A year ago, the Santa Clara Bruins faced a tough gauntlet of a schedule, playing in the upper division of the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League (SCVAL). On the surface, the season went as poorly as it possibly could, with the Bruins losing all six of their league games. However, context is crucial. The Bruins lost three of those games by 10 points or less. One of the losses was by just a touchdown and another was by a mere two points. Even in the upper division, the Bruins were actually very close to having finished the league season with a .500 record at 3-3.
Back in a lower division in SCVAL this year, expectations around the program are for a winning season, if not winning league outright. Head Coach Andrew Calderon, though, is making sure his squad is focused on the micro and not the macro.
“There’s a lot of outside talk and even with some of our kids that we have upgraded expectations,” acknowledged Coach Calderon. “But I just have to remind them that it’s just one game at a time. We have a really young team, we graduated 22 seniors last year.”
Despite a significantly younger roster, the Bruins have key returners in key spots. Santa Clara Bruins right tackle Amos Talalele, an NCAA Division I recruit, is back for his senior year and junior quarterback Matthew Conklin started most of the league season last year as a sophomore on varsity.
“Our experience is pretty limited, but it helps when you have someone like Amos who you can run the ball behind,” chuckled Coach Calderon. “And he also anchors our defense.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Bruins will face this season in the SCVAL is fitness level. Not that the team isn’t in top shape, but a lot of their key players are set to play on both sides of the ball. Depending on the opponent, they could be facing fresher players on the other side. Bruins center Austin Sands believes his squad will be able to withstand the extra time on the field given the commitment to conditioning leading up to the season.
“We’ve conditioned a lot at practice from spring through summer knowing a lot of guys will be playing both ways,” chimed Sands. “I’m confident in all of the players that will be playing both ways, they are all talented on both sides of the field.”
One of the key players who will be able to focus just on one side of the ball is the aforementioned starting quarterback Matthew Conklin. Both Sands and Coach Calderon had high praise for their junior signal caller.
“He might be one of the smaller quarterbacks in the league, but he still ended up winning co-sophomore of the year in the De Anza last season,” noted Sands. “He’s really talented, has a lot of awareness on the field. He’s a great leader and someone I really feel confident being in front of on the line.”
“He’s looking really good, with that co-sophomore of the year award, other teams recognized his ability. He has great football awareness; he knows where guys are going to be,” echoed Coach Calderon. “He can anticipate the rush, looks through the windows, is accurate and has a good deep ball.”
Conklin and the Bruins will look to get off to a hot start to the season when they travel up to Pacifica for the non-league opener against the Terra Nova Tigers on Friday, Aug. 26.