2017 high school football preview: Coronado Dons

Coronado Head Coach Curt LeBlanc speaks to his team following an Aug. 2 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

The Coronado High School football team is starting from scratch in several different ways for the 2017 season.

Not only does first-year Coronado Head Coach Curt LeBlanc’s coaching staff feature mostly new faces, but the Dons also lack in the way of returners.

Coach LeBlanc says this has put him in many teaching moments to help his young team grow, a challenge that won’t be around in the future.

“A year from now, we’ll be reteaching some kids and they’ll already know and our learning curve will be a little bit steeper,” he said in an Aug. 2 interview.

“Right now, we’re being very patient and it’s part of the game but we still have a week to go before our first scrimmage. It’s coming along.”

A Coronado defender makes an interception during an Aug. 2 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

With such a young and inexperienced team, Coach LeBlanc said the key to helping them progress is being patient.

He likened the experience he’s had this offseason to being in the classroom. He said he opes to create a positive experience for the players so they can embrace the learning.

“Luckily, there’s a good bond among the team so they’re supporting that,” he said. “There’s some frustration from those athletes who are ready to really take it to the next level but you’ve got to understand where we are right now, we’re not ready for that.”

So far, Coach LeBlanc said his team’s morale seems good but it has yet to have a challenge.

Coronado has been in passing leagues and big man competitions but the team hasn’t been in a game-like situation with adversity against another a team.

Coach LeBlanc said he is looking forward to those moments because he is excited to see where the team is at from all aspects.

“It could go myriad ways and I’m hoping it goes a good way,” he said. “Some things will reveal themselves in those moments that we can’t get out here (at practice).”

A year ago, Coronado was on the verge of a Black Canyon Region title but fell to Dysart High School in the final game of the season. That left their overall record at 5–5 (4–1 region).

The Dons kick off their 2017 season at Flagstaff High School Friday, Aug. 25. Region play begins Thursday, Sept. 28 against Cortez High School.

On the docket for the Dons are three teams that made the 2016 playoffs and three teams with winning records in 2016.

As the team continues to prepare for that opening matchup against Flagstaff, Coach LeBlanc said he is happy with what his team has accomplished so far during this transition and learning period.

“We’ve challenged them with a lot of stuff and there’s hills and valleys but we seem to be stepping up each time and it’s very encouraging,” he said.

“It’s about working with kids and their culture and putting them in a positive direction. We’re slowly but surely moving in that direction and that’s what I’m excited about.”

Offense

Coach LeBlanc said he plans to run a contemporary spread, read offense that allows players to work in space and make decisions on the fly.

A Coronado football players carries the ball up field during an Aug. 2 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Leading the charge of the offense is sophomore quarterback Mikel James, who will replace former quarterback Jay Vanderjagt.

Coach LeBlanc said James is solid athlete, a hard worker and emerging as a leader on the team.

“He’s passionate and he’s a warrior and I’m excited about that,” he said.

“In the past, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some very good athletes but the passion and the intensity that Mikel is showing is far beyond those kids I’ve worked with in the past. That’s pretty exciting.”

James will look to get the ball to senior Andy Mancilla, senior Zach Lewis, sophomore Robert Kendricks and sophomore Zach Rosedale. Last year, Lewis reeled in 224 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns, according to maxpreps.com.

The Dons’ receivers will look to fill the hole of Robert Williams who led the team with 1,239 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns.

Williams was a big part of the passing game as he had about 1,000 more receiving yards than the next closest Coronado receiver.

At running back, senior Akime Coney is the clear frontrunner. He tallied 162 yards on the ground, second-most on the team in 2016.

Coney will take the reigns from Calvin Williams who led the team in rushing yards with 414 and tied with Robert Williams for rushing touchdowns with three each.

There’s still some uncertainty at the offensive line.

However, senior Isaiah Buendia and junior Francisco Ortiz are locked into those spots, but the other three spots are still up for grabs.

Assistant Coach Chris Martinez said the team has yet to practice with full pads, which will help answer some questions.

“When full pads go, we’ll see who’s ready, who’s not ready and who needs a little more developing,” he said in an Aug. 2 interview.

A Coronado defensive lineman tries to break through a double team during an Aug. 2 practice. (Independent Newsmedia/Josh Martinez)

Defense

Coach Martinez said the defense is looking to run a 4-2-5 defense with the fifth defensive back being someone who can help defend against the run and work in pass coverage.

“We’re kind of undersized but we’re very athletic,” he said. “We’ve got to use our abilities with our speed and athleticism. We can’t really depend on our strength because we’re undersized right now.”

The Dons lose their top eight tacklers from 2016 as well as their top five players in tackles for loss and all players who recorded sacks and interceptions last year.

In the secondary, Lewis and Coney will return to the defense to play both ways. Both played time defensively last year but didn’t record too many statistics with Coney making 10 tackles in 2016.

Juniors Josh Fong and De’kari Hamilton also look to join Lewis and Coney in the backfield.

These players will look to fill the hole left by Calvin Williams, who led the team in interceptions and had the third-most tackles on the team.

At linebacker, Coach Martinez expects senior Christian Williams, junior Josh Retiguin, junior Angel Moreno and freshman William Bermejo.

Coach Martinez said he has a lot of faith in what Bermejo can accomplish.

“He’s an outstanding freshman and his name is going to be around here for the next couple of years,” he said.

On the defensive line, junior Alexis Ochoa looks to be one of the top’s top returners on defense as he accumulated 20 tackles and three for loss, the highest among returning players.

Junior Saul Favela and Antonio Diaz look to join Ochoa on the line to help fill the shoes of the team’s 2016 leading tackler Terrence Lockett, who played on the defensive line.

Much like the offense, Coach Martinez is in the same position coaching a younger, inexperienced defensive squad.

“They’re young so they’re very eager to learn,” he said. “It’s a good thing they’re not seniors with high egos or attitudes. They’re very respectful, very eager to learn, very hungry, they want success and they’re ready to go.”

News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at jmartinez@newszap.com or at 623-445-2738

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