After winning the school’s first ever CIF State Championship in 2018, the Wilcox Chargers football team isn’t talking about repeating or defending their title. To start the season, the team is keeping its goals on a smaller scale. But, make no mistake, the defending champions are not short on confidence.
“We want to win our league, our league is so good and has been so competitive,” said Head Coach Paul Rosa. “The top teams in the league are always really good and any time you can win league it’s a big thing.”
Despite losing a handful of key players to graduation from last year’s team, the Chargers still boast Paul M. Rosa at tailback and defensive end Isaiah Flores, two big-time playmakers.
“I feel good, practices have been good, we’ve been working hard,” remarked the younger Rosa, more affectionately known as “Bro” amongst those who know him. “Nobody is going to take us lightly after last year.”
Rosa was part of a two-headed monster of tailbacks last season alongside the now graduated Gabe Herrera. Replacing Herrera won’t be easy, but the Chargers are confident in speedster Aaron Ah Sing and the physical Roan Poulivaati to help fulfill that production by committee.
“Ah Sing is a pretty explosive guy and then we have Roan, our middle backer,” said coach Rosa on his tailbacks. “We’re trying to have a power guy and a speed guy fill that spot, whereas Bro and Gabe could each do both. This year, we’re trying to get a guy to do each one and see how that goes. I have confidence in both of them to share that load. And sharing is key since they both play defense too.”
As for the defense, Ah Sing at corner and Poulivaati at middle linebacker are two returning staples, but it’s Flores who stands out the most on that side of the ball. In last season’s lone loss in the CCS Championship game, Flores was all over the field. The then junior finished with two-and-a-half sacks, an additional two tackles for losses and a pair of deflected passes at the line of scrimmage.
“His first two or three steps are as explosive as any player that we have and that’s even counting the little guys,” noted coach Rosa on how Flores is able to get to opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers with such regularity. “If you run him in a 40-yard dash he’s really not that fast, but in a five-yard race he can almost beat anybody. At his defensive end position, that is a huge advantage and he’s super physical. He’s one of the most physical guys we have.”
“I just love defense,” remarked Flores, who also plays tight end, on which side of the ball he prefers to play. “I just feel like I’m better at it, more impactful.”
You would be hard pressed to find a more impactful individual performance all season long than what Flores delivered in that CCS final, even with it being the Chargers’ lone loss of the season.
With a new format this year in the CCS and CIF State playoff bracket, Wilcox will have to win the CCS Championship game in order to advance to the NorCal State round. And to do that, they’ll have to do it with a new starting quarterback.
Quarterback Alex Adame graduated last year. He was a key fixture in the running game in addition to throwing the ball. With Wilcox operating out of their run-heavy base formation, it was Adame who was counted on to keep the ball and run himself, which he did extremely effectively down the stretch run and into the playoffs. Taking over at quarterback this season is Geremy McCollough, who was Adame’s backup last season.
“I’m not too nervous because last year was a big learning opportunity,” responded McCollough on any anxiousness taking over such a key position for a championship team. “I knew I wasn’t going to get many snaps, but I took the whole year to watch how [Adame], conducts himself, how he conducts the offense and get in sync with how varsity works. It helped me mentally prepare for this season.”
This will be McCollough’s senior season, so despite limited varsity action, he already carries himself with the poise and confidence of a veteran leader. McCollough used the term “gunslinger” in referring to his style of quarterbacking.
“I’m more pass oriented,” remarked the quarterback when asked to compare himself to his two predecessors. “I think the best part about me as a quarterback is that I stay calm when it matters. When I played JV we had a lot of close games and my coach always thanked me for keeping calm. If I’m calm, the rest of the offense is calm because they tend to look at me as the quarterback in tight situations.”
The Chargers will continue to be a run-first offense, but McCollough at 6’3” tall has the ability to see down field with a bit more visibility than past quarterbacks.
“We’re still going to be in our split-back veer running game, and [McCollough] has to be a threat running the ball, but he can definitely do some things in the passing game because of his height,” confirmed coach Rosa. “It’s easier for him to see over our tall, big linemen. That’s a definite advantage and we may do some more shotgun stuff than normal because of that.”
Coach Rosa certainly isn’t short on confidence in his new starter, who has always shone confidence in himself.
“He’s pretty confident, I’ve known him since he was eight-years-old,” added coach Rosa. “He’s never lacked confidence. Not in a cocky way, but he just feels good about his abilities. He plays baseball too, and so I feel good about that part of it from him.”
Even with impact players from both sides of the ball graduating from last year’s team, coach Rosa feels good about this year’s squad, especially so about his defense.
“I actually feel our defense has the opportunity to be even a little bit better than they were the year before,” noted coach Rosa. “We lost some key guys like [Ryan] Cooper, but we have a better understanding of our defense now, it’s the third year of our defense going into this year, since we first installed it.”
That is certainly some high praise and expectations for a defense that led the way to the biggest win of the regular season a year ago. Wilcox’s State Championship season began with a thrilling defensive battle, won by a final of 10-6 over the perennially tough Valley Christian out of the West Catholic Athletic League.
The Chargers will once again open their season this year against the Warriors, as they travel to Valley Christian on Aug. 30.