May 25, 2024

OC Sports Zone: Community First

PREVIEW: Struggling University hosts undefeated Segerstrom in nonleague game

University players, including Busher Alshahror (No. 7) and Damarian Ward (No. 19) prepare for a home game earlier this year (Photo Tim Burt, OC Sports Zone)

It’s been a rough start for University High’s football team and it doesn’t get any easier for the Trojans Friday night.

University hosts undefeated Segerstrom, which has been ranked No. 1 in the CIF Division 10 most of the season and is No. 2 this week, in a nonleague game at 7.

University is 0-4 and coming off a 50-0 loss to Katella last week while Segerstrom is 5-0. The Jaguars defeated Laguna Hills 34-7 Friday night at Laguna Hills.

First year University Coach Chris Hernandez remains upbeat about the season.

“I still believe we have the potential to be a competitive team, despite our record,” he said. “We played a tough preseason schedule that wasn’t ideal for the growth of our team that really needed some confidence. Thankfully our AD Tom Shrake was able to get some other teams off the schedule before I was hired, or it might have been worse. Last year they played Orange in game two.

“The truth is we are young, we only have a handful of players who had played meaningful varsity minutes last year, so on offense we started the year playing seven guys on offense who had never started a varsity game, and defensively we have had as many as eight players starting who have never started a varsity game, so we really are getting lots of guys experience right now in the preseason. 

“But my number one priority is establishing a healthy and thriving culture, which is a process.”

Hernandez said progress is being made.

“The last place you see results from a culture change is on the scoreboard, but I have seen a lot of things that make me proud of the progress the players have made,” he said. “We are learning how to practice with game intensity, that is definitely a culture change, we are learning how to grind in the weight room, another culture change, and we are working to instill values in the players that help develop them as young men.  I believe we haven’t even scratched the surface on our best football yet, so I’m excited to see us turn a corner here on the back end of our schedule.”

Hernandez said he is well aware of what Segerstrom has accomplished.

“They are the team that’s on the schedule,” he said. “They will be one of the best teams we will play all year.  I’m good friends with Mike Maceranka who built that program and established a winning culture. Since Coach Maz left for Laguna Hills, Coach Tagaloa has done a phenomenal job of building on that foundation and getting them in the position they are now …. That staff and their players have done a great job so far this season. They deserve the acclaim they have received this season.

“As a competitor you look forward to seeing where you measure up to the best.  It’s a great measurement of where we are at and where we have to get to in order to compete in league.  

“But I’m super positive, I love our team, I’ve been excited to see our response to disappointment, it’s easy to be a good guy when things are going well, but you learn a lot about your culture when you face unmet expectations, and we still have some ways to go.”

University will likely be without star running back/defensive back Branton Lucas, who has been out with a knee injury. 

“Branton is rehabbing and doing everything he can to get back on the field for league,” Hernandez said. “He’s been working hard to keep the other players positive and has been looking to help in any way he can. “

Tagaloa, the Segerstrom coach, indicated his players need to continue to prepare for league play.

“This week is a big week for our program as we go on the road to take on a tough University team,” he said.

“Our goal is to compete every snap no matter what the score is and our boys understand that this is the only way to prepare for league. In order for us to have success offensively, we will need to play mistake free so that we can execute.

“Defensively we will need to fly around and get 11 helmets to the ball all night, and not have any mental breakdowns. Our special teams have done a good job all season in switching field position and momentum, so we will count of them to do much of the same.”

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