Tag Archives: Pacific League

Rick’s Sports Corner: Jessie Virtue, Defensive Stalwart Gains Confidence

By Rick Assad

It’s tough to imagine Jessie Virtue struggles with confidence. That’s because the Burroughs High senior defender on the girls’ soccer team is, according to Brady Riggs, the coach, one of the best to ever play at the school and has been recognized as such after being named All-Pacific League first-team the last two seasons.

“I honestly struggled with getting mentally ready for a game for a while,” she said. “I have struggled a lot with confidence, so it has taken a lot of time to overcome that.”

Virtue, a defensive wizard, who has accounted for four goals and eight assists in 49 matches across two and a half varsity seasons, tries to calm her nerves before a game.

Jessie Virtue is a defensive wizard for the Burroughs High girls’ soccer team. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“I used to go into games very nervous and I doubted myself a lot,” she admitted. “But I know now how much easier it is to get through the mental challenges when you take a breath and relax.”

Virtue went on: “Sure I am still nervous, but I change my mindset so it’s a lot more positive going in and that has really turned around my mental state before and during the game,” she said.

Virtue has risen to the challenge and has forged her own trail.

“I am one of the three captains we have on the varsity team this year and I am very excited for the opportunity,” she said. “The other captains are two very lovely ladies, Gabby Morales and Lauryn Bailey. I am over the moon to be leading the team with them.”

Virtue continued: “I know and am sure that all three of us will lead the team differently, seeing that we all bring very different things to the table,” she noted. “But it’s the mixture of different personalities and goals that the three of us have, that will really unite beautifully. I am full of hope and excitement for my final year at Burroughs leading with them.”

Jessie Virtue has emerged as a leader for the Indians. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Riggs has a mountain of praise for Virtue.

“Jessie represents everything I admire about athletes. She is an incredibly hard worker, is tireless on the field and plays with a true warrior spirit,” he said. “She has been a stalwart on defense the last two seasons, leading us to the Pacific League championship in 2019.”

Riggs added: “Her versatility makes her invaluable for our team. She has played as an outside back, center back and most recently as our holding midfielder. She is a lockdown defender,” he said. “Jessie has solidified her place on this program and has earned a spot on my all-time starting 11 at Burroughs High.”

Riggs wasn’t finished. “Jessie has Division I talent and with a good attitude and work ethic. She will make an impact wherever she goes,” he said.

Shown dribbling the ball, Jessie Virtue takes no prisoners when it comes to soccer. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Playing AYSO since age five, Virtue now seems at ease with the game.

“I think I find success in soccer because of many years of practice, dedication and sacrifice for soccer and countless amazing support systems,” she said. “I have been playing soccer so long it is almost second nature for me and I think it helps me enormously.”

Virtue continued her thought: “The reason why I say sacrifice is because throughout the years playing both high school and club I have had to miss out on a lot of social event types of things because I’ve felt soccer is more important in the long run,” she said.

No one has escaped COVID-19 which has brought pain and suffering to the entire world.

“As weird as this may sound, COVID kind of came at a good time for me,” Virtue explained. “Just before COVID hit, I had a lot of stressful things coming up for me. For club, we were about to go to Dallas for a tournament and I would’ve missed a whole week of school before a major calculus test and AP tests were also coming up. And to be very honest, I really disliked soccer at this point. I was very unhappy and unmotivated. I was beyond stressed plus calculus was not my best subject, so the pressure was really on. But COVID did come and I feel like I got a magical free pass on all those things.”

Jessie Virtue has played soccer since she was five years old. It’s always about the team. (Photo courtesy Jessie Virtue)

Virtue added: “My club team at the time, GPS [LA] ended up folding and I didn’t have a team for a while, too,” she said. “So all of a sudden, my super busy junior year kind of became a bit easier. I finally got the opportunity to really focus on school and take some time away from soccer. This big break from soccer really showed me a new part of myself that I was glad to learn about myself. It also showed me the parts of soccer that made me love the game. I had focused on the bad aspects for way too long.”

The Indians are coming off a good season in which they went 13-6-2 and 10-3-1 for third place in league and lost to Wilson 4-1 in the CIF Southern Section Division IV first round, but there were matches when the team struggled.

“This is definitely a big question we battled with last year during the season. At times we would get unmotivated and couldn’t get out of the rut,” Virtue said. “There was one game specifically where I remember this happening. We were playing against Hoover at home and we were not able to score at all. We missed many of our opportunities and it almost felt as if the field was silent. No one was communicating or moving the ball. Halftime came around and I tried and tried to figure out the problem and I really couldn’t find the answer. I even went to Brady and tried to ask him why we couldn’t work together.”

Jessie Virtue is always in motion, whether it’s playing for Burroughs or a travel team. (Photo courtesy Jessie Virtue)

Virtue went on: “I started to tear up a little bit and he and I had a really good talk during that halftime,” she said. “We spoke about the state of our team then and what was going on with us. But still we had no clear answer. The next half I really knew something had to change. I started out hard and worked as hard as I possibly could that game. And sure enough we started to score. I made runs and crosses and sprinted back when I needed to and I gradually saw everyone start to pick it up. We ended up winning [7-1] and I felt really proud of myself. So, in situations like I think that when communicating at halftime doesn’t do the trick, you have to lead by example.”

Virtue has also emerged as a quiet leader. “I feel that in recent years I have become much more vocal on the field and in life all together,” she said. “I am speaking up more for myself and for the team and I am glad that is a new quality I possess. But historically, I feel I’ve always been most proud of my effort in the game. I do not go into a game or come off the field slacking off. I really believe that giving it your all is the most important thing you can do. I have some other assets like the little slide tackle trick I pull out every so often, which I am also a fan of.”

Virtue is fond of a few key matches that the Indians have played. “I definitely have quite a few highlights. A huge one was when we found out that we were league champ my sophomore year,” she said. “We had just won our game against either Pasadena or Glendale, I believe, and we were taking a team photo. We knew we were in the running for league champs, but it all came down to the score of the Crescenta Valley versus Arcadia game that was happening at the same time.”

Virtue added: “All of a sudden, Brady runs up to us saying he had some big news for us,” she said. “He brought us into a little huddle and said, “CV-Arcadia is 0-0. You’re league champs.” We all screamed and celebrated and it was an amazing moment. We were the Burroughs girls’ soccer league champs for the first time in 26 years and it felt great.”

That season the Indians carved out a 16-4-2 mark and a 12-1-1 record for the top spot, defeated Artesia 4-1, but fell to Hemet 4-2 in the second round of the Division IV playoffs.

When this season takes place, Virtue and the Indians are hoping to duplicate that scene and feeling.

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burbank High’s Bob Hart, Coach, Teacher, Integrity

By Rick Assad

Bob Hart is totally and fully grounded, and this applies to his baseball philosophy, personality, standing among fellow coaches and players, both past and present.

