CASTROVILLE—The football season hasn’t gone quite as planned for North Monterey County High first-year head coach Juan Cuevas.
He knew there would be some growing pains and a lot of bumps in the road, including some tough losses.
Cuevas said once teams begin to start losing games it’s almost human nature to look for someone to blame.
“We don’t have any of that on this team,” he said. “Our core guys are showing up, they have good practice habits and they’re leading their team the way they should.”
The Condors are coming off a 26-14 loss against Soledad High and they currently sit with a 1-3 overall record.
Cuevas said the core senior group understands that it didn’t have this opportunity last year and its not taking this season for granted. He added there’s been a lot of emotion after the losses, which is fine, he says, but there has been no finger-pointing or helmet slamming.
“It’s been a positive response and the kids are very tight-knit,” he said.
But the biggest loss for them so far has been players that have gone down with injuries. Cuevas said they’ve been piling up the injuries since prior to their season opener against Monte Vista Christian on Aug. 26.
It started with senior Oscar Aquino, who was supposed to compete for the starting quarterback spot but ruptured his Achilles. Senior Marcos Muñoz is now taking the snaps under center.
The Condors are also missing several linemen who are dinged up and another player went down with an ankle injury during Wednesday’s practice.
This week, they had to monitor receiver Gio Mellin because he’s still hampered with a shoulder and knee injury. Cuevas said the bodies just aren’t there.
“It’s just our luck,” he said.
Nico Torres, a senior who plays on both sides of the ball, is still nursing some injuries he suffered earlier this season and during last week’s game against Soledad.
He twisted an ankle on a scoring play and sat out the entire second half. Torres said it’s been frustrating for him to watch from the sidelines. And on top of that, they’re still missing four starters on both sides of the ball.
“It hurts to see your team struggle out there without four starters on offense or defense,” he said.
Cuevas believes it’s attributed to not being able to get his players in the weight room during the offseason. The Condors did not get a chance to compete in the abbreviated 2021 spring season and instead they were limited to conditioning drills.
The players got a chance to lift weights during the summer but it had to be outside and they couldn’t get any bench or squat reps. Cuevas said that it was extremely difficult and time-consuming.
“We did the best we could, the kids had good attitudes,” he said. “They’re in decent shape as far as conditioning goes but all those little muscles that you get stronger in your knees and calves that help prevent these injuries, they didn’t get to work out.”
Cuevas’ coaching staff has had to get creative in practice by coming up with different drills that might include just the center along with both the right tackle and guard if they want to play to the right side and vice versa with the left tackle and guard.
Torres mentioned the backup players have been looking solid up to this point but a lot of them are still inexperienced because of the pandemic. Torres said it’s been a learning experience for them.
“We’re slowly getting better and better every day,” he said.
Torres said it’s about fixing the mistakes and knowing how to play in different situations. One of those mistakes came in their game against the Aztecs after they gave up a touchdown just before halftime.
Then there was the high snap that went over their punter’s head, which Soledad recovered and scored on the following play.
“That’s on us and we gotta learn from that,” he said.
NMC will begin Pacific Coast Athletic League Cypress Division play at San Lorenzo Valley High on Saturday at 2pm.
Torres said the Cougars are going to be a tough challenge but he believes there’s not a team they can’t beat as long as they complete their assignments and stay healthy.
“Beating SLV is important, just to get our momentum going into the league,” he said. “We gotta get our momentum going and we gotta win this game. That will help us so much.”
NMC football schedule
At Monte Vista Christian (L, 35-0)
At Pajaro Valley High, (W, 35-22)
Monterey High (L, 41-0)
Soledad High (L, 27-14)
At San Lorenzo Valley High*, Sept. 25 at 2 p.m.
Scotts Valley High*, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Pacific Grove High*, Oct. 9 at 2 p.m.
At King City High*, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m.
At Rancho San Juan High*, Oct. 23 at 1 p.m.
Watsonville High*, Nov. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
*PCAL-Cypress division play