Tuesday's Blitz: Santiago offense going through transition


Tuesday's OCVarsity Blitz takes a look at what is happening at the football practices and camps around the county.


NEW YEAR, NEW STYLE: Last year was a good one for the Cavaliers. Santiago made the playoffs for the first time under Coach Brandon Croft, its first appearance in the postseason since 2009.

The Cavaliers lost a lot of weapons, including dual-threat quarterback Ulysses Cruz and 1,000-yard rusher Junior Ortega. With new pieces across the board, Croft will not rush to put too much pressure on his new quarterback, Ruben Prieto.

In place of the dynamic Ortega, Santiago plans to play the team's running backs as a committee. The Cavaliers have five rushers they feel confident giving the ball to, led by sophomore Dylan Ourng.

When Santiago does put the ball in the air, juniors Dominick Smith-Dotson (wide receiver) and Adrian Montes (tight end) will be the primary targets.

Croft recognizes that if his team is going to work to run the clock, they are going to have to take care of the defensive end.

“That’s the name of the game,” Croft said. “If we’re going to run clock management, then we have to be able to stop them on the other side. We’re hoping they can kind of hold (the opposing offense) down.”

Linebackers Henry Tran and Eligio Quintero are expected to be among the team’s leading tacklers.

“Inside, we’re real confident,” Croft said of the defensive tandem. “With the kind of defense we run, those two are going to make all the tackles anyway. They’re very athletic, and they have a great nose for the ball.”

GUARD CAPS: A concussion-conscious football community is taking strides to minimize head injuries.

Last week, Orange Lutheran and Mater Dei were seen practicing with 100-percent guard cap usage. Guard caps take on the look of rugby head gear, with padded material covering the exterior of the helmet.

“I just felt like we had a great responsibility to protect our kids and to protect the game,” Lancers coach Chuck Petersen said. “I felt like it was something that I wanted to do.”

Orange Lutheran has used guard caps in training camp since Petersen’s arrival in 2012.

“I treat every kid as my own,” he said. “I want to protect my kids as much as I can.”

18-HOUR MAXIMUM PUTS STRAIN ON PROGRAMS: Amid new guidelines to practice regimens geared toward making the game safer, some coaches remain skeptical of the ultimate impact of the changes.

A mandatory three-day conditioning period has been required at the beginning of training camp. But coaches like Western’s Dan Davidson remain convinced that the new 18-hour practice week threatens the conditioning of their teams.

“You’ve lost conditioning,” Davidson said. “I think all these injuries that have been going around is a tribute to conditioning.”

An assortment of team activities count toward the 18-hour limit, including on-field practices, weight room sessions, and film study. Public schools often struggle to build depth, and the magnitude of a single injury could define an entire season.

The Pioneers had less than two weeks to practice before the school year began. Davidson says the biggest issue with the new rules is the loss of two-a-day practices.

“My worst thing is not being able to do back-to-back two-a-days,” he said. “You only have a certain amount of hours, no two-a-days, and that’s why we have conditioning issues. Now, you’re taking away practice-rep times to condition kids.”

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