“While I am fundamentally competitive, I don’t focus on numbers as much as I do players,” said Hart, the Burbank High baseball coach who begins his 16th season at the helm in 2021. “We try to get the players to focus on the process, knowing that the result will take care of itself. We promote competitiveness, but within the parameters of doing your job one pitch at a time.”

Hart played several sports at Burroughs where he graduated in 1978, and is in his 37th year as a coach.

The Bulldogs haven’t always won the Pacific League banner, but for much of the time under Hart, who has also coached football and basketball at the prep level, they’ve been competitive.

That’s because they are fundamentally sound, stress defense, pitching, situational hitting and running the bases with zeal.

Bob Hart has turned around the Burbank High baseball fortunes. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Longtime baseball coach Craig Sherwood, who is an assistant on Hart’s staff, knows him from both sides of the dugout.

“I have coached with Coach Hart and against him for many years and not only has he grown as a coach, but without a doubt gets the best out of his players and I have always felt they played above their capabilities,” he said. “They play above their heads and they are proud to play for him.”

With Hart’s guidance, Burbank has reached the CIF Southern Section playoffs nine times, including 2013 when the Bulldogs captured their last league title and also made the quarterfinals three seasons ago.

Hart, who attended Los Angeles Valley College and Los Angeles Pierce College, and his coaching staff have been working extremely hard during these unique times.

“Our guys are doing individual workouts as well as Google classroom assignments that we present to them each week,” he said. “In addition, I have some guys that play travel ball in different areas. Other than that, we are going to start when we are told to start by the powers that be. Not looking to be on the forefront of experimenting with players’ or coaches’ health.”

Hart also addressed how COVID-19 has caused so many people to miss out on the little matters that make life fun and exciting.

“As far as the team, it’s affected them, as with most,” he said. “Isolating and missing the things we ultimately take for granted. Connection and time with the things and the people we love.”

Winning is always important and it is for Hart, but whether the Bulldogs emerge with a victory or a loss, he wants his players prepared.

“I internalize everything and play it off. Well at least to some degree that’s probably true,” he said. “But what else is true is that I keep perspective and I don’t look at it as life or death. I see true accomplishment being playing your best baseball with honor. That doesn’t always equate to a win, so it’s the nuanced approach that grants me sanity.”

Longtime Bulldogs baseball mentor Bob Hart is well respected by players and peers. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

After a scary incident a few years ago, Hart knows a little something about life and death.

“I feel great,” he said, looking back at a heart attack he suffered. “I lost 17 pounds during this nightmare.”

Hart then added: “Appreciate your life and honor those before you by being the best you can be each day,” he noted.

A teacher in the mold of UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, whose teams claimed an NCAA record 10 national championships including seven consecutive, Hart also wants his players to give maximum effort, regardless of the score or inning.

“Some of the best coaching takes place when your team is not successful. In my experience, to remain even keel is to instill that same value in your team. Consequently taking a more businesslike approach while having fun with it rather than inducing pressure and negativity,” he said.

Reaching the top-shelf when it comes to coaching isn’t a job for the meek or timid, he offered.

“Being a baseball coach or at least a good one is a challenge, but being an administrator of a high school program is a much bigger challenge” he said.

In a very real sense, it does take a village to be successful, regardless of the chore or task ahead.

Watching the action on the field, Bob Hart is always thinking. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“It takes quite a few people in terms of support to make it work,” he said. “I have been so fortunate to have amazing parents and an administration. And the leadership I’ve had with my booster club has been off the chart.”

Sherwood knows Hart forward and backward.

“In my 40 years as a high school coach, I have worked with some of the best people around,” he said. “Bob stands out not only as a quality coach, but someone who really considers it his mission to do the right thing by the players. He demands personal responsibility and he helps build their character.”

Being on top as a player or coach requires the same attributes.

“It’s very similar to that of a player. The will to win. The commitment. The preparation,” Hart said of coaching. “The teammate. For the love of the game.”

Hart said that he has had assistance with regard to his coaching tenure. “My coaches, starting from junior high all the way through high school, were hugely impactful for me,” he said. “They include Mike Nugent, Lew Stone, Rich Grimes, Mearl Stone, Dave Jackson, Ken Tada, Bob Dunivant and Brian Hurst. Some legendary names. I could never name one. I think I took a piece of all of them. I didn’t know it at the time.”

Sherwood is among many that Hart trusts. “As a head coach, he appreciates all of his assistant coaches and discusses all aspects with us,” he said. “He wants to hear our opinions and is willing to change his if he hears something better.”

Like those coaches who came before him, Hart’s impact has been felt by many and will be for many years.

“The highlight of my career has been watching boys become men,” he said. “To watch the maturity process. Watch them accomplish their goals. To fail and get up and persevere. My biggest accomplishment is the pride I take in watching kids start their journey and become solid citizens who contribute in a positive way to our world.”

Sherwood pointed out what Hart has meant to Burbank baseball. “I think that what he will be remembered for is taking a struggling program that had a new head coach every year and not only bring stability, but respectability to the program,” he said.

Rick’s Sports Corner: Emery Goulet, Burroughs High Hoops Leader, Scorer

By Rick Assad

Emery Goulet was often tasked with providing two important ingredients to the Burroughs High boys’ basketball team over the two seasons in which he was a starter and they were shooting and scoring points.

But it was a third element the recent graduate delivered that was perhaps even more vital and that was providing floor guidance.

“I think my biggest role on the team was my leadership,” said Goulet, a 6-foot shooting guard/small forward who averaged about 15 points with five rebounds this past season and 22 points with five caroms the previous campaign. “I was a captain my junior and senior year and my teammates needed my hard work and drive and encouragement to help them out. I also think that I needed to be a scorer, too, at times, but the leadership was most important, especially this year.”

Goulet, who is attending UC Berkeley and majoring in Urban Studies, was heady and knew when it was time to score, play defense and get the team going in the right direction.

“I try and provide energy and light a fire under my guys and build confidence,” he said. “Confidence is such a huge part of basketball. The confidence and energy helps our runs and being sound on defense.”

A recent graduate, Emery Goulet (No. 11) is about to get a pass. A sharpshooter, the UC Berkeley freshman was a floor leader. (Photo courtesy Emery Goulet)

During the initial meeting with Goulet, Allan Ellis, the Indians’ hoop coach felt that he was going to be an impact player, both on the floor and in the locker room.

“From the moment Emery stepped on the practice court as a freshman, all the coaches fell in love with his competitiveness, effort and ability to be extremely coachable,” Ellis said. “Not to mention his ability to shoot and run the floor. Emery was a delight to coach from the time he stepped on the court to the time he left. One of the best players and an even better kid since I started coaching at Burroughs.”

