SWIFT MOVES: Running back Aidan Williams (10) turned upfield behind blocks by Thomas Lash (35) and John Samson (55).
Bishop Diego Football
The Cardinals Set Their Sights on a CIF Championship
Thursday, September 5, 2013
This football season at Bishop Diego High School is one big carpe diem. Two years ago, the Cardinals had a strong sophomore class and went 11-2. Last year, they rode a school-record 12 wins into the CIF Northwest Division semifinals before suffering a defeat. Now they have 23 seniors on their roster with the ultimate goal of going all the way to a CIF championship.
Tom Crawford takes nothing for granted. Bishop’s head coach of 14 years learned the necessity of thorough preparation during the 17 years he practiced law in Los Angeles, primarily as a defense attorney. A stint as a volunteer assistant coach at Birmingham High encouraged him to switch careers. When Bishop Diego offered him a full-time job, he took it despite a substantial pay cut.
Crawford serves as dean of men and teaches classes in government at the 300-student coed school. His football coaching staff includes Bishop alumni Ralph Molina (Class of ’79), a Santa Barbara Police lieutenant who moonlights as the team’s defensive coordinator; Steve Robles (Class of ’81), a retired police officer; and Matt Capritto (Class of 2000), who teaches history and social studies at the school.
The ever-expanding football season made for a short summer. Bishop’s varsity players reported for practice on August 5. Three weeks later, they can finally start looking forward to a game. This is the story of the Cardinals’ week of practice leading up to their season opener last Friday night, August 30, against the Santa Maria Saints.
By Paul Wellman
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Agility drills are part of the regimen at Bishop Diego High’s three-hour football practices.
MONDAY, AUGUST 26
Rap music booms out of a loudspeaker as the players punt, pass, and kick the ball around before the official start of practice. Coach Crawford arrives on the scene. When he first heard the lyrics to the blaring songs, he says, “I told the kids that the English department just committed suicide.”
At 3:30 p.m., the speaker is turned off, and the Cardinals organize themselves into rows and spend 10 minutes stretching and loosening up their limbs. “The Monday practice is important to get everybody on the same page,” Crawford says. “We introduce the week’s opponent in terms of schemes. We correct things that need fixing. Friday seems a long way off to a teenager, but we’ve got a lot to work on. Now, excuse me, I’m gonna yell at them.”
At 3:40, Crawford positions 11 players in the Santa Maria’s defensive formation and outlines the blocking assignments of his offense. “[Crawford’s] offensive mind is amazing,” says Molina, who has two sons on this year’s team. “He brought us a college-type offense. At first, I thought, we’ve got to simplify that. But he’s so intelligent and teaches the game so well.”
At 3:50, the Cardinals perform quickness and agility drills. Robles nudges the running backs with a homemade prod — a piece of PVC pipe with a boxing glove taped at the end.
The practice continues for three hours in orderly 10- or 15-minute segments, punctuated by whistles and shouts. Managers place bottles of water and Gatorade around the field, and the players are allowed to take drinks whenever they’re thirsty, as long as they don’t linger at it. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go,” Crawford shouts. “You can drink while you’re running.” The afternoon temperature, in the 70s, is not too taxing.
There is a round of technique drills by position. Robles sends the running backs through a chute that resembles a compact car wash. Instead of big brushes, the players are buffeted by six spring-loaded dummies, three on each side.
Ron Heller works with the tight ends. He played that position in the NFL, earning a Super Bowl ring with the San Francisco 49ers. Heller joined the Bishop family by marrying a graduate of the school and sending his daughters there.
“These kids have it made,” Capritto says of the caring supervision that’s devoted to the team. On the other hand, it’s a lot of hard work for everybody. “Football is different,” Capritto says. “In basketball and baseball, you’re always playing games. We’ve put in hundreds of practices. The kids give up a lot to be out here. So many things are pulling them in different directions.”
By Paul Wellman
The players start every day (game days excepted) at 7 a.m. in the school’s weight room. There is a sign on the wall: “Did you work out today? Your opponent did.”
They head for today’s practice at 6:30 p.m. at Santa Barbara City College’s La Playa Stadium, the field where they play their home games under a rental agreement. It has a durable carpet of artificial turf and stadium lights for night games.
The evening includes a tackling drill for 10 minutes, the Cardinals’ only full contact in practice all week. “We’ve stepped back from it, partly because of the sensitivity to concussions,” Crawford says. “If it was a problem [in last week’s scrimmage] against Hueneme, we’d tackle every day this week. This is such a veteran group, we haven’t needed that.”
It’s another long day for Crawford. He attended a Tri-Valley League coaches’ meeting in Oxnard Monday night and didn’t get home until 11 p.m. “I’m beat,” he says. But he does not let his players know it.