With three more months to practice, the Pierce College football team is committed to surpassing the expectations left by last year’s disappointing two-win season.
“Last year we weren’t a team. But this year, this year is something else,” said running back/fullback David Jefferson “D.J.” Hill.
“I think we’re going to have a pretty successful season,” said offensive lineman Andre Reese.
Since two of the first three games are taking place at Pierce, head coach Efrain Martinez explained that playing at home increases the team’s chances of winning.
“Teams play differently at home than they do on the road,” he said. “The best teams we are going to play are the first three games— Moorpark, Ventura and Hancock— They will let us know right off the bat where we stand.”
The team has been training since November 2008, shortly after last season’s final game.
“We’ve got to work hard,” Martinez said. “Nothing comes easy.”
Among training habits, the team has focused more on strength and conditioning.
“The biggest improvement this year would be our emphasis in the weight room,” Martinez said. “I think Coach (Steve) Ruys has done a fantastic job with that.”
The players agreed. Ruys, the Fitness Center coordinator, has been helping the team train in the weight room, which has currently been moved to the cage by Shepard Stadium.
“When it comes time to credit people (Ruys) will be among the top people,” Hill said. “A lot of our success will come from his help.”
“We’re bigger, we’re faster, we’re stronger,” Martinez said. “Last year we couldn’t move people. We weren’t strong. In football (being strong is) a good thing.”
The commitment of the coaches to their players has not gone overlooked.
“The coaches come in on their days off, including days that we don’t have practice. They want to see us succeed this season,” Hill said. “Martinez has been a good vocal, telling us what we need to do as a team.”
The coaches not only tell the players what to do, but lead by example. Even during an interview, Martinez continues to hustle.
“Our energy rubs off on them,” Martinez said. “The more energy we have the more energy they get. The lazier they see us, the lazier they get.”
Along with the physical aspects of training, the team has undergone mental development.
“We’re trying to reach out to the community a lot more, let them know that we’re here and that our kids are good kids,” Martinez said.
The team has visited homeless missions, convalescent homes and underprivileged schools in order to “learn to serve,” according to Martinez.
“They need to understand how society works and how we’re going to serve society,” he said. “They need to realize that there are people out there that need our help, that need our assistance (and that) we can’t be selfish.”
The idea to visit homeless shelters, such as the L.A Mission, was proposed by Coach David Ochoa. Some of the players agreed with the idea.
“It helped bring us closer together as a team, to get our minds off football a little,” Reese said.
Hill explained how it served as an eye-opener for him.
“Going out to the missions and elementary schools has helped us be grateful…to look at the bigger picture,” he said.
Helping the community also helps change the view people have of the football players. Martinez believes people get the wrong impression when they see them.
“I think that even ‘til this day some people still see us as thugs,” he said. “That’s an image we have been trying to change since we’ve got here.
“If you asked people that work closely with us…they would tell you that there is a huge difference, the kids have a different attitude. We have better kids, we have character kids, we have kids that care. For the most part I‘d say about 99 percent of our kids are like that,” Martinez continued.
In turn, Martinez said a good character leads to having “not only a commitment on the football field but also in the classroom.”
“If you have good character you have commitment in the classroom…that leads to success,” he said.
Competition is just as important on a team as it is on the field, the head coach explained.
“If you have a team who knows they have to go out and compete for the job then they are going to give it their all,” Martinez said.
“I think for the most part we have that level of competition,” he said. “We’re still lacking in a few positions. I still think we need a few more wide receivers. We need a few more tight ends (and) a few more running backs.
“But the guys we do have are out there competing. That’s all that counts.”
The team will play its first game of the season Sept. 5 at Moorpark at 6 p.m.
“Look forward to the upcoming season,” Reese said. “It’s going to be an exciting year.”