Though Goulet’s basketball career has concluded, he was drawn to the game because it offered so much.

“I like that it’s a team sport, having your guys with you is an empowering feeling,” he said. “I like that it’s a game of runs and just that you can create your own shot. It’s freeing being able to play the game.”

But it was launching the basketball that really excited Goulet, who was named Most Valuable Player by the team as a junior and selected All-Pacific League, first team and Player of the Month. “I’m a shooter. I love to shoot. That’s part of my love for the game, too,” he noted.

The Indians, including Emery Goulet, getting ready for another basketball game. (Photo courtesy Emery Goulet)

Goulet then added: “I think my ability to shoot and create my own shot were my best assets on the floor,” he said. “Also being able to run the floor was a big part of my game, too.”

Like so many college students, Goulet is taking his first year virtually because of the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 has greatly affected me. I wasn’t able to finish out high school at school and have a traditional graduation that other years prior always had,” he said. “It also made me stay home for at least this first semester of college, where I’ll be doing everything online.”

An excellent student who maintained a 4.0 grade-point average throughout all four years, Goulet gave some insight into how he spends his day studying.

“I organized my schedule so where my classes are generally in the morning, so I have the rest of the day to do homework and have time for myself,” he said. “I typically try and get all of my work out of the way to give myself the rest of the day and not worry about assignments. But if I’m slammed one day, I’ll take intermittent breaks about an hour at a time.”

Emery Goulet, who averaged 15 points as a senior and 22 points as a junior, is shown guarding the wing. (Photo courtesy Emery Goulet)

Looking back, Goulet has no regrets about how his three-year varsity hoop tenure progressed, including a CIF Southern Section Division III A opening-round 55-45 setback to St. Bonaventure as a senior.

“I was pleased with how my basketball career went. I had a great support system with my family [father Derrick and mother Amy] and was surrounded by some great coaches and great teammates,” he pointed out. “It was great to be able to do what I loved every day.”

Some games stood especially tall, like those versus longtime city rival Burbank, which Goulet, who was the Student of the Month in his Calculus class, deemed to be unforgettable.

“I think the Burbank game at Burroughs my junior year and the one at Burbank my senior year were two highlights,” he said. “Electric atmosphere, really good games, just a lot of fun to be a part of. I played well in those games, too, and that always helps.”

The Indians, who went 19-10 and 7-7 in Pacific League action this past season, blitzed host Burbank 70-57 on January 10, but were edged at home 46-42 on February 12 by the Bulldogs.

During Goulet’s junior campaign, Burroughs finished 11-16 and 4-10 in league play and didn’t make the postseason.

That year, the Indians took their first encounter with the visiting Bulldogs 66-61 on January 11, but fell 83-49 on January 31 to their rival.

Burroughs failed to make the playoffs in 2017-2018, when Goulet, who was part of the California Scholarship Federation and was given the History Award at graduation, came off the bench as a sophomore as the Indians went 12-14 and 3-11 in league.

Of course there seemed to be added pressure in those rivalry games because they were against Burbank.

“I will remember the crowd and atmosphere of those games the most, there was nothing like it,” he said of those clashes. “I loved those games and those moments. So much fun.”

In the end, every game, not just Burroughs versus Burbank, were important for Goulet.

“I tried to just mentally prepare for a battle, never take any game lightly,” he reasoned. “I would try and do the same stretches and listen to the same songs before my games.”

Goulet said this ritual really helped his confidence level. “I was pretty superstitious when it came to basketball,” he admitted. “And then I’d go in and give 100 percent every time I go in there.”

Doing anything well takes years of dedication along with hours of practice and the result can be supreme confidence.

“I think my work ethic, drive and determination helped me succeed the most,” Goulet said. “I always wanted to be the best on the court and wouldn’t stop till I was. That drive helped me get to the level I was at.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Jett Del Mundo’s Long Hoops Coaching Trek

By Rick Assad

When it comes to coaching high school varsity boys’ and girls’ basketball in Southern California, few have compiled more experience and success than Jett Del Mundo.

In his third season as the Burbank High girls’ varsity basketball head coach, Del Mundo enters his 24th season as coach of the boys’ or girls’ teams at nine different schools, including four at Pasadena where he guided the Bulldogs to the CIF Southern Section semifinals and the state tournament, something that had not happened in school history.

A stroke survivor, Del Mundo, who also ushered the La Canada girls’ squad to the second round of the playoffs, said there is no difference between the sexes when it comes to coaching the game.

“Regardless of boys or girls basketball and at every level, the foundation of my teams is rooted in competition,” he said. “It begins with the competition in tryouts, carrying forward to our intense practices where roles are determined and playing time is earned, to games where we define our team identity, and just as importantly, off the court, where my players achieve personal and career successes driven by excellence within.”

Senior small forward Erika Montoya, Coach Jett Del Mundo and senior captain, point guard Kimberly Pimentel. (Photo courtesy Jett Del Mundo)

Throughout his time on the bench, Del Mundo, who has been the girls’ varsity head coach for 15 seasons at six schools, knew it wasn’t always going to be smooth.

“I believe that coaching at any level is never easy,” he explained. “It’s a challenge for anyone to guide today’s student-athletes as they define who they are and are able to use the high school sports experience as a positive step forward into whatever paths they choose.”

Like many top-rank coaches, Del Mundo, who has worked as a junior high athletic director at Orange County-based schools, St. Joseph, Queen of Angels, St. Anne’s and St. Callistus for a decade and Dean of Students at St. Anne’s for two years, is more than a coach, but an instructor.

“My student-athletes are learning to use the high school team sports experience to provide them the opportunities to grow and develop their personal responsibility to not only learn from participation and experience, but to also gain an understanding and respect for the collaborative endeavor,” he said.

Del Mundo, who earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from USC in Exercise Science and Education, went on: “In so doing, comprehending that learning to honor the experience contributes to a growing sense of responsibility and moral reasoning that helps today’s student-athlete to become contributing citizens in their community,” he said.

Third-year Burbank High girls’ basketball coach Jett Del Mundo has 24 years of experience. (Photo courtesy Jett Del Mundo)

With COVID-19 still present, the virus has thrown a curveball for the upcoming girls’ basketball season.

“These unprecedented times reminds us all of how fragile life is and what an awesome responsibility we have to never take for granted,” he said. “This is a reminder to gain perspective and play each game with the understanding that more than winning a game, we want our student-athletes to be winners in their lives.”

Once the season begins, Del Mundo hopes it will be a success.

“At this point, I look forward to the opportunity for my team and especially our seniors to compete once again,” he noted. “In these uncertain times, my players are reminded that it is such a great privilege to play this game. I so look forward to sharing the court with them once again.”

The Bulldogs didn’t fare too well last season, going 10-18 overall and 3-11 in Pacific League play.

