By Jeremy Balan
It’s hard to find a silver lining when looking at the 2008 and 2009 football seasons for Archbishop Riordan High School.
The numbers speak for themselves.
The Crusaders had only one win in each season and had a 1-12-1 record in West Catholic Athletic League play.
Last season was especially disheartening for Riordan, which dropped its final nine games by an average margin of 28 points, after winning its opening game handily against Sacred Heart Prep of Atherton.
It appeared a change was necessary, and in March the school replaced head coach Mike Langridge (who had won a CIF-Central Coast Section title in 2007) with Bryan Blake.
Blake, a self-proclaimed “city kid,” graduated from St. Ignatius, coached as an assistant at Sacred Heart Cathedral for 12 years and, most recently, was a linebackers coach at City College of San Francisco.
“I’m just excited about the whole opportunity here,” Blake said. “All of my experiences are going to come together for this job. I didn’t see myself leaving City College, but the timing was right and it felt right.”
With the hiring of Blake comes a wave of change over the football program. New schemes on offense, defense and special teams, to go along with a commitment to conditioning and a change in attitude.
On the offensive side, the Crusaders will employ a ball-controlling option offense, a departure from the balanced, spread offense of recent years, and on defense Riordan will use a 4-3 front (the one used Blake used at City College), instead of a 3-5-3.
The changes almost all come out of necessity. Blake figures to have around 30 players on the varsity squad in Riordan’s Week 0 opener against Dougherty Valley of San Ramon and many will be playing both ways.
“It all comes back to the kids,” Blake said. “Right now our numbers are a little bit down, so we’re doing things to address the problem. Kids are getting beat up at the end of the game.”
The option attack will hopefully enable the Crusaders to run time off the clock, limit opposing possessions and allow the ball to be spread around to multiple ball-carriers, further limiting fatigue.
“They threw the ball a lot [last season],” Blake said. “The problems with that were a lot of three-and-outs that didn’t run a lot of clock and put them back on defense. It contributed a lot to wearing them out.”
Blake may also simply be playing to the team’s strengths, as the two top rushers for the Crusaders in 2009, Anthony Trainor and A.J. Santiago, will be featured backs in the system.
Another key to the running game may be senior Jacob Valdiviezo, who will be playing his first year on the offensive side of the ball as a wingback, along with his duties at strong safety.
“The transition has been easy, with a whole new offense and defense, he’s making it work,” Valdiviezo said of Blake. “We have a lot of faith in that offense. It’s all about motion after motion after motion. Starting over and starting fresh was a good idea. We welcome the competition and we’re going to prove that we can make a difference in this league.”
Although running backs are an integral part of the option offense, the quarterback is the conductor, making split-second decisions to decide where the ball will go.
That position remains undecided, and Blake says there is an “open competition” between 2009 starter and senior Evan Williams and Ismael Orozco, a junior and the junior varsity starter last season.
Even with so much up in the air for the Crusaders, both the players and Blake acknowledge the difficulty the WCAL presents, especially for a program that is rebuilding and installing new ideas. But Blake has some experience in rebuilding a program.
Blake was a part of the coaching staff at Sacred Heart Cathedral, when the team dropped out of WCAL play and became an independent before rejoining the league in 2008.
“I always thought it was the best league in the state,” Blake said. “It’s a daunting task, but to compete in our league is important to me. To be in a position to have a chance to win each game, especially in this league, doesn’t come easy.”
With the limited numbers, it will be even harder for Riordan, going against established powers in the WCAL that may feature almost twice as many players.
That’s where conditioning and adaptability come in, something that junior Drew Jackson has already gotten a taste of.
Jackson began the offseason as a linebacker and tight end, then shifted to a defensive end and wide receiver due to team needs, and now is set to play on the offensive line, along with defensive end.
“We’re not the biggest school out there, so when bodies fall, we have to fill them in,” Jackson said. “I’ll play where they need me. [Blake] needs us to be ready to go.”
The test facing Blake will not be easy, but the “city kid” has designs on challenging his alma mater at St. Ignatius and former coaching staff at Sacred Heart Cathedral as the best team in San Francisco.
“Certainly those games [against St. Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral] are going to be important,” Blake said. “We’re competing with them on the football field, but we’re also competing with them in recruiting. Who’s going to be the big dog and get the best athletes and students to come to your school?”
2010 Schedule (WCAL games in bold)
Sat. 8/28 vs. Balboa, noon (Scrimmage)
Sat. 9/4 – vs. Dougherty Valley (San Ramon), 2 p.m.
Sat. 9/11 – @ Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton), 3 p.m.
Sat. 9/18 – vs. Inderkum (Sacramento), 3 p.m.
Fri. 10/1 – @ St. Francis, 7:30 p.m.
Sat. 10/9 – vs. St. Ignatius, 2:30 p.m.
Sat. 10/16 – vs. Valley Christian. 1 p.m.
Fri. 10/22 – vs. Sacred Heart Cathedral @ Kezar, 7 p.m.
Fri. 10/29 – vs. Bellarmine @ San Jose City College, 7 p.m.
Sat. 11/6 – @ Serra, 2 p.m.
Sat. 11/13 – vs. Archbishop Mitty, 1 p.m.