For four years, the Falcons have continued to grow and improve, and now in their fifth year, the charter school’s team has to keep up the momentum established by its predecessors.
Nearly all of the starters on the 2011 team, which went 10-0 in the regular season and won the school’s first football league championship, graduated in June. They accounted for 13 of the 32 players on the roster of a team that won the Central California Athletic Alliance title and went to playoffs for the third year in a row.
Most of the players whom head coach Jayson Dias will rely on played backup last year, but Dias expects them to quickly adjust to the roles they trained for.
The Falcons also have a few experienced seniors to bring the new players along.
Senior quarterback Austin Larson, in his fourth year as a Falcon, played mostly on the offensive line last year but proved to be an all-around player on both offense and defense.
Linebacker and tight end Alex Lambert, and center and defensive lineman Jacob Eakin, are also fourth-year players.
Dias added that the team has more upcoming seniors who proved themselves last year.
“I like a lot of our guys on the line,” Dias said, adding that the offensive line includes Eakin, returning seniors Kyle Kish and Jorge Cota, and senior Korey Dubose, who returns after a year away from the team. Their job will also be to provide leadership to the next generation of Falcons.
“There will be a lot of learning,” Eakin said. “A lot of people have never played before. They can do the job. We’ve just got to learn the plays, and we’ll be fine.”
Dias said he expects the running game will be strong.
“We run running back by committee. I like to keep them fresh all game, so I cycle them through,” he said, noting that senior Daryl Martinez, sophomores Devonte Kelly and Izaiah Williams and freshman Malik Burrell will take turns carrying the ball.
“Our whole offensive team has been working hard, and that’s what gives me confidence,” Martinez said, who hopes to personally reach 1,000 yards rushing. “I’ve been working hard during the off-season, and I’m ready.”
Dias also expressed confidence that the defense has enough experience to be effective.
“We have enough guys that played last year and know our defensive scheme,” Dias said.
Lambert, one of last year’s leading tacklers, returns to the defense along with Devon Wright, who plays linebacker. Defensive backs will include returning junior Giocomo Oliveri and senior Kyle Murawski.
Millennium starts its season with a Zero Week game at Woodland Christian High in Woodland on Friday, Aug. 24.
Woodland Christian went 6-4 last year but finished third in the Sacramento Metropolitan Athletic League and didn’t go to playoffs.
This year’s preseason schedule also includes rematches against Amador High and Oakland High, teams that Millennium beat last year.
The Falcons host Vacaville Christian on Sept. 15 — their only preseason opponent that went to playoffs last year. Woodland Poly, who the Falcons host on Sept. 22, did not even have a varsity team last year.
Millennium will take a week off before the Falcons face their Central California Athletic Association rivals. Last year the Falcons, a Sac-Joaquin Section Division V team, didn’t see their toughest competition until the end of the CCAA season.
But this year, the third week of league play sees the Falcons in Lodi against Elliot Christian on Oct. 19, and the week after they go to San Andreas to play Sierra Ridge/Rite of Passage on Oct. 26. Both teams made playoffs in 2011.
Millennium will finish at home against Brookside Christian of Stockton on Nov. 3. Brookside has traditionally been the strongest team in the league, but went 2-8 last year and was third in the CCAA.
“Everyone is kind of in a rebuilding phase now,” Dias said. “Brookside started their rebuilding phase last year, so they might have a leg up on everyone else. We’re all in rebuilding phases, so we’ll be competitive when it comes to league.”
From the trenches to the pocket
Millennium senior Austin Larson has been to playoffs all three years he has played for the Falcons football team. He expects the only difference this year will be his role on the team, as Larson is moving from offensive line to quarterback.
It’s a position he’s been interested in since he joined the team, and during this summer’s workouts, he decided to get serious about taking the job.
“Two years ago and last year, I’d mess around in practice. Coach (Jayson Dias) knows that I throw a lot during baseball, so he knows that I have an arm,” Larson said.
He said that the team unity gives him the confidence to try something new.
“Our line should be pretty strong this year. That’s the position where we have the most returning players,” he said.
Dias said that an all-around athlete such as Larson is the ideal candidate to train for a new job, and that his pupil was glad to go through all the necessary speed and agility drills before he tried to perfect his passing game.
“He’s one of those versatile guys — if he puts his mind to it he will be good at it, and he continuously wants to get better,” Dias said. “The first thing he said when I told him that I wanted him to play quarterback was that he wanted to be good, so could we start now?”
Senior Alex Lambert begins his fourth year on the Falcons football team. Each year as a linebacker, he has found ways to make the Millennium defense even better.
“If you execute right and everyone does their job, we’ll shut down teams,” Lambert said.
He brings a history of effective defense to the team, but figures his leadership role on the Falcons’ defense will be his big contribution this year. He hopes to make the 2012 defense the school’s best yet.
“The seniors have got to step up and show all the new people what to do,” he said. “We’ve just got to bring them up with us.”
Lambert added that in three previous years on the team, he has seen people quickly learn new roles, given the right training and motivation.
“You can do a lot with new people. Our lineman coach (Les Rogers) turned new people who had only played one year into all-league linemen, and that doesn’t happen a lot.”
Among returning seniors, he’s the statistical leader on defense with 76 total tackles and 6.5 sacks in 2011. As an individual player, he makes the move to the defensive line, a role where he expects to continue to shut down other teams.
“They put me there because I get to the quarterback quick. I’ll do well there, too,” he said.