Burbank played better the previous campaign when it carved out a 15-13 regular season mark and went 6-8 in league action, but didn’t qualify for the playoffs.

The other times that Del Mundo has led a girls’ team to the playoffs as a head coach was twice at Cornelia Connelly and Arnold O. Beckman, where he tutored the girls’ varsity for four seasons and took the squad to its first-ever playoff win.

Though Del Mundo was at Brethren Christian for one season as the girls’ varsity head man, he was able to turn the program around into being competitive.

Del Mundo recalled how he began coaching. “I missed the feeling of being part of a team. The opportunity presented itself to work with a few different youth basketball programs in Southern California,” he said. “While doing so, I was approached by a high school coach who invited me to join his staff and from there I worked every coaching position in a high school program and learned to develop my coaching identity, learning from great high school coaches and attending numerous coaching clinics.”

Jett Del Mundo is standing between junior shooting guard Emily Mergerdichian (left) and junior point guard Christina Ohanians. (Photo courtesy Jett Del Mundo)

Even with more than two decades worth of coaching, Del Mundo continues to grow as a coach and person.

“The things that I have learned are that no two teams are alike. Treat them all fairly, but never compare them to one another,” he said. “And just as importantly, I am reminded every day of what an honor and privilege it is to be called their coach.”

Because no one accomplishes anything alone, Del Mundo said that he has been ably assisted along the way.

“The most helpful individuals in my coaching career are the tremendous assistant coaches and captains of my many teams,” he offered. “I have been blessed with individuals who share my passion and purpose and challenge me to grow. They are far too many to mention, but I know if they ever get a chance to read this, they can feel my gratitude and respect.”

When things get rough for his team, Del Mundo realizes that being a part of the game is in itself a treat.

“Every experience lends itself to an opportunity to learn one of life’s many lessons,” he said. “I often remind my student-athletes of the privilege to play this game. And when I do that, I remind them that it isn’t what happens that defines them. It is their character that develops in how they handle a situation.”

Del Mundo is rightly proud of his entire career, but says the high point was shaping a dormant Pasadena program to prominence, something that he hopes to do for Burbank.

“Turning around the Pasadena girls’ basketball program, taking them from the annual bottom place, insignificant team to a well-respected program with multiple 20-plus win seasons and leading them to the CIF semifinals and making a run at the CIF/State championship and earning multiple Coach of the Year Awards one year removed as a stroke survivor,” he said of the achievement.

Rick’s Sports Corner: OakLee Spens, Burbank High’s On-Field Catalyst

By Rick Assad

Maybe it’s because OakLee Spens batted leadoff and played center field for the Burbank High baseball that he was an on-field leader.

“I knew that I needed to be there day in and day out to help my team,” said Spens, a recent graduate who will play baseball at Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wisconsin, in the NCAA Division III, where he will major in Criminal Justice and Communications. “I was actually one of the captains of the team for my junior and senior year.”

Leadoff hitter, OakLee Spens following through. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

Spens continued: “I knew that leading off a game with a base hit or a walk would get the team rolling early,” he acknowledged. “I knew that everyone counted on me and trusted me to be in that spot to get on base with the most at-bats possible. I viewed my role on the team as a leader and a bar-setter. If I could get going early, it would only help the team.”

Spens was on the varsity for three years, collecting 30 hits, scoring 23 runs, driving in 16 runs with 13 walks and was a premier outfielder.

“I knew the pitchers and coaches had trust in me that whenever a ball was put into the air, that I would be there to catch it,” he said.

Bob Hart, the Burbank coach, thought Spens was the finest at the position.

“OakLee was the ultimate competitor,” he said. “Quiet, but measured. Always someone you could count on to work hard every day. In my opinion, he was the best center fielder in the [Pacific] league.”

Spens was a two-time winner of the Defensive Player of the Year and Utility Player of the Year and was recognized by the California Baseball Coaches Association.

OakLee Spens was a versatile baseball player for the Bulldogs. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

“That’s a tough question because both are fun, especially when you love the game, but I’ll have to go with defense,” he said of whether he preferred being at the plate or in the outfield. “Sitting out in center field or really any position knowing that anything could happen is just exciting. Making diving catches or jumping the fence to catch a ball, or even throwing a guy out at home plate, just gives you a little bit of swagger in your mindset and it can really energize the team.”

Spens helped the Bulldogs reach the CIF Southern Section playoffs in 2019, a first-round loss, and said he was disappointed the season was cut short because of COVID-19.

Spens batted .273, with a .346 on-base percentage, scoring three runs and knocking in four across seven games this season.

“Having my senior year get shut down due to COVID-19 was horrible,” he said. “You grow up with dreams on how you want to live out your season. I went through a lot before the season this past year and to have it cut short due to the pandemic was gut wrenching.”

Spens went on: “I went through a knee surgery the first week of school and I was going to be lucky if I made it back by senior night, but I trained and worked through hours of pain with a great trainer in Claire [Coudray] and she helped me get back to the field just before the end of December,” he said.

Practice is over for OakLee Spens (on the right). (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

Spens added: “Mentally it has been very challenging, but physically it has made me want it more. I’ve been working out and running a lot to stay in shape. I’ve been doing drills to keep my game up and I have been finding places to go hit every so often so I don’t lose any progress in my game,” he said. “It hasn’t been easy, but it’s not impossible.”

Spens came to love and appreciate the game because of his grandfather, Vergil and his father, Randy.

“My grandpa started teaching me this game when I was two years old,” he pointed out. “Growing up having both my grandpa and my dad by my side to guide me into being a better player really made me fall in love with the game. My grandpa actually passed away on my 10th birthday and ever since then it was more than a game to me, it was my life.”

Baseball can humble even the best and Spens is well aware just how tough it is.

“I learned that it is okay to fail, in fact, you have to fail in order to succeed,” he said. “I play a sport where a great player is still failing 70 percent of the time. You have to fail to realize you need to work harder or keep working on a certain skill. I learned that it’s just like life. Sometimes you are going to fail and you are going to get beat down to the ground, but you have to be resilient in order to push back toward the top.”

Spens talked about being moved into the leadoff spot late during his sophomore season and going hitless in his last 17 plate appearances.

OakLee Spens seems pleased with the result. (Photo courtesy OakLee Spens)

“It really sucked, but I learned that I had to get back up and keep trying and keep working because failure is a part of this game and it is a part of life,” he said.

Spens said he tried to make baseball easier, if that’s possible.

“Slowing it down came with a lot of practice in the cages and on the field,” he said. “It takes a lot of repetitions to be confident that you can play this game. I really just took it one pitch at a time and tried to just focus my mind on that. It really helped me.”

Spens said a game during his junior season, one in which he batted .250 with 12 runs scored and a .343 on-base percentage over 23 games, still brings chills.

