ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Hope Christian football, still in its infant stages, can benefit in 2013 from a difficult lesson learned in 2012:
The talent on paper doesn’t necessarily lead to production between the white lines.
First-year head coach Diego Brusuelas takes over a team that finished 5-7 in 2012, but only because it charged hard at the finish and won five of its final seven. A first-round playoff win put the Huskies in the 3A quarterfinals, where they lost to district rival St. Michael’s 32-10 after leading 10-0.
“The first part of the year, we thought it was going to be cake, because we had all these four-year players that were very experienced,” said Caleb Meyer-Hagan, who will quarterback the Huskies this year as a sophomore.
“But we went in with high confidence against easy teams and got beat. And after that we were kind of lackadaisical.”
When coach Darrel Kindig resigned in the offseason, Hope Christian went with the 30-year-old Brusuelas, who coached Hope’s JV to an unbeaten 2012. Despite his relative youth, Brusuelas already has varsity head-coaching experience that includes a Class 1A semifinal team at his alma mater, Escalante.
“Basically, since I stopped playing, I’ve been coaching,” Brusuelas said. “I enjoy the heck out of it.”
The Huskies, who enjoy playing under Brusuelas, will have to enjoy the contact aspect of football. This past Wednesday, one-on-one tackling and blocking comprised the majority of the full-contact practice, with only a brief period of team offense at the end, for a 28-member varsity team led by 10 seniors.
“I’m big on the fundamentals,” Brusuelas said. “My motto is everybody practices offense and completes passes. We’re gonna tackle them when they do. We’re going to be good tackling, good blocking, stressing fundamentals and not beating ourselves.”
That said, the Huskies hardly will be three yards and a cloud of dust offensively. It’s why Brusuelas is putting the ball in the hands of Meyer-Hagan, a 6-foot-2, 170-pounder who figures to grow, and grow into his frame, and already can stretch defenses vertically and horizontally with his right arm.
That much was evident during Wednesday’s practice, when he was throwing tight spirals directly into a brutal crosswind.
“We’re looking for big things from him,” Brusuelas said.
The big project will be finding receivers with the hands to bring in those spirals. Senior Chris Roland is a deep threat, and fellow senior Andres Madrid will be a possession-type receiver, good for underneath screens the Huskies hope will break big.
Captain Josh Ownbey and Isaac Hessinger are two hard runners. Cameron Stihel, at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, is the big guy on the team, against whom all other linemen are measured by how they fare against him on individual drills.
Defensively, the Huskies’ philosophy will be to use multiple sets.
“We’re keeping it simple,” Ownbey, also a linebacker, said. “We’re not going to add in a bunch of different coverages and blitz packages. We’re trying to keep it to the bare minimum.”
If Hope is to succeed this year, it will be with a physical presence different from the 2012 team.
“Last year, I’d say we had more talented athletes, bigger bodies who walked through practice real slow,” Hessinger said. “This year we’re smaller and faster, so we’re gonna have to make up for our (lack of) size with aggression and just going hard.”
The Hope schedule includes St. Michael’s, the district rival, and a game at defending Class 2A champion Santa Rosa, among others.