The week before Santa Monica High begins its 2009 football season with a new coach, Travis Clark is well aware of the challenge.
“The school has a rich football legacy and we’re ready to carry it on,” he said, “I’m proud to be here.”
As a former Viking player and assistant coach Clark realizes that expectations are high. After Samohi won its first six games last season the final record of 8-3 which included a first round CIF playoff loss was regarded by many followers as disappointing.
Samohi’s early practices have given the coach an idea of what to expect. He said the grueling workouts have been productive without any injuries resulting.
“Just a few bruises that will heal,” he said.
Clark has singled out five key players who will lead the Vikings in their opening game against Leuzinger Sept. 11 at Corsair Field and beyond.
He lists quarterback Garrett Safron, receiver/linebacker Luke Zelon, receiver Chris Featherstone, defensive tackle Jose Perez and linebacker Keelan Malone. All are seniors.
Safron started last season after Ryan Katz had a productive Samohi career that took him to Oregon State. Previous coach Zach Cuda increased Safron’s responsibilities as the season went along and now safron has gained experience and improved his arm strength.
Zelon is receiving scholarship offers from Division 1 schools. He’s 6-foot-3, 210 pounds and versatile.
Zelon and Victor Burnett of Culver City are generally regarded as the best linebackers in the Ocean League and Malone, who is 6-foot-1, 238, figures in that discussion too.
“Malone is a Division 1 prospect too,” said Clark.
Featherstone and Safron work well together which is not surprising considering their background.
“Garrett has thrown passes to Chris since they were in elementary school,” said Clark.
As a defensive lineman, Perez didn’t receive the publicity of the others last season but was selected second team all league.
“He’s a great pass rusher,” said Clark.
Clark’s list does not include a running back, but the coach hopes someone will emerge to replace Christian Ross (now at Santa Monica College) and Vince Lawrence, who has gone to West Los Angeles College to concentrate on baseball.
Last season Samohi won at Leuzinger, which recovered to have a productive season. Samohi’s opponents in the season’s second and third weeks will be Palisades and Venice.
Clark will have to find a replacement for tackle Amar Pal, the only member of last season’s team to receive a Division 1 scholarship. He’s at San Jose State.
Samohi will again play home games at SMC’s Corsair Field, which was outfitted with Field Turf last season. The new turf received rave notices and eliminated the possibility of some games being played in the mud.
Because the field requires less maintenance, more games can be played there. As a result St. Monica will play three games there for the second straight season in addition to SMC games which are played on Saturday nights.