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Young Patriots look to bounce back from a tough start

It certainly wasn’t the way the Orange Glen football team wanted to kick off its new season.

After hanging tough for 24 minutes and trailing just 7-0 at halftime, the Patriots were done in by a 20-point third-quarter blitz by visiting Clairemont and in the end, OG was vanquished by a 34-0 count.

It will now be the job of the Pats to quickly flush the memory of that disappointing opener and to quickly turn their attention to this Friday’s home contest against Hoover High.

Obviously, it was hardly an auspicious beginning to 2017 but this OG squad has the wherewithal to bounce back and have a successful and winning campaign.

Yes, they’re very young with five sophomores slated to be starters. But according to their energetic and personable head coach Jason Patterson, the Pats have plenty going for them in terms of talent, work ethic and the players’ belief that they can get it done. “We’ve got a good, strong group of kids who really work hard and have some definite upside,” says Patterson.

Last year, the Pats were one of the most exciting teams in all of the North County, putting up points by the bushel that had the scoreboard continually lighting up. But the record-setting pass-catch combination of QB Blaine Bailey and terrific wideout Malachi Russell, who justifiably garnered lots of attention for the program, are now gone. While Bailey has graduated, Russell has moved on elsewhere and will, unfortunately for OG fans, play his senior season at El Camino.

Replacing that kind of production is next to impossible so whereas the Pats were very pass-conscious in ‘16, this year they will seek to go much more rush-heavy, with approximately a 60-40 run-to-pass ratio being established out of their spread offense.

The original plan was to have the athletic and football savvy Cael Patterson, a 175-pounder who is a legitimate running threat, take over as the starting signal-caller. But recently the Pats found out that Patterson will have to endure a sit-out period and won’t be available until the Coastal League season rolls around.

Because of that reality, another sophomore in the person of Julian Lesa has been forced into the breach for the time being. Smart, well-respected and the owner of a good arm, the feeling is that Lesa can do his part until Patterson returns. Once that happens, there’s also the possibility that these two could end up sharing reps depending on exactly how things shake out.

Perhaps the surest thing the Pats can count on when it comes to offense is their stout running back/captain Jacob Guzman, who rushed for 401 yards a year ago. An extremely hard worker who exhibits an abundance of mental toughness, Guzman is primarily a grinder between the tackles but he can show some elusive speed when necessary.

But when the Pats do decide to go up top, receivers Zeandre Anderson and Chris Gonzalez are expected to be the primary targets. Anderson, a returning letterman, has a bevy of moves in his repertoire. The possessor of very consistent hands and a plus route-runner, Anderson reeks of potential and could go on to have a breakout year. As for Gonzalez, he’s one tough competitor who has demonstrated a genuine knack for catching the ball in traffic.

An area of strength that Coach Patterson will be heavily counting on is the offensive line. As a group, these five are committed, smart and exceedingly coachable. Moreover, they seem to be coalescing even more with each succeeding practice and game.

The anchor of the wall upfront is another captain, 250-pound center Jose Bejarano. Studious and charismatic, Jose is a dependable sort who can emotionally lift his linemates with the passion of his play. Junior tackle John Simmons also projects out to be a possible standout. The strongest member of the team, the 5-foot-11 Simmons is an ultra physical blocker who simply loves the game of football.

The other positions along the line will be held down by guards Theo Thompson and Juan Camacho as well as tackle Felix Cazares, who is returning after a year’s absence. All three of the aforementioned are considered to be quite solid.

If the Pats are to improve on their 4-7 record of last year, which could have realistically been reversed had some slightly different circumstances taken place, the defense will have to clearly tighten up and greatly improve on the 455 points it allowed in ’16. Operating out of a 5-3-3 scheme, Patterson thinks he’s got the personnel that can effect such an improvement. “Defensively, we may be less experienced but I think we can be better,” suggests the coach, “and we should be much more physical.”

In the pits, look for nose tackle Simmons and 205-pound defensive end Carlos Galan to display their assertiveness and become real disruptors of opposing offensive lines.

In the opinion of Patterson, the linebacker crew could grow into being a high quality unit. With mainstay Ruben Ramirez currently out with a broken collarbone and not expected to return until game number three at the earliest, others seem perfectly capable of picking up the slack. Outside backer Guzman is very fast and a gifted tackler. On the inside, Lesa is a willing hitter with splendid instincts. And filling out the current threesome is Luis Mateo, an experienced three-year performer who’s particularly good on the run.

The back end of the defense could also play a huge role in determining the Pats’ fortunes. Juan Rocha, though undersized, is solid corner who plays with noticeable discipline. Opposite him is the athletic Anderson, someone with legitimate lockdown skills. And at the free safety spot will be Gonzalez, who if he stays consistent, could be a real factor.

As for the special teams, it appears the versatile Gonzalez will handle the punt returning chores while Anderson and Carlos Anez will be asked to bring back kickoffs.

The all-important kicking duties will be the responsibility of talented yet unproven freshman Nathan Kells. A multi-sport participant with a robust leg, Kells’s future seems quite bright but Patterson admits he’s intrigued to see how this precocious youngster will perform under pressure. If Kells can hold up and deliver, he could be a real X-factor.

Ready to embark on its second season in the highly competitive Coastal League that includes the likes of Bishop’s, Santa Fe Christian and of course La Jolla County Day, Patterson knows the task won’t be easy for his squad to make headway against such luminaries. But OG’s coach is the type that doesn’t shirk from such challenges and as such, he wants to see his players embrace them as well. “The character on this team is strong,” Patterson begins, “and I’m convinced that we’re capable of putting a good product on the field if we really do believe. I expect us to competitive in every game we play.”

No, the opening game didn’t go as planned but that shouldn’t impact what happens down the road. If their coach is right, the Patriots are quite capable of quickly making amends and claiming their share of victories.

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