The abbreviated COVID season wasn’t easy for high school football teams when competition resumed in March, and it hasn’t gotten any easier, especially for the John Burroughs varsity football squad.
The Bears had to cancel their scrimmage last week after someone tested positive for COVID-19. With players and coaches having to follow health protocols and quarantine, the team did not have enough practices with pads on to play this week and this week’s season opener has been canceled.
“It feels like we’re back in the spring,” said second-year head coach Jesse Craven. “I just feel bad for the seniors, especially since they didn’t get to have much of a junior year. Now that testing is back and we’re exactly in the same protocols as we were in the spring, it’s going to happen to everyone.”
Despite the false start, Craven has plenty to be optimistic about this fall. He only lost eight players to graduation and his current roster boasts 19 seniors.
“I think having a good senior group is always helpful because they always want to go out on a really good note,” Craven said. “Guys are really committed to doing their best to have the best season they could possibly put together.”
The seniors aren’t the only to put it all on the field. Burroughs had young underclassmen that competed in the shortened season in March/April and gained much-needed experience that will only benefit the program this fall and the next.
“We have a good number of young guys who are really committed who played as sophomores and freshmen last season,” Craven said. “It’s a well-rounded group led by a large group of seniors, and that’s what gives us hope.”
Two of those seniors who will anchor both sides of the ball are senior captains Nate Howland-Chhina and Jose Oliveros, as well as linebacker and tight end Gerald Garcia.
“Those guys are going to be a big part of our defense and offense,” Craven said. “[Garcia] is a three-year starter and a really good player. He’ll be a big part of what we do defensively.”
The Bears also have an experienced secondary in Drake Vickers, Elijah Aldana-Pere and Jon English.
Despite a 1-4 record last season, the Bears defense limited three of its opponents to 25 points or less, including a senior-laden Burbank High School team. The offense, however, only averaged 11 points per game, and Craven turned to a new offensive coordinator this year who implemented an attack better suited for Burroughs.
“In terms of consistency in the spring, I put that on myself and not really knowing the players and their skills and talents,” Craven said. “We’re hoping that now that we have more than two weeks to prepare and know the players a little more, it will put us in a position to be more successful in the fall.”
Junior Blake Dycus and English, a senior, both gained valuable time on the field at the quarterback position in the short season and are back this year, but Craven hasn’t committed to either one starting behind center just yet.
The Bears are scheduled to open the season on the road against St. Genevieve of Panorama City on Friday, Sept. 3. Their home opener will be against Los Angele Westchester of the CIF City Section, followed by contests against Oxnard Hueneme, Studio City Harvard-Westlake, Arcadia, Crescenta Valley, Pasadena, Muir and rival Burbank.
“They’re all really good competitive programs with good dynamic athletes,” Craven said of the teams on Burroughs’ schedule. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us going into [Pacific League play]. Our league now is so competitive — it’s a tough one, but that makes it exciting.”