“One of the most important games I’ve played in was against Crescenta Valley,” he said. “We needed to at least split to help us get a playoff spot. We were playing at home under the lights and it was one of the best games I have ever played in my life.”

Spens added: “I scored two runs, one very important run in the fifth to tie the game at two a piece,” he said. “Then I believe in the top of the seventh, I threw one of their runners out at the plate, keeping the game tied which later ended up as a walk-off win for our team.”

Though professional baseball in America dates to 1869, it has changed, which is part of its appeal for Spens.

“Baseball is always evolving,” he noted. “Nowadays, pitchers are throwing faster and have more movement to the pitches, while hitters are working on proper launch angle to hit a home run. If you master one thing, it evolves and you have to remaster it, even at that you always have to keep practicing or you will lose your skills.”

After playing baseball four years including one at the junior varsity level, Spens said he will look back fondly on this time.

“High school baseball was what I envisioned it to be,” he said. “Besides the ending, I loved every moment that I was able to spend out on the field. It is something I will never forget for as long as I live. It was a great ride while it lasted.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Lauryn Bailey, Burroughs High’s Soccer Wizard, Survivor

By Rick Assad

Based on talent, overall skill and results, Lauryn Bailey is a veritable magician on the pitch.

In three seasons as a forward for the Burroughs High girls’ soccer team, the soon-to-be senior has scored an eye-popping 67 goals and handed out an incredible 31 assists.

Now that’s truly impressive, but there’s a backstory to her journey. “I’m the third of four girls in my family. My oldest sister [Taylor] has played soccer since she was four [she’s almost 23 ] so I grew up going to her games and wanted to be just like her,” Bailey said. “I love the footwork, the head-on challenges, watching a play we’ve practiced tirelessly unfold on the field, the feeling you get when you “get it in the net,” the sound of the crowd…I love it all.”

Lauryn Bailey (No. 21) is a generational talent according to Brady Riggs, the Burroughs High soccer coach. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Taylor Bailey was part sister and part inspiration, playing soccer four seasons at Burroughs and one at Pierce Junior College.

But there’s more to Bailey’s story.

“I grew up loving the game because of my sister so I naturally gravitated to it at a very young age,” she said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t get started until late though, due to an illness. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Wilm’s Tumor at two and a half years old – yep, cancer of the kidney and it had moved to my lung too. No fun! Eight months of daily treatment and years of monitoring my progress before I was officially a survivor and released to play sports. So at the ripe age of eight, I was on my first team!”

Bailey continued: “I studied the game a lot,” she admitted. “I watch the pros play and I try to mimic their moves. I’ll see something in a game on TV and go outside and keep practicing until I get it. Kinda weird, but that’s just me. I’ve had some great coaches that have invested a lot of time in me, too. I’ve learned how to read the field very well and I do a pretty good job at setting myself up for plays, both offensively and defensively because of that.”

Burroughs, along with Arcadia and Crescenta Valley, are the three elite teams in the Pacific League.

Lauryn Bailey is a prolific goal scorer for the Indians. (Photo courtesy Lauryn Bailey)

In Bailey’s freshman season, the Indians went 15-3-3 and 9-1-2 in league as she contributed 18 goals with five assists and was named All-Area first-team.

As a sophomore and one of the captains, Burroughs fashioned a 16-4-2 mark and captured the league banner with a 12-1-1 record, something truly rare for the girls’ program, as Bailey knocked home 25 goals with 15 assists and was rewarded by being tabbed All-Area first-team and All-League first-team.

In her junior campaign, the Indians went 13-6-2 and 10-3-1 in league play with Bailey, again as one of the captains, tallying 24 goals and 11 assists which resulted in her being selected Co-Player of the Year, All-Area first-team and All-League first-team.

Brady Riggs, the Burroughs coach, realizes he has a treasure. “Lo [Lauryn] is a generational talent,” Riggs said. “There’s nothing she can’t do at an incredibly high level. The hardest skill in soccer is to score goals. Lo is a natural goal scorer. She can win games by herself. We won’t see another talent like her in a long time.”

There’s no stopping Lauryn Bailey on the pitch. (Photo courtesy Lauryn Bailey)

Bailey wished the school year wasn’t trimmed because of the worldwide pandemic.

“My junior year in general was good,” she said. “Disappointing that it was cut short due to COVID-19, but grateful my family and friends have all stayed safe and healthy.”

Bailey then added: “As for the season, we fell short. We knew early on we had some big shoes to fill as we had just lost some great players that played key positions,” she said. “We gained some good talent on our team, we just didn’t click and play as a team. That will be the focus as we prepare for next year, senior year!”

Bailey continued: “We’ve trained hard and have too much talent to let a repeat of last season take us out,” she noted. “Pacific League champs, CIF….I plan on going out with a bang and I know my fellow seniors feel the same way.”

Bailey did say COVID-19 has had some affect on the upcoming campaign. “The lack of opportunities to condition and stay in shape have definitely affected our abilities to bond and grow as a team,” she said.

In all three seasons, Bailey and her team have qualified for the CIF Southern Section playoffs.

The Indians lost in the second round during her first two seasons and in the opening round as a junior.

Bailey said that it’s extra special playing the more talented league teams. “There’s obviously more reward in playing the better teams and taking the “W” home against a stronger opponent, but the goal is get the win, regardless of how well or not so well the other team may be,” she said.

Fearless, Bailey prefers digging in and getting dirty. “Oh, hands down a physical match,” she said of the type of game she likes to play. “I love a good challenge. The harder they play, the harder I want to play. I love the energy and adrenaline rush a good match delivers. I get amped just thinking about it.”

What kind of mind-set does Bailey, who competed in track and field as a freshman and plays basketball for fun as well as the cardio benefit, have entering a match?

“In general, I’m pretty calm and even-tempered and that rarely changes in a game setting,” she said. “Some coaches knock me for the lack of emotion I exude, but that’s just me. Call it my game face, that’s just how I am. I try not to overthink it, stay out of my own head and just play the game I know how to play.”

Bailey is a team-first player, but also realizes that her presence on the pitch is essential if the Indians are to fare well.

“I hope it means the same for the team as it means for me,” she said. “Trust. Integrity. Talent. Leadership and excellence. At the end of the day, we’re a team. None of us are any good without all of us. Everyone has their role, their skill and we expect each other to bring that to each and every game. Sure, we get frustrated, might make a bad play or shoot off the post a time or two. We get annoyed and may be short tempered in the heat of it all, but if we keep our eyes on the prize and strive to work together, encourage, build strength not just around the game, but as women athletes, we’ve all won! I love this game, but I love this team just as much.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Burroughs High’s Steven Hubbell, Hoopster, Gunslinger

By Rick Assad

There were times when Steven Hubbell made playing basketball and football for Burroughs High seem effortless.

Whether it was hitting an open teammate for an easy hoop or tossing a perfect spiral downfield, Hubbell was always thinking on his feet and usually made the right play.

