CASTROVILLE—Last year was the first time North Monterey County High junior Steven Poudrier ever put on a uniform for the Condors’ football team.
The 5-foot-5-inch, 142-pound receiver started off on the JV team and his work ethic was through the roof.
NMC coach Juan Cuevas couldn’t help but to promote Poudrier up to varsity as a sophomore.
At the end of the season, Poudrier was unanimously chosen by last year’s graduating senior class to be one of the team captains for the following year.
“There was no question about it,” Cuevas said. “He wasn’t this 1,000-yard receiver, he wasn’t this stud guy. He’s just a kid that worked his tail off.”
Poudrier is one of five returning juniors from last year’s team who wants to make a big turnaround with what will be essentially a new Condors squad.
He said the biggest help, so far, was having more time this offseason to prepare for what will be the long road ahead of them.
“There weren’t these huge obstacles thrown our way, no wrenches in the plan,” he said.
NMC was one of several schools in the Tri-County area (Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara) that didn’t have a true offseason last year with all of the Covid-19 protocols in place.
They finished with a 3-7 overall record and were 2-4 in Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division play.
Cuevas said most of this year’s returners got a chance to lift weights and locked in with what the coaching staff was selling. Getting extra practice time without any hiccups also allowed for his offensive system to finally be put in place.
“Everyone else has been here all summer, grinding,” he said. “We didn’t have that last year. We had to figure out how to practice everyday.”
The Condors currently have 40 players at the varsity level with eight of them brand new to the team. The roster is made up of mostly juniors sprinkled in with seniors and some sophomores to help fill in voids in the depth chart.
Ryan Ruiz and Ethan Yates—a pair of juniors and the two other co-captains—have also been grinding and becoming leaders on this young Condors team.
Yates said not being able to lift weights last season took a toll on them. As a result, players sustained injuries throughout the year.
“This year we’re definitely healthy, we’re definitely going to be able to fire off and be a really big competitor to the teams coming up,” he said.
Yates, who plays center and is an anchor on the offensive line, said they’re not going to put last season in the rearview mirror but instead use it as motivation.
Ruiz said he wants to lead by example and believes his actions will inspire other teammates.
“Me personally, other people inspire me, too. Even as a captain,” he said. “As long as we keep working hard, I think we’ll all be inspired to play hard together and really give it all we got.”
Poudrier said team captains for each position have been great because they can keep an eye on the slackers. They can also assist potential young players moving up from the JV squad just as he did last year.
“Even off the field it’s important to grow as a team, growing that chemistry and with it, it really helps us on the field,” he said.
Poudrier said the offense looks in sync and players are understanding their positions, getting in tune with Cuevas’ new system.
“Everyone’s trying to get an understanding of it,” Poudrier said.
Ruiz said overall they seem more organized and have developed as a group, especially after having a full offseason under their belts.
“It was kind of a get-back year, trying to put it all together and that’s what led to our record [last season],” he said. “I think this year we’re well put together, we know each other more and it’ll be good for us.”
Ruiz will have a heavy workload playing receiver, flyback, running back and punt and kick returner.
The PCAL Cypress Division’s Defensive Player of the Year for soccer will also be on the defensive side as a safety.
Ruiz said the defense might be undersized but he can assure opponents they’ll be playing with plenty of heart.
“That’s what you need to play defense,” he said. “If we keep our stamina up, if we can play the full four quarters we’ll be great.”
Cuevas said that sophomore starting quarterback AJ Gomez is a great example of making progress from the first week of spring practice up until now.
“Ball is getting out faster, he’s correcting himself on his mistakes and it’s beautiful to see every week,” Cuevas said.
Cuevas added that the offense is designed to adapt in some ways to whoever they have. This year he’s able to roll out a lot more with Gomez.
“That makes it more comfortable, a lot more catch and throw stuff. A lot more [run pass option]-type stuff,” Cuevas said.
Cuevas has confidence in the sophomores which had a fairly good season on the JV team.
However, his biggest challenge is reminding the young players that the game is much faster and played at a higher level. Some of them found that out the hard way in last week’s scrimmage against Carmel High.
“A lot of them had their welcome to varsity moment already, luckily, but Christopher is a whole nother beast that we got coming,” Cuevas said.
NMC will host Friday’s season opener against Christopher High in non-league action. Kickoff is slated for 7:30pm.
The Cougars opted out of the PCAL and now compete in the Blossom Valley Athletic League’s Mount Hamilton Division.
Non-league play will continue with games against Pajaro Valley, Monterey and Harbor high schools.
The Condors will host Soledad in the Cypress Division opener scheduled for Sept. 23 at 7:30pm, followed by league meetings against St. Francis, Pacific Grove, King City, Rancho San Juan and Watsonville.
Cuevas believes they’ll be able to line up with everybody and is confident they can compete in the Cypress Division. He doesn’t want to look too far down the road and right now Christopher is the focus.
Cuevas said they’re still learning how to win including the small things like players bringing their pads to practice.
“They’re going to compete and that’s what I’m excited about,” he said. “They’re not shying away from being young, they’re not shying away from being smaller at our skill positions. They’ve embraced it and it feels great.”
Ruiz said no matter the outcome this season the future is bright in North Monterey County.
“We have a lot of youth on this team going forward. We have a new program and we’re set,” he said.
North Monterey County High football schedule
- Christopher, 8/26 at 7:30pm
- Pajaro Valley, 9/3 at 2pm
- At Monterey, 9/9 at 7pm, Monterey Peninsula College
- At Harbor, 9/16 at 7:30pm
- Soledad*, 9/23 at 7:30pm
- At St. Francis*, 10/1 at 2pm
- At Pacific Grove*, 10/7 at 7:30pm
- King City*, 10/14 at 7:30pm
- Rancho San Juan*, 10/21 at 7:30pm
- At Watsonville*, 11/3 at 7:30pm
*PCAL Cypress Division play