The Hesperia High football team finished undefeated during the regular season last year and won a league title for the first time in school history. Now comes the difficult job of defending a Mojave River League championship.
"It's tough to improve on a 10-0 year," first-year Hesperia head coach Jeremy Topete said. "The expectations and the bar were set pretty high last year. We're just taking it one game at a time."
After running the table during the regular season, the Scorpions reached the second round of the playoffs and lost to Silverado.
Following the season, the Scorpions graduated several starters, including six Daily Press All-Area players. Their coach of six seasons, Robert Kistner, left for the new Oak Hills High School, as did a large portion of Hesperia's student body.
But seven starters return from last season, and with a group of seniors who experienced the undefeated regular season and the 9-1 regular season the previous year, expectations are high.
"Now the players' expectations are higher," senior linebacker Melvin Emesibe said. "You got some players coming back who experienced going 10-0 and they want that again. And hopefully, we'll be hungry enough to do that."
Topete takes over the program after his one season as the Scorpions' wide receivers coach. He and defensive coordinator Dave Booth are the only two coaches remaining from last year's team. Before coming to Hesperia, Topete spent six seasons over two stints at Chaffey College and three seasons at San Dimas High School.
The new coaching staff installed a new defense — a 3-5-3 base to capitalize on the good team speed. It's a blitzing defense that relies on movement and confusion to create havoc for the quarterback and offensive line.
The two outside linebackers are called stingers — which Booth described as a linebacker-cornerback hybrids who have the flexibility to stop the run, rush the passer or cover receivers. Emesibe, who recorded 11 sacks as a defensive lineman last year, and K'Dale Robinson, who had 48 tackles as a defensive back, will be the starting stingers.
"It's a pressure defense, bringing a lot of blitzes from different angles," Booth said. "So you have five different guys that come at you at different angles on the blitz."
Offensively, senior wide receiver Jay Waddell along with offensive linemen Bryan Oldenkamp and Joel Cardenas are the only returning starters. Oldenkamp, Cardenas and Jonathan West will anchor a big offensive line, while Topete said the team is going to get the ball into Waddell's hands in a number of ways.
Last season, Waddell — who has already committed to San Diego State — caught 38 passes for 949 yards and 11 touchdowns, scoring 18 TDs overall.
But Topete says Waddell is not his only offensive weapon.
"I'm excited about what we have," Topete said. "We've been working our system all summer long to be able to get the ball out of our quarterback's hands in a hurry. That way our offensive line doesn't have to block long. A lot of pre-snap reading by our quarterback so that he knows where he is going with the ball before it's even snapped."
Some of those weapons include senior receivers Steven Balue, Josh Grant and Robinson. Hesperia lost its three top rushers from last season, but senior Jermaine Miller, junior Darren White and sophomore Daniel Rodriguez are looking to fill that void.
The only position lacking varsity experience will be quarterback, with sophomores R.J. Plumlee and James Manibusan battling for the starting job. Topete said they both could receive playing time during the nonleague schedule.
Regardless, the team understands hard work will be the difference for an MRL championship defense and a deep run into the postseason.
"Last year's team worked hard (to go) 10-0," Waddell said. "This year's team is new and we have to work harder."
C.J. Daft can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or at 951-6275.