Tough preseason prepares Pack to defend league title
By Steven Felschundneff | firstname.lastname@example.org
The defending San Antonio League champion Claremont High School Wolfpack football team is off to a rough start this season, but that may be part of the plan.
Of course, any coach would like to follow up a championship season with a series of decisive wins. Last season, which was played in the spring because of the crazy pandemic scheduling, the Wolfpack did not give up a single point in league play. However, Coach Shane Hile deliberately scheduled his boys to face some tough teams early in the season to get the team ready to defend the league title.
“It’s good to play these tough opponents,” Coach Hile said. “These first five with Norte Vista, Tustin, Colony, Alta Loma and Bonita—those are really tough teams. What I like to do is play those tougher opponents and get better every week, and obviously try to win football games. But then you get into league and [the players say] ‘I have seen some really tough teams,’ and that is very helpful to us.”
Barely three weeks into the 2021 season, Claremont has a 1-2 record after losing to Norte Vista, 7-0, on August 26 and then to Tustin, 28-6, September 3. The Pack got a boost last Friday, outlasting Colony in a defensive battle which Claremont won 13-6. The Wolfpack hosted highly ranked Alta Loma on Thursday after press time, another game that will test the Pack’s mettle.
In June, Claremont lost 15 seniors to graduation, including starting quarterback Ricky Murillo who passed for 238 yards in last season’s championship game, and Isaiah Love who caught two of those passes for touchdowns. So this year is bound to be something new.
“There have been a lot of changes from last year. We lost our quarterback, our receivers, we lost some coaches. So there is a lot of transitioning on offense,” Coach Hile said.
On the coaching staff, longtime assistant Ryan Campuzano was promoted to offensive coordinator, and Anthony Hile, Coach Hile’s son, is the Pack’s defensive coordinator.
Claremont hired some new coaches, with Leroy Quinn leading the running backs, Abu Vaid in charge of the receivers and Jason Flegeance the offensive line.
Adding to all of the turnover in players and staff, the team had very little time to prepare, starting practice in August after ending last season in late April.
“So it’s a short amount of time to install a new offense, to get all the coaches on the same page, so we are kind of doing that in the preseason,” Coach Hile said. “So we are just trying to get better every week, and we are [getting better]. Coach Campuzano is doing a great job.”
With league play still a month away, Claremont will have ample time to find its groove. Coach Hile expressed confidence that the Wolfpack will be ready due to the hard work of his team and a focus on playing error-free football.
“I think it’s kind of a toss-up, but I like our chances of repeating in league,” he said.
Looking forward, San Antonio foes Chaffey and West Covina are going to be very good, while Don Lugo is going through some changes, according to Coach Hile. Alta Loma is going to be another tough game that is turning into a bit of a rivalry.
“We just try to play mistake-free football. Know your assignments on offense, defense and special teams. No penalties and no turnovers and we always feel if we do all of those things we are going to be in every game,” Coach Hile said. “The boys just don’t quit, they are a hard working group. We have been fortunate the last few years to have some really hard working kids.”
On Friday, Claremont earned the win after stopping Colony late in the game. Coach Campuzano put together a nice drive leading Claremont to within arm’s length of the Titan’s goal line. With about 14 seconds remaining, quarterback junior Nathan Giles sneaked the ball into the end zone on fourth and one.
Ironically, Claremont’s other touchdown came in the game’s first set of downs when senior Archit Vaid found a hole on the right side and rushed for 70 yards. Coach Hile said Alexander Lopez did a great job playing guard and nose tackle.
“We played some really good defense, Coach Hile junior [my son] is doing a great job with the defense. They [Colony] were just massive, they are a big physical football team. So our guys did a great job,” Coach Hile said. “We are trying to pick up from where we left off defensively.”
Before the game Coach Hile gave his team their marching orders: minimize mistakes. Meaning no penalties, no turnovers, which would give Claremont the best chance to win.
“It was great when we won, because they saw how we were so disciplined and conditioned at the end of the game. And it’s nice as a coach because you tell them things, maybe sometimes they don’t always believe you, but they saw it firsthand Friday night,” Coach Hile said.
Claremont’s next game will be against Bonita on Thursday, September 23, in La Verne followed by a home game the following Thursday against St. Monica Catholic.