The Santa Clara Bruins football team has new leadership on the sidelines this season. First-year Head Coach Nelson Gifford takes the reins as the man in charge, but the boys on the field are led by familiar names.
Senior quarterback Matthew Conklin already has a year-and-a-half experience as the varsity starter, and two-way player Matthew Nguyen also returns for his senior season. Nguyen will lead the Bruins’ rushing attack as a tailback and is also known to deliver crushing hits as a safety on defense, despite being listed at just five-feet, six-inches tall and weighing only 140 pounds.
“It’s physics, right?” cracked coach Gifford with a wry smile when asked about Nguyen’s ability to deliver bone-crunching hits. “He is a powerful dude. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s tough as nails and he brings it.
“I was really impressed when I watched him play last year and I’ve been more impressed spending each day with him and seeing how hard he works and how serious he is about making the most of this opportunity,” Gifford continued. “I think he missed one day over the summer and maybe one day during the spring. Over 13 weeks, four days a week, only missing two days, that’s a pretty big deal. He’s playing on offense, playing on defense, probably some special teams as well, so he’s going to carry a big load for us.”
Nguyen and Conklin will lead a Bruins squad that went just 2-4 in league a year ago. The squad hopes to improve upon that mark, but at this point they acknowledge there are growing pains with a new system.
“It is kind of a lot to learn because you kind of have to unlearn all the old habits from previous systems and then learn the new things, so it’s a lot of changing,” acknowledged Nguyen. “I feel like the team is really vibing with coach though. He likes feedback, he likes a lot of feedback from us, which is nice. Sometimes some coaches are like ‘this is my way or the highway.’”
With Nguyen leading the way from the backfield, the passing game will likely feature a lot of Conklin looking for senior receiver Jeremiah Karongo. The six-foot, three-inch tall wideout towers over most of the defenders who will be trying to cover him.
“It’s fast-paced out here for sure,” chimed Karongo on the current practice preparations for the season. “You study your plays and you get used to it. We can always get better, but I think we are in a nice place right now.”
A nice place would be finding the endzone with regularity on offense. In recent years the Bruins have been, at times, carried by the defense. Returning on that side of the ball this year is linebacker Mitchell Pacheco.
“It’s definitely different this year. He’s got a much more strict scheme in what he wants,” noted Pacheco on the adjustments under Gifford. “But he has a vision and he’s been doing this a lot longer than we have been playing, so we feel confident we will be good.”
The Bruins will look to utilize said confidence in a home scrimmage against Capuchino on Friday, Aug. 18 and will open the actual season by hosting Terra Nova on Aug. 25.