WATSONVILLE — New coach. New quarterback. New defense. Same resolve.
Monte Vista Christian has arguably gone through the greatest amount of change of any program in the county but the Mustangs still have the confidence that they will continue their recent streak of success this season.
Longtime head coach David Reese is gone, having stepped down in April after leading M.V.C. for nine seasons, and Bruce Dini is now in the saddle.
Dini, 57, spent the previous six years coaching the Stevenson Pirates, guiding them to their first Central Coast Section playoff berth in 17 years, and will now try to build on M.V.C.’s most prosperous stretch — the Mustangs have gone 28-8 over the last three seasons — while bringing in his own personal touch.
The Mustangs will still throw it around plenty in Dini’s record-setting spread offense but the player tossing the ball will be brand-new. Additionally, the defense has also been revamped.
The players are still soaking up the playbook and the changes in the x’s and o’s department. But the relationships with their new coaches are already solid after crash-course introductions in the summer. The awkward greetings and handshakes are things of the past.
“Any change is hard for anyone but we’re already beyond that,” Dini said at a Saturday afternoon practice. “The kids have really been responsive and we’re excited to get going. Now it starts. The change part, the difficult part of the transition in the summer, is behind us. Now the team building starts. We get to set the tone.”
And the five guys up front will have a big hand in that.
Seniors Cory Margo and Luke Wells, juniors Emileo Padilla Chavez and Jonathan Siemsen and sophomore Anthony Shepard are big, agile and mean. All five linemen are at least 5-foot-10-inches tall and weigh more than 220 pounds but Shepard, who made a big impression on last year’s team when he was brought up to varsity for the playoffs, is the biggest of the quintet. He measures in at 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds and wears a size 15 cleat.
“We call him big foot,” Margo said of Shepard. “He’s already a beast and he’s only going to get better and bigger.”
The Mustangs’ size and athleticism along the line has senior running back Cody Paresa licking his chops for the start of the season.
“They’re the biggest we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Paresa said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Paresa has also added some bulk after working out at Pro-Sport Training in San Jose over the offseason. The 5-foot-10 back now weighs in at 185 pounds — 10 pounds heavier than last season — and has trimmed his 40-yard dash time from 4.9 seconds to a 4.6. He’s expected to be the bell-cow after the Mustangs lost star freshman runner D.J. Deas because of a move out of the area.
“He’s got a little chip on his shoulder,” Dini said of Paresa, who missed time last season because of injury. “I know he wants to prove something this year. He’s a great kid with good work ethic.”
The Mustangs also have solid weapons in the passing game. Quick and crafty junior Daniel Brierley will work from the slot; senior Colton Conway and junior Nick Fisher, who are both 6-foot-1, provide tall targets in the red zone; and senior David Alcantar and junior Nicholas Bautista are sure-handed targets that can do a little bit of everything.
“We have a lot of guys that are going to be pretty influential this year,” Brierley said.
But who will be getting the ball into their hands with last year’s starting quarterback Devon Daich gone to graduation? Dini said that position is still up for grabs.
Senior Sean White and juniors Reese Selck and Julian Mendoza are all deadlocked in the preseason quarterback competition. All three have a different skill set: White is accurate and decisive, Mendoza is big and fast and Selck can run and pass.
“It’s wide open in terms of who can really lead the team,” Dini said. “We’re very fortunate to have a system where that will reveal itself. We need to get to a really high completion percentage so it’s not really necessarily how far they can throw the ball but how accurate.”
The good news is Dini’s offense has several similarities to Reese’s system, easing the signal callers’ adjustment and allowing them to get into the meat and potatoes of the playbook early on.
The defense, however, has had a much more different experience. Dini’s staff scrapped the old 3-4 system and implemented the more-versatile 4-2-5.
The new scheme allows the Mustangs’ talented defensive backfield to roam and make plays. Seniors Garret Laine and Nick Arroyo lead the unit at safety and cornerback, respectively, while junior Scott Tinsley can also make plays from the other safety spot.
Seniors Iain Johnson and Margo have both seen time at inside backer along with junior Jason Bettencourt, who transferred in from Valley Christian before last season keeping him off the varsity ranks until this year.
“I feel like with this defense we’re a bit more mobile,” Tinsley said. “We can adjust better to teams that have different styles.”
And the Mustangs will see a variety of attacks during their third straight season in the Monterey Bay League Gabilan division.
Salinas High, North Salinas High and Alvarez High all showcase spreads, Aptos High and San Benito High implement run-heavy attacks and Seaside High and Palma High both have traditional offenses.
The Mustangs finished second in the MBL-G in 2015 and third last season yet not many people outside of the program are expecting much from M.V.C. after graduating several starters and with Aptos, which had won three straight CCS titles before last season, joining the league in the offseason.
Margo said it’s nothing new for M.V.C., which has the second smallest enrollment in the Gabilan division behind Palma.
“We’re always overlooked,” Margo said. “I’m done with that. This is going to be the last year we’re overlooked.”