The players know it. The coaches know it. Last year was tough for Raymond S. Kellis football. The Cougars went 0-10 in 2018, coach Stephen Hogg’s first season, losing by less than double digits just one time.
However, rather than holding their collective heads down, Kellis graduated a large senior class, and the new crop of players is ready to rebuild toward the success of seasons past.
The Cougars are no strangers to winning seasons. Kellis posted back-to-back winning records in 2016 and 2017 under coach Shawn Copeland. He is now in his first year with nearby Verrado.
Hogg has been impressed by a talented group of upcoming juniors, many of whom spent last season on the bench or at the JV level. Watching them fly to the ball in drills and play with much effort, he sees a lot of promise in a group that has the potential to get back to winning ways.
“It’s encouraging to see that (leadership) happening now, so that when they’re seniors in a couple years, they’re going to be those leaders. That’s a big deal,” Hogg said.
Much like other Valley teams, the Cougars have participated in some seven-on-seven passing games and big-man competitions, working early on getting timing and routes learned for quarterbacks and receivers.
However, Hogg had the Cougars participate in just one passing tournament, at Arizona State University in early June, while other teams have taken part in five or more already. Rather than a competition, where he and the rest of the staff do not have time to critique and work on techniques in consecutive games, they can take their time.
The staff, when practicing on the team’s field, can run a play back or give specific advice to a player, which they cannot with restricted time at tournaments. The Cougars are also focusing on “real” football, which they hope pays dividends when the regular season begins in August.
“With a young team, I need as much of that coaching time as I can get,” Hogg said.
One issue for Kellis’ roster number still pales in comparison to other teams in the area. The team recently hosted a middle school camp, which saw over 40 future Cougar prospects come out. But senior quarterback Kalen Jordan estimated there were only about 50 current Kellis students at initial practices for the immediately upcoming season. The one advantage he mentioned to having a small group is the chemistry and familiarity of each player with their teammates.
He also sees athletic ability and new attitudes throughout the Cougar lineup. They are focused on improvement among the players that are there now, and hopefully rebounding toward past glory.
“The way everyone is rebounding is inspiring. Nobody’s focusing on last year now. We’re putting a new playbook in, and it’s a different group,” Jordan said. “I know I’m excited.”