JSerra enters season with confidence
SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO - The JSerra football team was one of the most dominant teams in Orange County during the early, nonleague-portion of the 2015 season.
The Lions won their five nonleague games by an average of 31 points, including an impressive 42-14 win over Chino Hills.
The Lions didn't fare as well in the Trinity League. They lost their first three league games, which prevented them from earning an automatic bid to the CIF-SS playoffs. But instead of going through the motions in their last two games, they defeated Mater Dei and Orange Lutheran.
“It says a lot about the heart of these kids,” JSerra coach Jim Hartigan said Wednesday. “They got tired of losing and not feeling good about themselves. I was proud that we kept fighting. It’s who we are and what we do.”
The Lions believe their performance in the last two games of 2015 are a sign they can beat any team in their league.
“The competition is really good and we can beat anybody," senior Riley O’Brien said. "But anybody can beat us too, so we have to keep working.”
JSerra, which failed to earn an at-large berth to the playoffs a year ago despite its 7-3 overall record, has added two of the region's top teams - Bishop Amat and Vista Murrieta - to its schedule this season.
“We have been undefeated the past few years in preseason against good opponents, but I had all five games to fill this year and we are playing great teams,” Hartigan said. “What the end of last year showed was that if you play us, you better be prepared.”
TIME TO SHINE
In 2015, O’Brien and then-sophomore Matthew Robinson each was given playing time at quarterback. This season, Robinson will be the starter, while O’Brien will play various skill positions.
“Matt (Robinson) is a great quarterback," O'Brien said. "It will be good to get him more reps and get college looks.”
Robinson feels he has improved since it became clear he was going to the full-time quarterback.
“It feels good to be out here getting better in practice. Getting all of the reps definitely helps,” Robinson said.
O’Brien was first-team All-Trinity league cornerback in 2015, and he will play on offense and defense this season.
“Both those guys pushed each other last year and got better," Hartigan said. "We made a decision to move Riley (O’Brien) to multiple positions on offense. We opened the door for Matt and he’s worked hard and improved.”
Matt’s brother Nick was a prolific quarterback at JSerra. He led the Lions to a 9-1 record in 2014. Nick was a walk-on at Georgia last season and is playing at Saddleback College in 2016.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Hartigan’s son Connor is a vital player for the Lions defense. The junior can play all three linebacker positions and will play on all special teams.
“He’s a smart kid. We don’t talk about football much at home, but he takes it all in,” Hartigan said. “I think his best football is ahead of him. I’m proud of him. He’s done a really good job.”
Connor saw some playing time last season, but he suffered a concussion that set back his progress.
“It’s interesting playing for him sometimes," Connor said of his father. "He definitely gets on me but he has helped me become a better player.”
Hartigan said he treats his son just like every other player on the team. But Connor feels there is a little added pressure playing for his father.
“I can’t go out here and jog and play half speed," Connor said. "I’m expected to be an example out here and everyone looks at me to see the example I set.”