Of course, this isn’t easy, but Hubbell was able to elevate his skills while toiling at point guard and quarterback at the prep level.

After a brief stay at Cal Lutheran University, which is a Division III program and Glendale Community College, Hubbell, a 2016 graduate, is a senior on the men’s basketball team at the University of Hawaii Hilo where he’s coming off a campaign in which he played in 21 of the 26 games and drilled 42.1 percent of his three-pointers (eight of 19).

Hubbell, standing 6-foot, 1-inch and weighing 170 pounds, said despite loving both sports, he simply couldn’t turn his back on basketball, where he averaged 12 points with four rebounds and four assists at Burroughs.

Steven Hubbell, shown in a game from last season when he was a junior. (Photo courtesy Steven Hubbell)

“I personally like basketball more,” he said. “I just enjoy the fast pace, up and down action. I like football too, but basketball was always a love thing for me.”

The journey that brought Hubbell to Hawaii Hilo is something that has made him stronger and more determined.

“I knew I wanted to pursue basketball at the collegiate level. After my career at John Burroughs, I was first committed to Cal Lutheran University,” he said. “The second week I was there, the head coach decided to retire, so I quickly left for Glendale Community College after the semester and immediately redshirted so I could practice with the team in preparation for the next year. I spent two years under Coach [Vigen] Jilizian and was honored All-Western State Conference my last year at GCC. I was blessed to be recruited by the University of Hawaii Hilo, where I’m happily at right now.”

Hubbell is extremely thankful for having the opportunity to play for the Vaqueros where he averaged 11.6 points with four boards and 3.2 assists and canned 51 three-pointers as a sophomore.

“The junior college system is not easy, but I found it worth it, looking back now,” he said. “A lot of people don’t find success after JUCO, so I’m blessed that it’s not the case for me.”

Steven Hubbell, a two-sport athlete at Burroughs High, has one more season left at the University of Hawaii Hilo. (Photo courtesy Steven Hubbell)

Like the world at large, everything is at a standstill because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Hubbell, like so many athletes, is trying to stay in shape and is hoping for the best.

“There will obviously be no summer workouts with the team,” he said. “It’s just our responsibility to stay in shape and ready to get back to basketball. As of May 11, my school still plans to have in-person classes for the fall. However, anything could happen and I’m sure they will see what other schools across the world are doing and go from there.”

Hubbell, a Business Management major who played basketball for three seasons and football for two at Burroughs, said that playing two sports are challenging, but he found a way to succeed.

“I’d say a high level of focus is one, but also a strong work ethic is key,” he said. “I also thought that focusing on winning and what I can do to better my team helped in the long run.”

Playing point guard and quarterback are similar in many respects, according to Hubbell, who was named All-Pacific League first-team as a senior, second-team as a junior and honorable mention as a sophomore while playing basketball.

“You must be a leader whether that is encouraging your guys or by being in the front during drills,” he said. “We had tremendous talent on both teams and a lot of us are playing at the next level right now. I love to compete, so my attitude was very similar in both sports.”

A 10-game regular season football schedule can be grueling and when the CIF Southern Section games are added, it was even more taxing for Hubbell, who was selected All-CIF and was named the Pacific League Offensive Player of the Year in football as a senior.

“It was tough my senior year because I hurt my back my last football game,” said Hubbell, who threw for 1,853 yards and tossed 27 scoring passes and ran for six touchdowns. “I had to miss the next week of basketball practice which killed me, because I was eager to get out there on the court. It took me a couple of games to get back in condition, but after that, it was smooth.”

Ultimately, the Indians’ postseason run during Hubbell’s senior year in football and basketball was incredible, even if each didn’t reach their final destination.

“We made it to the quarters that year [2015], but we did win the Pacific League,” Hubbell explained. “Looking back, it was a great experience because Burroughs hadn’t won a conference title in many years and haven’t won one since. I take pride in that even though we fell short of our real goal of a CIF championship.”

The Indians went 10-2 and 7-0 in league after routing the Bulldogs 47-21 in the regular-season finale.

Their season concluded when they fell to host St. Francis 21-7, in part because their best running back, Chance Bell, who is playing for San Diego State, was out with an injury.

The final regular-season contest against Burbank was something to behold. “Memorial Field was packed and we secured our Pacific League title,” Hubbell explained of its singular importance.

Several months later at the Indians’ gymnasium, Hubbell capped off his high school athletic career when Burroughs faced highly-ranked Santa Monica in the CIF semifinals, with a full house in attendance.

“We played against a guy named Jonah Mathews, who gave us the work and he just finished his career at USC, which is my favorite school, so it was salt in the wound every time I watch the Trojans,” he said. “But the atmosphere was crazy that night and I’ll never forget that.”

Mathews was almost unstoppable, scoring at will against the Indians, who lost 68-45 and finished 22-8 and 9-5 in league, hitting three-pointers, something that he would do at USC, where he broke the career school record with 247.

Hubbell said playing two demanding sports isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you have the desire, go right ahead.

“I’d say go play three [sports] if you have enough energy,” he said. “It may be mentally draining at times, but if you’re passionate about the sport then you could sacrifice a little. But just know that your summer’s will be all booked up. You will also make friends for life!”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Bri Castro, Burbank High Sharpshooter

By Rick Assad

When the Burbank High girls’ basketball team trotted onto the hardwood, everyone in the building knew that at some point in the game, Bri Castro would launch one of her patented three-pointers.

When the first one trickled through the net, and they did 35 percent of the time during her senior season, the result would be that the Bulldogs student body rose from its seats behind hearty cheers, while the four other members of the squad and Castro herself, were wholly pumped.

At this juncture, fans and players realized that a big scoring game was possible and that Castro would unload the long-ball whenever she saw daylight. And even when there wasn’t much space to shoot.

This past season, Castro, a 5-foot, five-inch shooting guard, set the single game school mark for most three-pointers made in a game with nine.

Beside being a long-range shooter, Bri Castro was an excellent defender. She is shown in a game against rival Burroughs this season. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

Castro, who played three years on the varsity, also established the Burbank record for most three-pointers converted in a career.

What made Castro so good at drilling three-pointers was that she was able to get off the shot quickly, especially during transitions.

And let’s be clear, Castro, who could also drive the lane and settle for easier shots, but found a home beyond the three-point arc, wasn’t shy about hoisting her long-range bombs which could turn a deficit into a scoring run or add to a lead.

“My role on the team was to be the shooter,” said Castro, who averaged 12 points per game this past season, which led to her being named All-Pacific League second-team despite the squad not making the CIF Southern Section playoffs after going 10-18 overall and 3-11 in league play.

Castro said that even if the trey wasn’t finding the hoop, she was sure it would eventually.

