After losing the starting quarterback and The Monterey Herald’s Male Athlete of the Year, it would not be out of the ordinary for a Carmel Padres fan to expect a down year for the reigning Mission Trail Athletic League champs. Starting this fall off 5-0 has certainly changed a few opinions.
This year’s team, helmed by head coach Golden Anderson, had a solid preseason with wins against Willow Glen, Scotts Valley and Christopher High School. Even without tight end John Stivers, now playing for Harvard University, the Padres won their first league game Sept. 24 against Stevenson School by a score of 48-18 and tied a school record by scoring 78 points in their win against Marina High.
The departure of last year’s quarterback Jonathan Hugo led to a game of musical chairs to fill positions. Senior Daniel Higman made the switch from defensive back to quarterback and has settled into his new role.
“It’s been a pretty easy transition,” Higman says of the position change. Higman started the last two games of the 2015 season at quarterback, so the change was not altogether unexpected.
Highlighting the offense is senior Covassay Windham, returning for his third season as Carmel’s starting running back. With Higman, the two form a rushing duo that ran for over 2,000 yards last year. Windham has shown no signs of slowing this year, running for over 200 yards in the win against Stevenson and 100 yards against Marina.
One of the biggest concerns this offseason was the loss of Stivers. His 73.3 yards per game as a receiver paired with Windham’s formidable stats formed the bulk of last year’s offense. According to Anderson, the answer does not come from replacing Stivers, rather he looks at it from a team standpoint.
“Production’s production,” says Anderson, seeing that come from more than just one person. Anderson wants every player to contribute the most they can.
Senior Matt Luch also notices a change in the offense without Stivers.
“It’s definitely an adjustment, because Stivers led the team in catches,” Luch notes. “There are definitely a lot more receptions to go around, and we’re kind of spreading the ball out this year.”
That certainly showed on the field for Luch, as he had two touchdowns in the league-opener against Stevenson.
Despite the shifts in the roster and the offensive strategy, the chemistry on the field is palpable.
“It’s not a selfish team this year,” Higman notes.
Luch exemplifies this, holding team performance over everything else.
“I just want to see us win a CCS championship, and I don’t care what my stats are,” Luch says.
Part of this chemistry can be attributed to some players assuming the leadership positions left by last year’s seniors. Two such players, junior Christian Stapleton says, are Higman and fellow senior Hayden Stachalek, who believes this is a special team and wants to work hard to make sure it achieves its full potential.
“I think we have a great shot to go undefeated,” Stachalek says. “I don’t want to look back and think what if I ran a little harder, what if I did my sprints harder…so you just gotta leave everything out on the field.”
The past two seasons, the Padres have enjoyed success, going undefeated in MTAL last year. Unfortunately, they have not been able to get past the second round of the Central Coast Section playoffs.
The Padres’ strong start shows that they have what it takes to make a strong return to CCS this year.
Stachalek has lofty goals for the team, expecting an undefeated season in league play and a CCS championship. The last time Carmel won CCS was in 2009.
When asked about team predictions, Anderson said the goal isn’t the record, rather the players’ improvement.
“Our goal is to simply put down good days after good days and laying those blocks on top of each other as we go—we feel that will help us on our goal of constant improvement,” Anderson adds.
Along with last year’s record, the team also has the pressure of carrying an undefeated record into the regular season; however, the players are not letting it get to them.
“I just need to keep working hard and practice, and it will pay off in the games,” Windham says.
One factor that might add to this team’s newfound electricity is the movement of the home field from Carmel High to Monterey Peninsula College. Unlike Carmel, MPC holds night games, resulting in a higher attendance rate.
“There’s a little more energy,” Luch explains.
Anderson also sees this change as a positive. He sees his players have more “juice” in a Friday-night-lights atmosphere.
“That’s what high school’s all about,” says the coach.
Potentially the most common sentiment among the team is one not unknown to Carmel fans: beating rival Pacific Grove High School and capturing the “Shoe” trophy that comes along with it.
“I know we’re gonna win the Shoe, but we’ll see about the [CCS] ring,” defensive tackle Stapleton jokes.
The season continues with games against Greenfield and Soledad. The energy, chemistry and talent this team brings to the table makes it one to watch this season.