By Jeremy Balan
You don’t have to dig very deep to find out what will be motivating the Washington High School football team this season.
A disappointing 12-7 loss to Mission on Turkey Day that ruined what would have been an undefeated Academic Athletic Association season, was followed by the curious and abrupt departure of head coach Karl Finley on June 26.
The mention of either moment sets off an emotional response from the returning core of seniors.
“It was pretty chaotic for a while, for him to leave so suddenly at that moment, and then learning a whole new system,” Elijah Murray, an incoming senior, said of Finley’s exit. “I felt I had been stabbed in the back — the ultimate betrayal.”
“I cried like a child,” Victor Rivera, another incoming senior, said of the Turkey Day loss. Rivera missed the final three games of the season, including the holiday championship game, due to an injury. “To this day it hurts.”
Those wounds, however, are beginning to heal, starting with the quick hire of new head coach Taylan Plasch, who was officially given the reins to the program on July 9.
Plasch, who has been a physical education teacher at Washington for five years, was the school’s athletic director from 2008 to 2010 and has had assistant coaching stints Lincoln and Balboa, admits he’s a little overwhelmed, juggling getting to know players and scheduling vacancies that were supposed to be handled by Finley.
He has already arranged a crucial preseason scrimmage with St. Ignatius, but the Eagles still have open non-league dates in Week 0 and Week 2, and are currently scheduled to play just eight total games with non-league matchups against El Camino in Week 1 and Piedmont in Week 3.
“I’ve been scrambling around since I got hired,” Plasch said. “I’m hustling right now to find two games.”
Before the hiring and now, while Plasch is getting his bearings, the players have rallied around a man they call “Coach Rick.”
The lone holdover from Finley’s staff, assistant coach Rick Carre organized team meetings and kept the players together when there was literally no one else. Every other coach from last season’s staff went with Finley to his new job at Armijo High School in Fairfield.
“There was no question [I was staying],” said Carre, when asked if he was tempted to leave with Finley and the rest of the coaching staff. Carre has houses in American Canyon (near Armijo) and Daly City, but works in San Francisco. “I had to keep it together, because I was the only one left.”
Despite Finley’s exit, the team will look awfully familiar.
As if they have a cloning factory in the locker room, the Eagles will again feature a pair of backs with very different skill sets.
The first, a straight-ahead power runner in the mold of former backs Galen Hall and Lajarie Mabrey, is senor Jerron Williams, who will also start at linebacker. The second is Murray, a speedy edge runner, who will also play as a wide receiver in the slot and will start as a defensive back for the second straight year.
“Ever since we got here, there’s always been a duo that people remember,” Williams said. “We have that this year and we’ve learned from the past backs, so we’ll be better this year.”
Driving the running attack will be four returning starters on the offensive line, including seniors Sergio Alvarado (first team All-AAA last season) and Rivera (second team).
Plasch, a former junior-college offensive lineman, is markedly cautious when speaking to his expectations of every aspect of the team except the offensive line.
“Getting five guys to block seven [defenders] is the chess game,” Plasch said. “We’re going to get them to make the calls and making the adjustments at the line of scrimmage is going to make us successful.”
Many pieces of the Washington defense that allowed just over 10 points per game are back as well, but the one question mark on either side of the ball appears to be at quarterback.
Senior Simon Ma will be under center to start the season for the second straight year, but under entirely different circumstances.
Last season, Ma was filling in for starter Aram Gevandian, who missed the first month of the year with a wrist injury, and played very much like a backup. He had constant issues with fumbles, specifically on the snap exchange with the center, and was replaced as soon as Gevandian was cleared to play.
Now, the team is his, and Plasch has indicated he wants to throw the ball more than Washington teams of the past.
“It’s exciting, because it’s an opportunity to show what our athletes are capable of, by spreading the ball around, instead of just a one-way ground attack,” Ma said.
Regardless of Plasch’s guarded optimism, with so much returning talent, the Eagles will again be a AAA favorite and are intent on proving the team’s recent success wasn’t all because of a coach.
“We all feel betrayed, but it’s something we can all look at and make us play better,” Williams said. “It gives more meaning to this year.”
Tentative 2012 Schedule – AAA games in bold
Week 0: (Open)
Week 1: Sat. 9/8 – vs. El Camino (South San Francisco), 2 p.m.
Week 2: (Open)
Week 3: Sat. 9/22 – vs. Piedmont, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Fri. 9/28 – vs. Marshall, 3 p.m.
Week 5: Sat. 10/6 – @ Lincoln, 2 p.m.
Week 6: Sat. 10/13 – @ Balboa, 2 p.m.
Week 7: Fri. 10/19 – vs. Galileo, 3 p.m.
Week 8: Fri. 10/26 – vs. Lowell @ Kezar Stadium, 7 p.m.
Week 9: (Bye)
Week 10: Fri. 11/9 – vs. Mission @ Kezar Stadium, 2 p.m.