“I would also go in [to a game] confident that my shots will hit,” said Castro, who averaged five rebounds, one steal and two deflections a game as a senior and drilled 65 percent from the free-throw line.

Whether it was shooting the basketball or coming away with a victory, Castro was always confident.

“Before a game, I was always thinking we are going to win,” she said. “I never went into a game with a losing mentality because that won’t be good for the team.”

The Bulldogs basketball team huddles during a time out. Bri Castro (standing on far right with hands on hips) listens. Photo By: Edward Tovmassian

In the other two seasons that Castro was on the varsity, the Bulldogs went 15-13 and 6-8 in league and 10-18 and 5-9 in league and didn’t qualify for the postseason.

As a junior, Castro scored about nine points a game and as a sophomore, she knocked in just under seven points.

While the spring sports were wiped out because of COVID-19, the basketball season was spared the same fate.

Burbank coach Jett Del Mundo spent two seasons with Castro and felt she set the offensive tone for the team and developed into a solid all-around player.

“In the short time that we were together, Bri went from a one dimensional spot-up shooter who didn’t know what it meant to play championship defense to a more complete player who played on both sides of the ball,” he said.

How was Castro able to transform herself into being more than just a long-range jump shooter?

For Del Mundo, it was sweat and dedication. “She put the work in at our team practices and put in time on her own, committing herself to becoming a more complete shooter who can not only hit the open three, but also relocate and attack the basket,” he said.

Del Mundo went on: “In doing so, Bri not only put herself in the conversation of All-Pacific League players in her senior season, she also became the focal point of our team offense,” he said. “I consider her a Top Three shooter amongst every opponent we played this past season and rightfully earned every accolade in her final season.”

Castro, who will attend college, but isn’t sure which, and likewise isn’t positive she’ll play basketball, concurred with her coach.

“The best part of my game besides my shots were my passes,” she said. “I believe I always gave the ball into my posts whenever I saw them available. My defense also improved this year.”

Even without having gone to the CIF playoffs, Del Mundo believes during Castro’s tenure at Burbank, she and the other seniors set in motion better and brighter days for the Bulldogs.

“We are confident that we are building in the right direction,” he said. “Any future success started with Bri’s class.”

One thing Castro enjoyed was helping the underclassmen players. “I liked being one of the team leaders because I loved being that support to the younger girls and always help them if they need something,” she said.

Castro said she will have fond memories of her time on the basketball court. “Looking back at my high school career, I will mainly remember the relationships I built on the court with many of the girls,” she said. “They were such a great group of girls to play with from beginning to end.”

While every game was taken seriously, especially in league play, few were more exciting and compelling than when Burbank met Burroughs because it brought out students from both schools, family and friends, cheerleaders and the bands.

“Playing Burroughs was different each year, but I’ll always remember those games,” she said.

Castro said playing hoops for four years including the junior varsity as a freshman, was an enjoyable experience.

“I liked basketball because it was a fun getaway from reality and I got to be active,” she noted.

Castro also has some sage words of wisdom for first-year players. “Advice I’d give an incoming freshman is to play their game,” she said. “Find ways to improve it. Also to give it their all on and off the court.”

Castro’s father, Steve, was also vital in her enjoyment of the game. “My dad was my main reason for playing the sport, so I’d say he was my family inspiration, but Steph[en] Curry was my inspiration for the sole fact that he can shoot, which is exactly what I do,” she said.

 

Rick’s Sports Corner: Katie Treadway, Burbank High’s Two-Sport Standout

By Rick Assad

Playing one varsity sport at a high level can be an extremely daunting task, so toiling at two, by definition, is twice as hard.

For three years, Katie Treadway was a standout softball and volleyball player at Burbank High.

So just how difficult was it for Treadway, who will attend the University of Oregon and major in human physiology, to compete in both sports?

Katie Treadway was a potent outside hitter for the Bulldogs and a floor leader. (Photo by Ross A. Benson)

“I’ve played softball since I was four, so I knew I would play softball for sure,” she said. “I played volleyball for only three years before high school, but I loved the sport so much I knew I had to play. There were times when it was difficult managing two sports and not having much off-time in between each.”

Treadway went on: “At the end of each volleyball season, I would be on the field by the next week; however, I am very glad I chose to play both sports because I met really great girls that soon became my best friends and I truly loved being on the court and on the field,” she said. “So although it was difficult at times, it was worth it.”

Like so many seniors, Treadway was hoping to cap off her prep career in style, but the spring sports were wiped out because of COVID-19.

The Bulldogs did play eight games, going 4-3-1 and 1-1 in the Pacific League before the season was halted.

At the plate, Katie Treadway was a dependable and feared hitter. (Photo courtesy Katie Treadway)

“I was very devastated when I heard our season got canceled,” said Treadway, a shortstop and outfielder who batted .279 across 59 career games and was named All-League first-team as a sophomore and second-team as a freshman. “I came back to play my senior year because I missed the sport, so it was heartbreaking for me to hear I couldn’t fulfill that.”

Treadway continued: “I feel sad for myself and my fellow seniors that we couldn’t finish our last year of playing ball, but I am thankful for the new players that I got to meet and to have been coached shortly by some great coaches,” she said.

Reflecting on her career, does Treadway, who made All-League second-team while playing outside hitter as a senior on the volleyball team after finishing with 192 kills and 238 digs, feel pleased with how it went?

“I am satisfied with how my high school athletic career progressed,” she said. “I think I was given great opportunities in both sports to embrace my potential. Throughout my years, I was grateful to have been taught by coaches that truly wanted me to succeed, so I think it helped me become more confident in both sports. I was able to learn a lot about both games, which I will cherish in my life.”

Katie Treadway will attend the University of Oregon and major in human physiology. (Photo courtesy Katie Treadway)

There were highs and some lows, but was it worth the effort?

“I don’t think I would change anything if I got to do it all over again,” Treadway said. “Every bad game that I had was a lesson for me and every good game gave me the drive to want to win more. I truly loved my experience in both sports and every win or loss was important in my growth as a player.”

Which sport did Treadway feel was her best?

“I think I was a better softball player because I knew the sport better,” she said. “Although I was able to learn a lot about volleyball over the years I played, I think I was a smarter player in softball and knew what to do in certain situations. I feel like I could execute better in softball and had a better range of skill throughout.”

What will Treadway remember about her time on the field and on the court?

“When I look back at my athletic career, I’m most proud of always giving 100 percent effort,” she said. “Even if I wasn’t having the best game, I always knew I couldn’t let up or let my teammates down. I don’t regret any games because I knew that I tried my best for myself and my teammates and I am very proud of that and playing every game like it’s my last.”

A sure-handed shortstop, Katie Treadway also played in the outfield. (Photo courtesy Katie Treadway)

Treadway was also versatile which made her adapt to any situation.

