Vincent Valdez might have a future in baseball, and considered skipping the upcoming St. Monica football season.
Ultimately, Valdez decided to play football, a decision that greatly pleased Coach Jason Strouse.
“He’s our only returning all-league player and our best player,’’ said Strouse. “We believe in him.”
Valdez is a premier 160-pound running back and also excels on defense. He’ll be a key player on a team that has several other quality athletes but not a lot of depth.
St. Monica is in the same situation most seasons, using important players on both offense and defense and lacking the numbers of larger schools. The enrollment is small, but Strouse enjoys playing a non-league game against Santa Monica, which has many more students and many more experienced football players.
Once Camino Real League competition begins, the Mariners will be playing schools their own size.
Strouse, who had a 3-6 record when he became the Mariners’ coach last season, is passionate about staying in the job and turning the team into a powerhouse.
“We’re renovating the school’s weight room and we want to get the word out that our program can rival any private school in Los Angeles,’’ said Strouse.
“Norm Lacy coached St. Monica to a CIF championship in 1998 and he’s been very encouraging,’’ said Strouse. “He told me `you can win here. It’s possible. We did it.’’’
Lacy went on to coach at Samohi, where he won another CIF championship in 2001. His longtime buddy, Tebb Kusserow, was his offensive co-ordinator. Kusserow, who has been a major fundraiser for the St. Monica Church, has also been extremely helpful, sharing his vast football knowledge with Strouse.
The weight room will have a Wall of Fame honoring Lacy’s championship team.
“I plan to be here a long time,’’ said Strouse. “A year ago I was just happy to be a head coach. Now I feel very strongly about being the head coach at St. Monica. This is a special place with special young people.’’
St. Monica doesn’t have a football field on campus and plays home games at St. Bernard High.
Vince Valdez will be joined in the backfield by 140-pound quarterback Taylor Watson and fullback Dave Najera, who will also play tight end.
Three-year letterman Matt McGee (6-4, 220) is the starting tight end and also plays defensive end.
“McGee can play quarterback, too but we like Watson,’’ said Strouse. “He’s getting bigger, too. Not long ago he weighed 135.”
Other starters include lineman Bill Thompson (6-4, 250), a pitcher on the baseball team, 245-pound lineman Alex Verhagen, 170-pound Ernesto Garcia and Ricky Valdez (6-1, 190), Vince’s twin brother.
Strouse reserves special praise for co-captain John Parks (5-10, 170), who excels at linebacker.
“He’s the epitome of the St. Monica player,’’ said Strouse. “A great student and leader. He qualified for pre-med study at USC this summer. Only a small number of students were accepted out of a lot of candidates.’’
Among younger players, junior Anthony Flores is a 150-pound cornerback, sophomore James Wright, a speedy 145-pound safety, and soph Phil Urejia, a versatile athlete who’ll play several positions.
Strouse likes to mix in fun with the rigors of football practice. Along with early season practices, the team goes to the pool at Santa Monica College four times a week for singing, chanting and workouts.
“There are usually a couple of hundred people in the pool and they enjoy watching us,” said Strouse.
St. Monica will open at Bishop Montgomery and hopes to avenge a loss to Samohi when the teams play Sept. 30 at Corsair Field.
Regarding the losing record in 2004, Strouse says:“I’m a winner for being a coach at this school.’’