The Fremont Firebirds football team is set to face some ferocious foes this season, their first under new Head Coach Adam Herald, as they have made the jump to the ultra-competitive De Anza League.
Last season the Firebirds tied for third in the El Camino League standings with a 4-2 record. Fremont finished 6-4 overall as they were led by key seniors in quarterback Roman Stein, bruising tailback Agatonu T. N. Fuaimalolelei, and wide receivers Isaiah Cardenas and Rodney Chand.
Stein threw for an average of 268.1 yards per game, throwing 32 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. Chand and Cardenas finished one and two in receiving respectively with Chand going for 1,067 yards and 18 touchdown receptions and Cardenas tallying 714 yards and 10 touchdowns. Fuaimalolelei finished with 599 yards on the ground, his 15 yards per carry more than doubled that of the next two most frequent ball carries on the roster.
That’s a lot of turnover for a team heading into a tougher division. The Firebirds were often in a lot of high-scoring games last season dominated by their passing game. They will most certainly need to find a way to run the ball more effectively in order to hang with the Milpitas’ and the Wilcox’s of the De Anza League. Milpitas went all the way to the CIF State Championships where they won the Division 4A State Title.
“Obviously we have to address the defensive side of the ball with all those shootouts,” remarked coach Herald, who came to Fremont after being at Monta Vista as head coach. “It’s a new scheme, it’s a new system, so they have to learn new things. Hopefully, we can focus on a few things and do them really well. The physicality of the De Anza is not like the El Camino that they were in last year. We are going to see which of our guys rise up when they go up against guys who are bigger than they are, faster than they are. It’s gonna be a good challenge, a good test.”
For the Firebirds, a large focus will have to be improving the ground game. Going up against schools like Wilcox who can dominate time of possession with their rushing attack, the Firebirds will need to try match that ability better than they have in the past.
“This past week we have come together as a team and started building some chemistry,” noted senior running back Maake Tuulakitau. “We’re looking to make big plays, but we gotta focus on the basics and fundamentals. As a runner, I have to get better at reading gaps, my blocks and exploding once I get into the secondary.”
Tuulakitau and the rest of the staple of tailbacks for Fremont will be key in order to hang with the top teams in the De Anza division and take the pressure off defensive lineman Morris Paterson and the rest of the defense.
“We got a lot of good players on defense. We did lose our best player last year. Fuaimalolelei played linebacker for us and made a lot of big plays, we’re definitely going to miss him,” acknowledged Paterson. “But we do have a lot of young guys who are going to help us on defense and I think we can do a good job in the De Anza this year.”
Fremont will open their season this Saturday, Aug. 25, with an away game at Los Altos at 3 p.m.