Fran Fredette is surprisingly blunt when discussing his football team. This season, he said, Santa Clara (Oxnard) High will have a simple philosophy.
"We're just trying to get the ball in the hands of our threats. We have some guys who can really run it."
Now there's an understatement.
Before heading to Notre Dame next fall, senior running back Cierre Wood figures to blaze one last trail through the CIF Southern Section. In Wood's sophomore year, he rang up 1,407 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
Last year, he nearly doubled that. Leading the Saints to the SS Mid-Valley Division championship, the 6-foot, 195-pound lightning bolt gained 2,612 yards on the ground, averaging 14.67 yards per carry.
After dropping its first game of the year against Hueneme, Santa Clara ripped off 'W's in its final 10 games, finishing 11-1-1.
"That first week was an eye-opener," Fredette said. "The guys thought things would be easy. That really sparked us."
The motivation was nice, but Fredette would rather start this season on a better note.
It won't be easy, considering the Saints lost their 6-feet, 4-inch starting quarterback and stud defensive end, Randi Vines (New Hampshire), and their primary receivers, David Ortiz and Mike Keith.
Junior Mike Laubaucher will take the reins behind center, a spot with which he's familiar. In 2007, he started the first two games before ceding the role to Vines. He was relegated to JV, where Fredette said he continued learning the nuances of the position.
Playing on both the defensive and offensive lines are Daniel Garcia, Artie Lopez, Ramon Diaz and Tom Torres, returning starters from last year's squad. That quartet should make Laubaucher's job that much easier.
"He's an intelligent kid who has a good presence," Fredette said of Laubaucher. "Having him back there will give us a chance to get back to where we were last year."
So will Wood. After starring in the Football University Top Gun Showcase Camp in Florida in July, Wood -- the top running back prospect in the country and the No. 2 overall player in California -- likely will carry the Saints through 2008.
Yet, Santa Clara has a tough trail ahead, including games against Oak Park, Nordhoff and Oaks Christian.
In recent weeks, Oaks Christian has made national headlines for its famous transfers. Junior quarterback Nick Montana (Joe Montana's son) and sophomore quarterback Trevor Gretzky (Wayne Gretzky's son) joined Oaks Christian during the summer.
Wood might have liked to play with one of those two, but he's plenty happy with his own crew.
"We feel like we've got enough to win every game," Wood said. "A lot of our guys have been together for four years. All the transfers really aren't our thing. We want to play with what we have."
Wood's explosiveness opens holes for the passing game, which will score enough points to give the defense a substantial margin for error.
In the off-season, Wood said he's kept his workouts simple -- improving his speed, practicing plays and staying in shape. He said the specialized defenses he encountered the past two seasons have taught him how to run routes more efficiently.
"You learn to play against some crazy stuff," Wood said. "It makes you think about what you're going to do before you even do it."
If Wood's progress continues, Fredette plans to ride him through one more postseason. Neither Fredette nor Wood admitted to bitter feelings toward Oaks Christian's transfers, but surely there's added incentive to beat the new guys.
"You see these quarterbacks transferring, and for some reason they don't come here," Fredette said. "But right now, we're a special team. Cierre makes us special.
"Last year it seemed like he was winning some games for us by himself. He's just a special kid."
Please contact writer David Biderman at [email protected] with questions, comments or suggestions for future stories -- all ideas will be considered.