Los Gatos gets a head start on 2014 season

The Los Gatos High football team couldn’t wait. While the rest of the Central Coast Section prepared for a sleepless night ahead of the first official practice date of the 2014 season, the Wildcats lined up just behind the goal post at the south end of Helm Field just before midnight.

Head coach Mark Krail wasn’t about to let a second go to waste … 3 … 2 … 1 … “The fact that we practice the second we’re allowed to come out here speaks volumes of us as a team,” senior quarterback Dru Brown said. “We’re obviously not the most athletic team as a Milpitas or Wilcox, but we’re assignment-perfect and we spend every minute that we can out here to be perfect. It shows on Friday nights.”

And so it went for the next two-and-a-half hours of the crispest practice you will see on a high school campus anywhere in the country. Offensive linemen were hitting, running backs were juking, quarterbacks were launching footballs, with all parties coming together for 11-on-11 work in preparation for the season opener September 6 at home against Archbishop Mitty.

“There’s a difference between the first practice being early in the morning or in the afternoon,” standout senior running back Joey Wood said. “The first time being back under the lights brings a special energy that the daytime sun doesn’t give you.” That energy began to build up even before the players took the field.

“There was a little bit of magic in the team room before we came out – they were playing the song from ‘Friday Night Lights’ – it was really kind of a special moment,” Krail said. “Some tears were shed and some goose bumps were certainly there so it was a pretty neat thing.”

The Thursday midnight practice represented a major milestone in a full week of preparation that has seen the Wildcats camp out together in the basketball gym. Local restaurants have donated meals to the team, whose players have returned the favor by cleaning a few windows and wiping down some handrails in the cozy downtown community. And if the gym has taken on the look of a refugee camp at times, well …

“We all mess around with each other but it’s all in good fun,” Brown said. “In the end, it brings us together.” The cohesion showed on the field as Krail and his strong corps of assistants ran the team through a series of precision-based drills, both on an individual and team level. Execution is clearly a theme for the Wildcat football team.

“We pride ourselves on working hard and being prepared,” Krail said. “First day there’s gonna be some hits and misses, but by and large it looked pretty good. Our assignments were pretty solid at this point. Obviously we have a long way to go but the enthusiasm was there and the energy was great.” The camp ends Saturday night with the team giving thanks to all of its supporters. It’s a tradition that pre-dates Krail, who is entering his second year at Los Gatos, but one in which the coach believes strongly.

“This community is so supportive and these kids really have it good. This is a tradition that has been going on here at Los Gatos for some time and one that I really like,” Krail said. “It’s not so much about Xs and Os but it’s more about bringing the guys together to form that common bond.” Krail came to Los Gatos prior to the 2013 season after a successful run at Santa Clara. Despite losing his first two games at the helm, the Wildcats rallied to win 10 of their last 11 games, including a 31-14 win over St. Francis in the CCS Division II championship.

Gone from that championship team is quarterback Nick Bawden, who is making a strong impression at San Diego State as as a freshman. However, in his place steps Brown, who starred in limited action as a junior, completing 19-of-26 passes for 287 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. “I think I have a pretty good grasp on what’s going on,” said Brown, who is looking to become the latest in long line of successful Los Gatos quarterbacks that includes current Oakland Raiders backup Trent Edwards.

While the Wildcats figure to be strong through the air, with Brown tossing the ball to the likes of senior wide receivers Matt Wilcox and Nick Occhipinti, opponents will have to make stopping Wood the number one priority. Wood, who has already rushed for nearly 3,000 yards in just under two seasons on the varsity, is a bruising 5-10, 220-pound senior who went for 1,964 yards and 28 touchdowns in 2013. For Wood, the experience at the week-long camp leading into the first official practice of the season is about much more than football. Just don’t tell that to the legions of fellow running backs he pounded into submission in a healthy king-of-the-hill type hitting drill just over a half hour into the new season.

Included among the festivities was a lift-a-thon to raise money for the program, a comedy skit in which the players got free reign to mock their coaches, and the typical hi-jinks associated with high school boys featuring a variety of projectiles. “It was definitely a lot of fun,” said Wood, noting as an exception a brutal conditioning workout Thursday morning that “almost” induced a case of the heaves. “We were basically hanging out, having dinner together. We had four, five or six good skits – it’s the one time all year where it’s no harm, no foul you can make fun of the coaches. There’s nothing funnier in the world because everybody can relate to it.”

Article by Prep2Prep