Confident Coronado continues steady rise

Coronado High School has fielded some fantastic sports teams since the school opened in 2001.

The Cougars are terrific at tennis and golf. The school has won state titles in swimming, and the baseball team earned a trip to state in the spring.

But that success never really has reached the football field. That’s something first-year coach Brad Talich hopes is changing, although he knows those changes won’t happen overnight.

“No one’s ever identified Coronado as a (football) team, ever,” Talich said. “And all of a sudden, they want to identify us as one of the best teams. But we’re still working to improve the program and working to improve what we can do inside our own walls.”

The 10th-ranked Cougars (3-1) get a huge test at 7 p.m. today when they travel to second-ranked Liberty (3-1) for both teams’ Southeast League opener.

In Liberty, Talich sees a model for what his program can become. The Patriots struggled for years before finally reaching the playoffs for the first time in 2009. They followed that up with back-to-back Sunrise Region championships and now are viewed as one of the premier programs in the area.

Coronado, meanwhile, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007.

“We have some kids here, and we’re trying to mesh them together and one day establish a program like Las Vegas or Liberty or Palo (Verde),” Talich said. “But it takes work, and it’s going to take a lot of time.”

The seeds Talich has tried to plant already are starting to blossom in the form of increased confidence.

“We changed our model completely,” senior linebacker Corey Sobczyk said. “We’re believing now. We believe we can win every game; we can stay in every game. We’re not afraid of anybody.”

Sobczyk and his defensive teammates will get a challenge in trying to stop the Patriots. Liberty averages 35.5 points and has been especially potent in the running game, led by UNLV recruit Niko Kapeli (611 rushing yards, nine TDs). The Patriots have rushed for 1,020 yards.

“We’ve just got to stop Niko Kapeli, it’s as simple as that,” Sobczyk said.

The Cougars have been strong at times against the run. They limited Valley to 22 rushing yards, and held Green Valley to 28 the following week.

“We’re pretty good at usually stopping the run game,” senior defensive lineman Brendan Larsen said.

On offense, the Cougars have primarily relied on a short passing game to average 45 points. Kevin Lucero has passed for 926 yards and 14 TDs in guiding the team’s spread offense. But Talich said an improved running game behind Derrick Keller (204 yards) has helped. Keller had 125 yards last week against Rancho.

“He’s kind of a gem,” Talich said. “He’s an explosive kid, he’s powerful and he runs the football pretty well.”

And Talich said the team also can control the ball with its short passing game.

“It’s like a long handoff,” he said. “That’s kind of what we looked at doing with some of the personnel that we had. We’ve got some small, quick kids. And our linemen are not the biggest kids, but they can run a little bit. We felt if our linemen could run to the edge, we could be a pretty good screen team, and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587.

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