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Fryer: Canyon's secret to success has been stability
Canyon’s football team came into this season with the same coach it had last season.
That might not seem like a big deal. At Canyon, it was.
When this year’s seniors were freshmen, in the 2012 season, Brent McKee was head coach of the varsity team.
In 2013, Jim Kunau was head coach. In 2014, Mike Ogas took over as coach.
When Ogas remained as coach for this season, the Comanches players, especially seniors like Avery Jones, were relieved.
“We didn’t have to learn anything new,” Jones said.
They did have to learn how to get used to winning.
Canyon went 0-10 in 2011. The Comanches were 3-7 in ’12. The next season, Kunau, who in 19 years at Orange Lutheran transformed that football program from a small-schools winner to a Trinity League and Pac-5 Division champion, coached Canyon to a 5-6 overall record, a 4-2 Century League mark and a trip to the playoffs in which the Comanches lost to La Habra by 21 points.
Kunau departed after that one season. Along came Ogas, who had years of experience as an assistant coach at Santa Ana College and at Edison.
Canyon won the North Hills League championship last season and advanced to the CIF-Southern Section Southern Division semifinals, in which the Comanches lost to Rancho Alamitos in overtime.
This year, Canyon lost two of its first three games. But those two losses were to strong, higher-division teams – Edison and San Juan Hills. The Comanches’ playoff chances this season were threatened when a win over El Dorado became a forfeit loss because Canyon used on kickoff return in that game a freshman for whom the required medical clearance for a freshman to play varsity football had not been submitted.
“We were right on the edge,” said Jones, a senior linebacker. “We weren’t 100 percent sure if we’d make the playoffs or not.”
The Comanches got into the playoffs as one of the Southern Division’s two at-large teams and certainly showed they deserved it. They beat Calvary Chapel, 54-15, in the first round and followed with a 61-21 win over second-seeded Katella in the second round.
Canyon played El Modena in the semifinals. The Comanches had lost to El Modena, 21-20, in a North Hills League game five weeks earlier.
They craved a rematch.
“We thought that if we’d get into the playoffs,” Jones said, “we’d have a good chance to play El Modena again.”
Canyon beat El Modena, 35-20, to get to the championship game in which the Comanches beat another North Hills team, Brea Olinda, 31-21, to capture the first CIF-SS football championship at the school that opened in 1973.
The Comanches’ season continues today. Canyon (9-5) plays Bonita Vista of Chula Vista (11-2) in the CIF Regional Championships, in a Division 4AA game, at Southwestern College in Chula Vista.
Ogas thought Canyon had the potential for this kind of season when he was hired.
“Having been at Santa Ana College for 10 years and recruiting Canyon kids a lot,” Ogas said, “I knew there was a hidden gem here.”
Ogas is grateful he followed Kunau, who brought a private-school, discipline-emphasized attitude and style to Canyon.
“What Jim did was clean up a lot of riff-raff associated with the program,” Ogas said.
Jones said of Kunau: “He changed the mentality of the school as a whole. He demanded excellence all the time.”
The players still were weary of the coaching carousel. They had to be convinced Ogas was bringing stability. A 0-6 start made it difficult.
They became convinced when Canyon beat Yorba Linda for the team’s first win.
The Comanches won their next five games, including two playoff games, before the loss to Rancho Alamitos in the semifinals.
Winning teams need senior leadership. Canyon has that in abundance this season.
When asked for his team’s senior leaders, Ogas quickly mentioned quarterback Jason Harman, running back/safety Charlie Treanor, receiver/safety Trace Hobbs and Jones before he stopped because he did not want to forget anybody. That’s how many senior leaders Canyon has.
It also is a smart team.
“Thirty-three percent of the varsity roster is on the school’s scholar-athletes list,” Ogas said. “We have a ton of kids with 3.5 GPAs. You only have to tell these guys something once and it gets done, which makes my job a lot easier.”
So does parental support.
“Our parents have done an amazing job,” Ogas said. “Fundraising all year and getting the boys the extra stuff they’ve needed in the playoffs. We ask them for something and they jump right in and do it.”
Canyon has been respected in a few sports over the years, especially in boy basketball in recent years. Jones played on Canyon’s CIF-SS basketball championship teams in 2014 and ’15.
Canyon football now has gained respect. Jones is proud to be part of that.
“We’ve gone through a lot from the beginning of our freshman year,” he said. “What we’ve tried to do is put Canyon on the Orange County football map. We did that with what we’ve done this season.”
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