VICTORVILLE • Leland Eudy is humble enough to say the Jackrabbits aren't better than anybody else in the Desert Sky League. But he thinks they're getting close.
Victor Valley improved from 0-19 in the previous two years to 3-6-1 last season, snapping its 21-game winless streak. It shut out Granite Hills 20-0 to finish 1-3 in a league that consisted of two CIF-Southern Section semifinalists.
"I don't think we are an 0-19 team again, no," Eudy said.
He said coaching changes helped the team. Because the Jackrabbits lacked size but had key skill players, they got away from the running game and went to a spread offense.
The Jackrabbits were outscored 88-322 by their opponents in 2006 and 116-319 during the following year. Then they improved to 201-220 last season with two shutout victories.
"We were just frustrated and mad," senior Nate Burnaman said. "Everyone told us that 'you can't win a game.' We wanted to prove to everyone that we can win."
The Jackrabbits might have won more games in 2008 if they didn't break down in fourth quarters. They were tied with Barstow 14-14, but the Aztecs pulled away in the fourth. They were leading Burroughs 16-14 before the Burros scored 16 unanswered final-quarter points.
"In the fourth quarter, everybody got tired and everyone started blaming each other," senior Keyshawn Johnson said.
The team started a conditioning program last year to maintain the players' energy until the end of the game. It can be a difference-maker for the Jackrabbits in whether they can make their first playoff appearance since 2005 or not.
The Jackrabbits lost their leading rusher and top two receivers, but they have young talent to fill those holes. Senior running back J.W. Morgan had 68 carries for 304 yards, second most on the team last year. Morgan also added 370 receiving yards on 40 catches.
Fellow senior Jordan Calhoun, who started at cornerback a year ago, will see more time as a wide receiver. Skyler Tillet, a returning defensive lineman, will also play at fullback, and senior Mariano Perez adds depth and experience to the running game.
Burnaman, who completed 112 of 184 passes for 1407 yards, and Bryan Boyd will share time at quarterback.
"The key is I have a quality group of seniors coming back and they've been with me — almost all of them — for the past four years," Eudy said. "They know my expectations. They've been really good in the leadership roles."
However, the Jackrabbits still haven't solved the problem that plagued them in recent years: Lack of size on the line. Eudy said this year's line is small even compared to last year. They have three returning linemen and they're helping young players develop, he said.
"Only thing we lack really is that we don't have the same size as everybody else," Eudy said. "If I were to say anything beyond that, it would be equal. ... We are really pretty quick on defense. We just always lack that size that we need to push other people around, particularly in the fourth quarter."
Despite the lack of size and energy to finish off some games, the Jackrabbits didn't get blown out last season like they had in the previous few years. That's a hopeful sign as they look to stay on par in one of the toughest competitions the DSL has seen in years.
"On any given night, you can either win or get beat," Eudy said. "That's the beauty of this league I think this year."
Tomoya Shimura can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org