Game of Life
Strange but true real-world dramas play out on local football fields.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
A young star is slowed – not by an opponent, but a gun shot. A team decimated by injury forfeits a game because JV players refuse to move up; a year later, those players round out the slimmest varsity roster in the area. And a blue-chip lineman would rather talk sharks than blocking schemes. So go three of the area’s many high-school storylines, where on-field drama is often elevated by the intrigue off it.
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Ask Monterey High Coach Tom Newton about his star athlete, speedy outside linebacker-running back Joey Christensen, and he marvels at the senior’s ability to rebound from adversity. And for good reason. Christensen has seen more misfortune in a minute than most see in a lifetime.
A little more than a year ago, Joey and his brother Daniel were shot by an unidentified assailant at their own house during a party. Joey was shot once in the chest and again in the abdomen.
“He was on the verge of death,” Newton says. “We didn’t know if he would make it through the night.”
Christensen pulled through the tragedy and is making up for lost time on the football field.
“Joey is a tough-nosed kid,” Newton says. “He’s back to where he was last year [before the shooting], and we are excited. We’re going to feature him as one of our main backs in our offense.”
Monterey uses the simple, efficient, and at times maddening (for opposing defenses) veer offense, in which multiple options are available to run the ball, usually with just a few plays repeated throughout the entire season.
Last season, the Toreadores went 9-3 and plowed two games deep into the Central Coast Section playoffs. This year they hope to improve on that result, and a big reason why is their recuperated star, Christensen. As Newton says: “Where he goes, we go, and we expect to go far.”
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Any captain of industry will tell you the same thing: While it is not preferable, sometimes you’ve got to dip into your reserves to keep the ball rolling.
Coaching football is no different.
Stevenson High School Coach Germano Diniz held out as long as he could in the ’08 season. Due to graduation and other factors, his squad started out woefully small, with only 19 players on the starting roster, 12 of them seniors. By mid-season, injuries whittled the Pirates down to just 12 (who themselves were visibly gutting out injuries of their own), meaning everybody had to play offense and defense and almost nobody had a backup.
When Diniz tried to bolster his roster with reserves from the well-stocked, successful JV program, several players declined because they felt they weren’t ready to play with the more physical varsity opponents. Parents sided with their sons. As a result, the varsity team had to forfeit a game versus Greenfield due to lack of players, which resulted in having the JV game canceled too.
Now, in 2009, Diniz will guide those very same JV players who have now matured a year and stepped up to the varsity squad, led by impressive new starting QB Tom Stivers and jitterbug RB Jeffery Goodman. With last year’s drama behind them, the Pirates hope to prove that the JV team’s success last year will translate into varsity wins this season. But they still will suit up only 22 players.
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Football players are often unfairly mischaracterized as lumbering oafs. But one local plus-sized player is proof positive that his helmet is filled with potent synapses.
Salinas High School senior right tackle Chandler Hubbard sports both a stellar GPA to match his A-plus game. Major college football programs such as USC, Cal, Notre Dame, Florida State and Georgia are closely following every pancake block and thwarted blitz the 6’4”, 270-pound tackle makes. To get the three-year starter, though, they will have to prove that they can provide a powerhouse education.
Hubbard wants to apply his considerable scholastic aptitude in the field of marine biology, specifically sharks. “I want to study their behavior – what their mindset is in the ocean,” he says. “Why do great whites migrate so far? Why do bull sharks have three times more testosterone than any other sharks?” He aims to play four years of college football, then head to New Zealand to do his post-graduate work at the prestigious University of Queensland, where students study white shark behavior off Seal Island.
Cowboy head coach Steve Goodbody lights up when he speaks of Hubbard. “Chandler is an excellent athlete with really quick feet, which is key for a tackle in an option offensive scheme,” he says. “He’s a well-rounded kid – one who stars in the classroom and on the field.”
His approach rubs off. “[Chandler] has a very strong work ethic,” Goodbody says. “He challenges himself all the time, and he is a real leader. A lot of kids coming look to him for how to do things.”
Hubbard will be happy to help the Cowboys get back into the playoffs. Last year’s CCS semifinal loss to Wilcox has left a bitter taste in his mouth. “[The Tri-County League] is a tough division – they call it the Black and Blue Division,” he says. “I want to win it, and hopefully get a chance to play Wilcox again. This time I want to beat them, and now I know how.”