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In the history of the Roseland Collegiate Prep football program, the Grizzlies have never lost a game. Granted, they have only played one game, but they won it.

The school, which opened on the former Ursuline High School campus in 2012, welcomed its first senior class last month. And in a year of firsts, it also fielded its first football team.

“It’s a dream come true,” said senior Saul Arizmendi, the Grizzlies’ quarterback. “I never played high school football; it’s always been Pop Warner.”

Playing eight-man football, the Grizzlies started with a bang Friday night, beating East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy 68-56.

Not bad for a team that had to cancel its one and only preseason scrimmage after their equipment didn’t arrive in time.

“It’s been quite the experience. We have done everything from figuring out practice schedules to ordering helmets and shoulder pads,” said head coach Javier Isais, a social studies teacher. “It’s been a lot of work, trying to figure out what we need in order to field a team.”

Isais, who was most recently an assistant at Tomales High, said much of his focus has been on fundamentals.

With a slew of athletes who have never played organized football and a roster packed with freshmen (there is no junior varsity squad), it’s a learning process.

“We are all pretty new to the game here,” he said. “It’s from the ground up.”

So much so that when the new helmets arrived last week there was an unusual amount of excitement.

“Most of them have never had a helmet on in their life,” he said. “The most difficult part was figuring out how to strap them on.”

Isais said he’s relied heavily on a core group of seniors who have pushed for this program and who now serve as mentors on the field.

“Coach will be like, ‘Show them this, show them that,’” said Arizmendi, one of the few players with a solid background in the game.

Arizmendi has been impressed by his teammates’ acumen.

“It took me four years to do what they are doing. They are skilled,” he said.

Senior running back Andy Martinez, a guy with six years of football experience, said the Grizzlies have had their share of missteps, but that’s an expected part of the learning curve.

“If they make a little mistake or something when we are practicing, we laugh about it and then we fix it,” he said.

Isais said a key is keeping things simple.

“There is a lot of terminology that they don’t know,” he said. “The offense can’t be too complicated. And defense? We have one defense.”

The team converted a former dance room into a weight room, but Isais said he sometimes skips out on weights in order to focus a little bit more on the X’s and O’s. The muscles will come in time; learning the game is the priority now.

But it’s coming along.

“Our playbook is growing,” he said.

It will need to. The Grizzlies will have their hands full with league play.

After Point Arena High dropped its varsity football program, RCP was allowed to join the ranks of experienced eight-man programs in the North Central League III such as South Fork, Anderson Valley and Laytonville.

“We are going to have a tough season,” Isais said. “Every team that we are going to play against is a good team.”

True, but Arizmendi couldn’t contain his excitement. The Grizzlies are 1-0, after all.

“I told all the kids, ‘We are going undefeated’ I’m telling you right now,” he said.

Calistoga might have something to say about that.

Roseland Collegiate Prep travels to Calistoga tonight to take on a team that is 2-0 and finished 6-3 overall and 6-1 in league.

But the fact that RCP is fielding a team at all is the real reason to celebrate, said assistant principal Eli Weinzveg.

It’s been a long time coming.

“The kids had been asking for a football team for a long time. We found a way to make it work,” he said. “It’s a big deal.”

Sports, not just football, give students something to rally around. It’s also a way to bring the relatively new school and its students into the wider community.

“They are representing Roseland and they are proud of that,” he said.

And they are representing Roseland with an undefeated record, at least as of Friday.

And Isais knows the importance of getting the first ‘W’ in the books — he harped on that plenty.

“I really got on them — ‘There is only going to be one first game, what do you want to make of it?’” Isais said. “I think the kids really rallied behind the idea.”

It was super exciting to be part of that,” he said. “You can’t ever take that away from these kids.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

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