ALHAMBRA – The Mark Keppel High won a football game in its season opener. That usually isn’t huge news, except for the fact that the team has struggled since the 1980s and with second-year coach Aaron Sepulveda at the helm the future looks bright for the Aztecs.
Sepulveda came to the team after the school year was finished more than a year ago, meaning he missed out on valuable time to get his team ready for the 2012 campaign. But that didn’t stop him from getting a competitive squad out there on the field.
“We struggled,” Sepulveda said. “Last year was a period in which we were building a foundation. When I arrived in late June, we had to get things situated by establishing a weight training program, a conditioning program. We were trying to become acquainted with the players, become familiar with the culture of the school. We definitely struggled, but the players had good spirit, they didn’t quit.”
He added Keppel brought its own challenges.
“It’s tough when you start new procedures,” he said. “It’s tough for any coach, especially when the program has been struggling for three decades. But the players have put in the work this year and they’re having fun.”
Beating Ganesha High in the opener and almost defeating Workman High in Week Two, Sepulveda said he hopes the tide is turning.
“This year we’re seeing the reward that we’re already a lot more competitive than we were last year,” he said.
So, what do the Aztecs need to do to finally turn it around once and for all?
“We need to eliminate mistakes,” Sepulveda said. “Against Ganesha, we didn’t make any offensive turnovers and that was a very close game. Against Workman, we made some mistakes. Even though we had the lead with five minutes remaining, we played well. That’s two games that ended in onside kicks. That tells you they were competitive games.”
One big set-back for the Aztecs is learning that talented senior quarterback Marcus Valenzuela, who recently transferred to Keppel from San Gabriel High, will need to sit out an additional 30 days before he can play, according to a ruling made by CIF Southern Section.
Sepulveda said he disagrees with the ruling.
“We feel he had a legitimate right to play under the hardship clause that CIF has,” Sepulveda said of Valenzuela. “He fit all the criteria.”
And with the Aztecs battling powerhouse Gabrielino High tonight, the news couldn’t have come at a worse time.
“They are undefeated and haven’t allowed a point all season,” Sepulveda said of the Eagles. “We definitely are coming in with a purposeful game plan, one that is structured and customized according to their strengths.”
But all and all, the team is looking better, Sepulveda said.
“We’ve definitely improved dramatically defending against the pass,” Sepulveda said. “I think we’ve shown that. We’re struggling with numbers. Most of our players are two-way players. They have a lot of fight in them and they’ve been playing hard from kick-off to the final whistle. So, the spring activity helped us. It allowed us to get further along with the implementation of certain schemes.”
Sepulveda also credited his assistant coaches – defensive coordinator Kymm Snowden and offensive line coach Niko Gonzalez – with helping to turn the team around.