Winning a total of two games in its first three years, Helen Bernstein High's football team is focused on improving this season.
With a mix of key returners and promising newcomers, the Dragons open the season Friday at 7 p.m. against Annenberg of Los Angeles at Santee High, and Coach Darrell Divinity and his players are ready for a new start.
“We still have some question marks, but we look pretty good at this point,” Divinity said.
A key for Bernstein could be the return of Calvin Newburn, a talented running back who has yet to make a decision about coming back to the team because of work and personal issues. The junior could not participate in summer drills because he had a job and Divinity said there is no guarantee he will be back at all.
“Basically, he is supposed to be here, but he’s not here yet,” Divinity said. “We start school next week, so we will see what happens. Either way, he won’t be able to play right away because you have to have a certain number of practices before you can play. He won’t be able to play in the second game, either. He’s our best guy, but I just don’t know anything for sure.”
As a sophomore, Newburn rushed for 800 yards in six games, averaging 9.7 yards per carry.
“He’s got some personal issues, too, some family issues. I just don’t know,” Divinity added.
One player Divinity is excited about having is William Mack, a wide receiver whom the coach found on the basketball team.
“He’s a senior playing football for the first time, but I think he is going to help us a lot,” Divinity said. “He was supposed to play last year, but he hurt his wrist. He is in that mold of a big, tall receiver. He’s not blazing fast, but he has long strides and covers a lot of ground. Plus, he catches the ball well and has great hands and great concentration. He’s just a physical kid, and I’m hoping he can put it all together.”
Brian Lopez returns at quarterback and Divinity said the senior makes good decisions and has a good arm.
“He’s going to go ahead and run offense this year,” Divinity said. “The first year he played, he kind of got banged up pretty good, but he’s back. He’s a tough kid, and we’re hoping to get a full year out of him.”
Bernstein has experience up front, notably offensive lineman Jonathan Magana, a junior three-year starter who is 6-foot-2 and 320 pounds.
“I’m looking for some big things out of him,” Divinity said.
Another to watch is linebacker Jesse Gomez, a senior who has been starting since his freshman season. He is playing linebacker for the first time after three seasons as a defensive lineman.
“He started the second game when he was in ninth grade, and Jesse has been starting ever since,” Divinity said. “He’s just ferocious, so I wanted to put him in a position where he could do more. When he played on the defensive line, everyone just ran away from him. He’s dropped some weight, so he is quicker and faster, about 5-feet-11-inches, 240 (pounds), and he is a stocky kid who tackles well. He’s extremely physical, and he can be intimindating. I thought he was the best defensive lineman in the Southern League last year.”
Another standout is Bryan Moran, a junior defensive back who is just 5-feet-8-inches and 130 pounds, but packs a punch.
“He’s pretty good, and he’s got all the guts in the world,” Divinity said. “He’s extremely gutsy and won’t back down from anyone. He will test anyone. I really like the kid. He’s going to be a good one.”
Until the Newburn situation is ironed out, Johnny Ortiz is the running back. Divinity said he looked good on junior varsity and he has confidence in him.
“We’re hoping he can help out a lot,” Divinity said.
Bernstein has a quirky schedule, opening with three road games, followed by four consecutive home games beginning Sept. 30 against Southern League rival Jefferson.
2011 BERNSTEIN VARSITY FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Sept. 2 -- Annenberg at Santee High, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 -- at Torres, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 -- at Roybal, 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 -- Jefferson, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 7 -- Contreras, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 14 -- St. Margaret's, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 -- Los Angeles, 7 p.m.*
Oct. 28 -- at Belmont, 7 p.m.*
Nov. 4 -- Hollywood, 7 p.m.*
Nov. 10 -- at Santee, 7 p.m.*
* Southern League game