WATSONVILLE—It’s been a shaky start for the Pajaro Valley High football team after it lost two straight non-league games to begin the season.
The Grizzlies are far from giving up, however, and head coach Joe Manfre said a lot of the goals they set at the beginning of the season are still obtainable.
For starters, they’re still in line to win a Pacific Coast Athletic League Santa Lucia Division title. This year’s group can also become the first team in the program’s history to qualify for the Central Coast Section playoffs.
“There’s all these things that we want to do and obviously beating Watsonville would’ve been really nice, but at the end of the day it’s not the end of the world,” Manfre said.
After a heartbreaking 22-17 season opening loss to Watsonville High on Aug. 27, Manfre told his players to keep their heads up because there are still plenty of games left in the season to turn things around.
The Grizzlies took another punch to the gut after a 40-0 crushing loss to North Monterey County High on Sept. 3.
Pajaro Valley (0-2) has a current roster of 41 players and half of them are new to the sport.
Manfre said the hardest part is these new players don’t have enough game time experience, unlike last year when the Grizzlies were senior-heavy.
Pajaro Valley finished 2-7 overall and placed fourth in the Santa Lucia with a 1-3 record in 2021.
“Some of those juniors had roles on the team but didn’t see a ton of playing time,” Manfre said. “So this is their first real, true playing time and it’s a rough road sometimes when you have a lot of guys that don’t have a ton of playing experience.”
Senior Juan Macias was one of the players who saw minimal play time last season. This year, he’s going to carry the ball a lot on offense and he’ll also be a staple on defense as a linebacker for the Grizzlies.
Macias said they’re bringing more intensity and energy, teaching the young guys to never give up.
He mentioned last year’s senior class ran the team but now it’s up to the junior class to fill in the voids, mostly on the defensive side.
Macias and fellow teammate Jesus Basulto both have been playing the leadership role by always being on time and setting the example.
Macias said it wasn’t until summer practice that he began settling into his role as captain.
“It was kind of out of my comfort zone, so I had to work with people that have more experience,” he said.
Erick Viveros, who dropped the moniker “Hollywood”, is the lone returning two-way lineman and has also stepped in as a leader on the team.
Basulto said the mindset this year is finishing strong. He wants players to give it 100% the entire time.
The senior quarterback added that having a new coaching staff also brought a new type of attitude that makes them try harder on every play.
“We look at it as a new season, we have a different mentality going into this season and we hope for the best,” Basulto said.
The Grizzlies are running a Pistol Wing-T offense. Manfre said it changes a little bit of what they used to do but he believes they’ll be able to be more effective using it.
“It’s kind of a learning curve right now with all these new guys that have never played before,” Manfre said.
Pajaro Valley also brought back defensive coordinator Casey Neligh, who was with the program the last time they won the Belgard Kup in 2016. He will run a 4-3 defense.
Manfre said the defensive coach’s return brought a lot of energy to the team and the players are thrilled. They forced six fumbles in the season opener against Watsonville.
“He brings a lot of energy to practice, to games and he’s got the kids excited,” Manfre said.
Macias said he instantly felt the high energy when Neligh first introduced himself in the weight room.
“From the beginning, he came in and he’s like ‘Look, we’re just gonna bring this from the bottom up’ and I was like damn,” Macias said. “The way he talks, I get chills.”
Damian Torres had three sacks and a couple of tackles for losses in the Grizzlies’ season opening loss to Watsonville. Manfre said Torres plays physical football and though he might not be the biggest player on the field, he’s tough and all over the place.
“I think he kind of turned some heads and I think teams are going to see him on film and say, ‘We might have to plan for this guy a little bit,’” Manfre said.
Manfre also likes senior running back/safety Franky Gomez, who has been flying all over the field and making plays on both sides of the ball.
“I’m excited to see what he could do this year, too,” Manfre said.
This year’s race for the Santa Lucia Division title will be a crapshoot, Manfre said. He mentioned Gonzales and San Lorenzo Valley are still the unknown teams, Stevenson lost a lot of seniors from last year’s squad, Greenfield dropped to 1-2 after a loss to St. Francis and Marina is returning after not having a varsity season in 2021.
“It’s up for grabs right now,” Manfre said. “I think it’s whoever’s playing the best at that time when you’re playing those teams.”
Macias said this year’s league schedule will be fun once again and knows what to expect, especially after being in the same division for the past four years.
“We kind of know who we’re playing up against,” Macias said. “We like going against those dudes.”
The Grizzlies will look to have a bounceback week with a road game against Pacific Grove on Saturday at 2pm.
Pajaro Valley High 2022 football schedule
- Watsonville, lost (22-17)
- North Monterey County, lost (40-0)
- At Pacific Grove, 9/10 at 2pm
- St. Francis, 9/17 at 12:30pm
- San Lorenzo Valley*, 9/24 at 12:30pm
- Gonzales*, 10/08 at 12:30pm
- At Stevenson*, 10/15 at 2pm
- Harbor*, 10/22 at 12:30pm
- At Greenfield*, 10/28 at 7pm
- Marina*, 11/05 at 6pm (Seaside High School)
*Denotes PCAL-Santa Lucia game