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Creating a winning culture is a priority in North County – Monterey Herald

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Editor’s note: Herald sportswriter John Devine has spent much of this month visiting Monterey County high schools to get a glimpse of what football teams are doing. This preview and others are featured at

Castroville ――Last fall, laying the foundation for the future meant making sacrifices. New coach Juan Cuevas was preaching a new atmosphere, so a bridge had to be built.

Taking over a program that hadn’t set foot on the football field or been in the weight room in 18 months, North County regained momentum before the first snap.

“Fingers crossed on weekly testing for all COVID-19 protocols,” Cuevas said. “Injuries piled up. It was a direct effect of not having an offseason lifting program.”

Over the course of a 10-game season, Cuevas went down 31 players to various injuries, leaving a thin roster of skeletons at times.

“A lot of kids got through it,” Cuevas said. “There were some severe growing pains. There were probably people playing who weren’t ready for this level. There was a lot of hands-on training.”

Cuevas’ roster is probably less experienced than last year, so it will continue. The difference is that he spent the offseason building that character and creating a vision.

“Our numbers are increasing at every level,” says Cuevas. “We’ve got a lot of freshmen, so that’s a good sign moving forward.”

Part of Cuevas’ game plan on the field was to provide a more balanced attack. Off the field, he demanded commitment.

“We fought that battle all season,” Cuevas said. “We had a core of kids who figured it out and started infusing it into others and seeking commitment from others.”

Growing pains were evident throughout the season as the Condors struggled to a 3-7 record while playing in the Cypress division.

Stephen Poudlier is one of the team’s top repeaters in North County. (John Devine — Monterey Herald)

Injuries, youth and lack of depth disrupted the offense, being shut out four times and held to a touchdown or less on two other occasions.

But there were also flashes of potential, such as sweeping wins over the San Lorenzo Valley and Rancho San Juan.

“Last year was the year I started playing football,” said receiver Stephen Poudrier.

The program’s pride in owning the second-most league titles in the county in the last 30 years resurfaced.

“We build programs the right way,” says Cuevas. “These children know the traditions established by their uncles and fathers. They cannot get away from it. But remind them that the work you are doing is for you. It is It’s your moment.”

Bringing back the program’s tradition meant a complete makeover. Cuevas has done a lot of coaching in the last year. Now he will see if a lesson has been learned.

“We’re still young,” said Poudlier, who also sees time as a defensive back. “It’s effectively a whole new group. The difference is we’re on the same page.”

As young as North County was in some places last fall, swapping quarterbacks, tailbacks and top receivers means 80% of the offense graduated.

Cuevas gave sophomore quarterback AJ Gomez the keys to the offense. He is a multisport athlete and he also acts as an offensive threat with his feet.

“He’s doing well,” Cuevas said. “He goes green.

Gomez spent the summer bonding with returning receivers Francisco Padilla and Poudlier.

Both were raised as sophomores last year, and Poudlier was named team captain this fall, while Padilla made an impact as a receiver.

Cuevas called Poudrier the strongest player on the pound-for-pound roster, but Padilla’s work ethic got him the first job.

“These two guys came in at 7am and were doing two days of lifting,” says Cuevas. “They worked hard. They coach young players. Neither are very selfish.”

What makes the passing game more effective is the ability to run the ball, a staple of North County championships in the 1980s and 90s.

If you can build an offensive line around 6-foot-2, 300-pound Ethan Yates, who turned youth football backup into the team’s starting center as a sophomore last fall, that’s fine.

Having spent the offseason in the weight room, Yates is a game-changer in the Trench with the ability to punch holes and pile-drive enemies back.

Cuevas appreciates flyback Ryan Lewis, who was named Cypress Division Defensive Player of the Year last winter.

The 175-pound Lewis is an off-the-edge burner that requires only a small amount of space to get into an open field.

“He’ll do a fly sweep,” Cuevas said. “The kid is a stud. He’s been outstanding in his 7-for-7 this summer. We’ll be able to run the ball.”

The defensive improvement starts with the offense creating more possessions and utilizing the clock.

Often with multiple players going both ways, North County simply wore off in the second half.

Alex Guzman returned as the anchor for the Condors’ linebacking squad and recorded nearly 100 tackles last year, 14 of which were lost.

Lewis provides depth as a strong safety, while Poudlier starts 2021 as a defender. Yates could also give Condors another big body in the trenches.

All the Condors have to avoid is a dreadful second quarter, going 70-6 with seven losses last fall.

“When some players are going in both directions, it’s difficult to make adjustments when the kids are stuck off the field,” Cuevas said. “Our offense has struggled, and it’s my fault.”

What can help Cuevas this year is his numbers, predicted to be in his late 40s.

“We will be younger, but we will be more competitive and in better shape,” promised Cuevas. “Fortunately, we have children who have experienced growing pains. This experience has been irreplaceable.”