“I think my best personal traits were being open-minded,” she noted. “If my coach put me somewhere on the court or field that wasn’t as normal, I went with it and did my best because I knew that they had the best intentions for the team. I also think I’m able to connect with players easily to understand them better and create good relationships throughout the team.”

Though different, Treadway said that volleyball and softball are alike in a few respects.

“I think volleyball and softball are similar in the amount of attention you give it,” she said. “If you put in the work, you will see results. Both sports require dedication and the strength to be able to learn from your failures and come back the next day even stronger.”

Katie Treadway mastered two sports and gave everything she had, including the classroom. (Photo courtesy Katie Treadway)

Treadway added: “Both sports require a lot of focus on goals for yourself and your teammates,” she pointed out. “Another similarity is the necessity of playing as a team. “We’re only as strong as our weakest link” is very true and important to keep in mind. In volleyball and softball, helping your teammates will help your entire team as well as yourself grow to be a better player.”

What lessons did Treadway learn from participating in athletics?

“Being in sports taught me how to play and interact with different kinds of players,” she said. “It taught me that not everyone thinks the same as me and people have different outlooks on the game and that everyone is important in the game. If one person gets left out, we can’t play.”

Treadway explained further: “Being on teams allowed me to develop better perspectives on each sport and it helped me better myself with their knowledge and watching everyone play with me,” she said. “In short, it made me realize that no one can be left behind on a team because each player is important in their own way to the team’s success.”

Individual and team success are nice, but there are sometimes people in the background that are overlooked. Who was that for Treadway?

“I think the people that helped me most during high school were my parents,” Treadway said. “My parents [Raulie and Theresa] attended every volleyball and softball game. They always wanted me to do the best that I could and supported me in everything, whether it was comforting me after my bad games, celebrating on the good games or even offering me their time to help me put in extra work. Seeing them in the stands every game made me want to make them proud. They were my biggest fans.”

Rick’s Sports Corner: Erick Hernandez, Burroughs Football Player, Turned Coach

Rick Assad

A path can lead in many different directions and sometimes it’s the correct one while other times it just doesn’t work out as well.

Former Burroughs High standout football player, Erick Hernandez, has taken a circuitous route to get to where he is today.

A wide receiver with glue-like hands, a precise pattern runner with deceptive foot speed who caught 80 career passes for over 1,200 yards and accounted for 24 overall touchdowns, Hernandez began his college career in 2016 in Loretto, Pennsylvania, where he played on scholarship for Saint Francis University.

After toiling until 2018 for the Red Flash, who are a member of the NCAA Division I AA Football Championship Subdivision, Hernandez transferred to Humboldt State University, where he played one season on scholarship. Coincidentally it was the last year that the school competed in football.

“I learned a ton in my college experience. I grew in every aspect,” said Hernandez, a three-year varsity starter for Burroughs who was named Offensive Most Valuable Player by the team as a senior in 2015 after hauling in 36 receptions for 532 yards with 13 scores and is now the wide receivers coach for the Indians.

Erick Hernandez (pictured in the middle) was a star wide receiver for the Indians and returned as a coach. (Photo courtesy Erick Hernandez)

“Some may not see my football career after high school as successful, and I don’t disagree,” he went on. “But everything I went through in college, as a player, has led me to who I am, and who I’m trying to be, as a coach.”

Hernandez, who was named All-Pacific League and All-Area twice and was selected the Hall of Fame All-Star Game West squad MVP, explained further: “I had to fall out of love with the game, to find my true love for it through a process of me falling out of love with the game, but with a new perspective through coaching,” he said. “I can easily say that I have nothing but love for football.”

Right now, with COVID-19 still wreaking havoc, getting ready for the upcoming football season has been put on hold.

“The virus has forced me to cancel all off-season workouts indefinitely,” he said. “I have been stuck at home since the order came out. Staying at home wasn’t so bad at first, but I am really hoping to get back out there with the [Burroughs] team for regularly scheduled summer football.”

Wide receivers coach, Erick Hernandez, leads Burroughs onto the field. (Photo courtesy Erick Hernandez)

Hernandez continued: “On the bright side, I have made some great connections with some of the best trainers and coaches in the country, mostly from the collegiate and NFL level,” he noted. “I think this chaotic time has brought a lot of coaches together and created some great opportunities to learn from each other that otherwise would have never existed. Years from now, I think I will look back on this time and see how pivotal it really was for me because in the midst of chaos, I found opportunity.”

Hernandez is grateful to former Burroughs coach Rand Holdren, who stepped down after his second season.

“Working at Burroughs has been great. Things are a lot different than when I was playing there,” he said. “Coach [Holdren] gave me my first opportunity as a coach and I was happy it was Burroughs,” he said. “Burroughs has a special place in my heart and always will. I have a lot of great memories there and this past year I made even more. It has definitely been an experience being the youngest guy in the office and only four years older than most of the kids, but I feel like I fit in.”

An excellent student in high school and college, playing football at the next level proved difficult at times.

“I can’t say I truly enjoyed my college experience,” said Hernandez, who helped lead the Indians to the CIF Southern Section playoffs twice, losing in the first round as a sophomore and the second round as a senior. “I am definitely grateful for it, but I don’t think I took full advantage of it.”

Does Hernandez have any regrets? “I think there were definitely points where I wish I had done things differently, but looking back now, I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “I honestly believe everything I went through as a player has set me up to be a great coach. The successes and failures and everything in between has given me a great perspective as a person and as a coach.”

Hernandez acknowledged the difference between playing high school and college football.

“It’s much harder than high school, especially at that high of a level, so it is easy to get lost in the shuffle,” he said. “There are definitely more reasons, but at the end of the day, I put the blame on myself and take responsibility for my successes and failures alike.”

Though Hernandez was hoping to accomplish more at the college level, it’s not as though he and the team didn’t shine.

“It would have to be winning the [Northeast] conference title and getting a ring my freshman year of college,” Hernandez said of his career highlight. “That was the first time in school history that the football team won a Division I AA conference championship.”

Hernandez said some words of wisdom during his last year playing college football has been the most helpful.

“Some advice that I got from Humboldt State wide receivers coach, Josh Irvin, was “remember why you started” and that sticks out to me till this day,” he said. “I think a lot of us lose sight of why we start something in the first place and that’s why we fail sometimes.”

Hernandez then added: “And sometimes we start things for the wrong reasons, so looking back and remembering why we decided to start something in the first place gives us perspective and can either give us a sign to keep going or move on,” he said.

Though young, Hernandez is well on his way in his chosen field. “My short term goal is that I want to get into coaching as soon as I finish my Business Marketing degree at CSUN,” he said. “Long term, I think I could be happy as a position coach at the college level, but I believe I am capable of much more; so I do plan to reach my full potential and if it leads me to a coordinator or head coaching job, then I would fully embrace that.”