to go back to the things we’ve done in the past,” he admitted. “As a coach I need to find my players’ skill level and do what they do best.”
The Mustangs typically throw only when necessary or as a total surprise. Last year they ran the ball 490 times and threw it only 48.
Returning is quarterback Donovan Robinson.
“He’s a full competitor, very intelligent and our leader,” Ewing said of Robinson.
A year ago Robinson completed 13-of-36 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, but in Ewing’s offense quarterbacks usually do most of their damage by running or deception.
Second-leading rusher Elijah McGolthin is back for his senior year. Last season he rushed for 673 yards and five touchdowns.
The other halfback this year will be Gerald Jordan.
“He’s a little scratchy guy,” Ewing described of Jordan, a 5-9 senior.
On the outside will be Jahmar Sexton, a 6-1 senior with great running ability.
“He’s a vertical guy who can really jump and runs track,” Ewing said.
All starters on the line will be from Monterey Trail’s large group of juniors, including Anthony Almonte (5-10, 180 pounds) and Rodney Spidell (5-11, 210).
In 2012, Monterey Trail had one of the top defensive players in the Delta Valley Conference, then-senior linebacker Sterling Powell, who was also the Mustangs’ top rusher.
“We’ll have really good team defense,” Ewing said. “They all have an excellent approach on defense and rely on each other.”
Ewing thinks Robinson could be Monterey Trail’s top tackler from a linebacker spot.
Sexton and McGolthin will also be key defenders.
Monterey Trail allowed 28 or more points in three of its five DVC games, including a season-high 54 in a loss to Elk Grove in the second-to-last game of the season.
Ewing has compiled a 39-50 record in his nine varsity seasons at Monterey Trail. They qualified for the postseason three consecutive years between 2008 and 2010, making it to the championship game in 2009 (lost to Nevada Union, 20-2) and in 2010 (lost to Pleasant Grove, 21-6).
One local coach recently said he thought Ewing did more with the players he had come out for football than just about anyone else in the region.
Ewing was understandably honored by the compliment.
“There’s a great community feel around our kids,” he said. “They all buy into what we are doing and, most importantly, are having fun.
“(Monterey Trail players) are fun to coach, “ he continued. “They know they have to rely on each other. We all can’t hold the flag by ourselves.”
Last season, the Mustangs were 4-1 after a fairly mediocre nonconference slate of games. However, they were only 1-4 the rest of the way and could have qualified for the playoffs with two Delta Valley Conference wins. They never could grab that elusive second victory.
They play almost the same nonconference schedule again this season.
Games against neighboring schools Florin and Valley should be wins for the Mustangs, but they’ll have their hands full with Inderkum, a Division III power, in Zero Week on Aug. 30 and with Folsom on Sept. 27 at Mark Macres Memorial Stadium.
“Our guys are ready,” Ewing claimed. “What a blessing, how many kids get to say they played a nationally-ranked team (Folsom) in high school?”
Prediction (5-5 overall, 2-3 league)
The Mustangs should be improved this year. But, are they as good as Grant, Elk Grove or Franklin?
“Elk Grove has lots of talent,” Ewing said. “Franklin will be tough anyways, but when you lose as many seniors as they have that affects you.”
With the possible exception of the Folsom game, expect Monterey Trail to play close games with just about any team on its schedule.
Likely, it will come down to the final three games of the season – similar to last year – where Monterey Trail must find a win against Grant, Elk Grove or Franklin to reach the mandatory two league wins and become eligible for the playoffs.
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