In the world of eight-man football, athleticism and speed usually trumps size and strength. That's why Stuart Hall coach Richard Robinson expects his team to contend for the Mission Trail League championship this season, the Central Coast Section's only eight-man league.
"We've got decent speed and some guys who can make plays, and we don't have too many overweight linemen," said Robinson, whose team finished 4-3 overall and 3-2 in league play last season. "Last year was a semi-rebuilding year in that we had a lot of guys who never played football before. So if and when they come back for a second year, you know they're pretty serious about football. We've got some guys coming back for that second go-around, and hopefully that extra year of experience can help us take league this year."
Unfortunately for the Knights, they're going to have to do it without running back-safety Ethan Hankins, who was one of their best players in 2012. Hankins, who led the team in interceptions and was second in touchdowns, recently told Robinson he would not be playing this season due to personal reasons.
"It hurts, but this was not going to be a one-man team anyway," Robinson said. "So others guys will have to step it up."
Robinson's goal entering this season was to shore up the defense, which allowed a whopping 35 points per game last season. At a bare minimum, Robinson expects his defense to make a couple more stops so there won't be as many shootouts. Jimmy Mortenson, a defensive hybrid in that he plays nose guard and linebacker, rarely misses a tackle and is one of the more physical players on the team.
The junior standout figures to play a prominent role on offense, too, as the tight end. Liam Campbell, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive end-tight end, has strong pass-rushing skills. Omeed Ravanfar has lockdown coverage ability and came up with a number of key interceptions last year. The offensive line looks solid with Evan Kim and Xavier Conrad, a 6-3, 230-pound stalwart.
"Evan is one of those kids coaches love because he doesn't complain," Robinson said. "He just works hard. I'm also expecting big things out of Xavier, who lost 30 to 40 pounds from last year and looks to be in good shape."
The Knights' quarterback situation is up in the air, but whoever wins the starting position will have solid targets in Mortenson, Campell and wide receiver Ron Valencia, who also doubles as a cornerback. Valencia, a 5-7, 160-pound senior, excels at making even the toughest of catches.