Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011 | 1:55 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Case Keefer and Ray Brewer recap the action from the first week of high school football and look ahead to another slate of games. Popular topics include this week's Arbor View vs. Palo Verde showdown and last week's stunning upset by Bonanza over Silverado.
It was the break the Coronado football team was looking for.
The Cougars, who had a new coach for the third straight season and weren’t expected to be competitive, opened Southeast Division play last fall by upsetting one of the league’s powers in a 30-27 victory against Basic.
For one night, it appeared Coronado, which didn’t win a game in league play the year before, was going to challenge for a playoff spot.
Then, just as some predicted, the Cougars closed the season by losing six straight games — five in league play and one by 26 points to 3A classification Virgin Valley.
When coach Lance Cooper, who took over for Todd Stranton three months before the start of last year, went to evaluate his program’s progress in the offseason, he couldn’t help but noticing several deficiencies. First, he had to address the overall strength of his players, several of whom were physically dominated during the losing skid to close the season.
Cooper remodeled the weight room, raising $40,000 for more equipment and stressing to his players that having more strength and stamina would be crucial in closing games in the fourth quarter. Additionally, practice sessions would include lifting weights twice a week — something common at other programs but not part of the Cougars’ routine last year. Coronado hosts Sunrise Mountain at 7 p.m. Friday to open the season.
“Last year, we were getting thinner, and it seemed like everyone else got bigger,” Cooper said.
Having to work on team strength sure beats the other problem the Cougar program has endured. Since the school opened in 2001, it has had six head coaches.
“If I’m here three years, at least I will set one record,” said Cooper, who last fall was the third coach in three years.
While the stability has done wonders in helping the players build confidence, the Cougars still aren’t considered major contenders by players from other teams in the Southeast. They have two league wins in the last three years.
“You can feel in practice that guys are motivated and willing to put in the work this season,” said senior Chris Johnson, the Cougars’ starting running back. “We want to earn some respect from those teams that don’t respect us.”
Johnson and junior wide receiver Cody Mucino will be Coronado’s two biggest threats offensively. Johnson led the Cougars in rushing last year and the speedy Mucino, who had 500 receiving yards and seven touchdowns last year, is a threat to score each time he touches the ball.
Defensively, linebacker Colton Willden returns for a unit that surrendered nearly 40 points a game last fall. “This year, we are a lot bigger and stronger, which we haven’t had in the years before” Willden said.
Others to watch include senior lineman Christian Chavez and quarterback Nate Webb.