June 15, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

New Mater Dei football coach Raul Lara ‘blessed and honored’ for opportunity

Raul Lara answers questions during Wednesday’s press conference on campus. (Photo courtesy Mater Dei Athletics).

Mater Dei High School’s new football coach Raul Lara knows what it takes to field a winning team: included in his resume are five CIF titles leading Long Beach Poly.

In 13 years at Poly, Lara had a 142-30 record.

Now in his new position, Lara wants to maintain the tradition Mater Dei has established. Mater Dei is one of the elite high school programs in the country and is coming off a CIF Division 1 and state open division title run last season under former Coach Frank McManus.

Lara answered a number of questions Wednesday during his first press conference. Local media members including one from OC Sports Zone along with national media members asked questions.

“My football philosophy has always been to get the young men to understand what the common goal is,” said Lara, who was CIF Division 1 coach of the year in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2012.

“During that process we also want to teach life skills and obviously have a relationship with the man upstairs. That’s the main focus for me and it’s always been that since my Poly days. That’s how I was groomed as a football player. I was fortunate to have really good coaches.”

Lara said he’s “blessed and honored” to have the opportunity to coach at Mater Dei and praised what he called “an awesome staff” at Mater Dei.

Most recently Lara coached at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach and has also been head coach at Warren. The new Monarchs coach was a dean and deputy probation officer in Los Angeles County which he said “helped me get a different perspective on kids.”

He played football under Jim Barnett at Poly.

Some of Lara’s responses to questions:

Structure and discipline:

“We’ve changed the structure, and I’m going to be honest with you, I would say at least 90 to 95 percent of the kids have responded real well. Kids want structure, even though sometimes they say they don’t, they do and there are a couple kids who are still kind of figuring me out, but I can see them turning, but I think it’s going for the good.

“There are going to be some consequences for kids if they don’t do what they’re supposed to do …. “

Former Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson, who was the first to congratulate him when he got the job:

”Me and him have a pretty good relationship. We always respected each other, especially when we played against each other.”

Lara said he and Rollinson chatted during a recent lunch.

“‘We had a great conversation, we had a great time. We’ve been staying in touch and he’s given me a little insight and obviously I need that. He built an awesome thing here.”

Dealing with pressure:

One of the Mater Dei players asked Lara how he deals with pressure.

“I kind of smirked at him and said, ‘I’m going to be honest with you. I have something to lean on that I truly trust and I don’t feel no pressure and that’s because I have something to lean on.’ And who I told him who I lean on is Jesus Christ, My Lord and Saviour.

“I told the kids If you don’t have that relationship, then you really don’t have anything to lean on and that’s why you feel the pressure. To me, it’s a blessing, the Lord has me here, I feel like me coaching is a ministry for these young kids.”

Changes he will make:

“I have an offensive scheme and I have a defensive scheme and what has been implemented here already, we’re going to stick with that and I’m just going to have to learn what they’re doing and we go from there. So I’m not changing much, other than just trying to give the program direction and structure.”

Coaching in the Trinity League:

“I think you always need a rivalry. When I was at Poly, everybody kept on asking, ‘who is your rival?’ And there were a couple times I told people it was Mater Dei, because they’re the ones who can compete with us, and obviously we win one year and the next year, they win.

“You need that for your players to try and strive to beat a team like that. Obviously ever since I left Long Beach Poly, that Bosco and Mater Dei have benefited from that and I that’s why I think that’s why they’re the top two programs right now. When you play against good competition, obviously that’s always good for your team. It makes you better and puts you on a special platform that a lot of kids are not able to be on and for them to showcase their talent against other good competition it also gives them an opportunity to be looked at by other colleges.”

Responsibility as a coach:

“My thing is not always about winning, it’s about getting these guys to understand that they need to become good people and hopefully when they get older, they are successful and they’re positive, helping people in their community, and that’s the biggest thing and that’s what I’ve been harping about ever since I’ve been coaching.”

Prospects for the season:

“My first day here the whole staff of University of Alabama came through here. So, that was kind of interesting …. Obviously, this team is very talented, the size of the kids is daunting. There is talent here, there is no doubt and a lot of it, I think we have about 20 kids on the roster who have been offered at least one Division 1 scholarship and that’s not even including the Ivy League kids we have on this team.”

What he’s most excited about:

“The challenge of being here and beginning this program. The program itself, in a sense of winning, it’s there. Now, I have to maintain it. The program is already on top and I need to maintain it and if I can make it a little bit better, then let’s go, so here we go again. I feel like I’m starting all over again.”

—Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone; timburt@ocsportszone.com