The Maria Carrillo football team looks pretty healthy as it prepares for Friday's game at Cardinal Newman, and that in itself qualifies as news.
The Pumas were at less than full strength for their key preseason game against Analy, now the No. 1-ranked team in the Redwood Empire, on Sept. 4. They were down two of their best two-way players, seniors Isiah Kohne and Max Wright, who line up next to one another as inside linebackers and share snaps in the offensive backfield.
Then the quarterbacks started to fall. Maria Carrillo was going with a rotation at the time, alternating senior Fhestus Chomba and junior Jake Wolski. Chomba played the first quarter against Analy. Wolski was scheduled to play the second, but before he ever got under center he dislocated the thumb on his throwing hand trying to make a tackle.
So Chomba stayed at quarterback — until he got his knee rolled up.
“We had to go with Jake, and he couldn’t throw a ball,” Higgins said. “So to take stock: Two starting running backs were out, so run game’s compromised. Quarterback has no throwing hand.”
Higgins unleashed a hearty laugh as he recounted the story on the Maria Carrillo practice field Wednesday. “It was a challenge,” he said.
With all that, the Pumas were up 14-12 at halftime before Analy pulled away for a 27-14 victory. Higgins isn’t one to make excuses, but he would have loved to play the Tigers on equal footing.
“Starters are starters for a reason, and you know, those are two pretty good football players,” he said of Kohne and Wright. “The guys that stepped in did a great job in their absence, they really did. They really answered the bell. Still, you’d like to see how things sort out when best-laid plans stay in place.”
Perhaps when the Pumas face Cardinal Newman, they’ll get a better indication of their progress.
After a 49-7 dismantling of Montgomery to open North Bay League play a week ago, Carrillo would seem to be on the upward trajectory it began last season. A year ago, the Pumas’ highlight was ending a four-game losing streak to Rancho Cotate. This year they hope for a bigger milestone: beating Newman, an NBL foe they haven’t vanquished since 2005 when Adam Froman (who would later start at the University of Louisville) was quarterbacking Maria Carrillo.
“It would mean a lot,” said Kohne, a two-year varsity starter. “Throughout all my years, since freshman year, we’ve always lost to Newman. Last year we were tied at half. And I don’t know what happened, we just came out slow. That was one of our toughest losses right there, if not the toughest loss. We want to beat them.”
If the Pumas are to do that, the mission begins up front. One look tells you this team has some size, starting with senior Jonah Kim and junior Josh Kauvesi. Both of them weigh in at or close to 300 pounds.
Kim and Kauvesi anchor a physical defense that also features Josh Groesbeck at outside linebacker, Kohne and Wright at the inside ’backer positions, and the agile Chomba manning one of the cornerback spots.
“Everyone on (defense) has been together throughout high school,” Kohne said. “Most of those guys are seniors. … I’ve grown up to trust every one of ’em. I can look to that side and see Gabriel DeBaca or Josh Groesbeck on outside, or I’ll look at my linemen, and I’ll trust ’em with all my heart and faith.”