FOOTBALL: Annual Midnight Madness practice kicks off Cougars’ campaign

Christopher's Montgomery Sterling looks for a pass during midnight practice Friday.

Jogging in formation, the click of their cleats on the pavement audible as 47 Christopher High varsity football players, hidden under matte black helmets, moved through the darkness of the campus’ corridors.

They emerged from the shadows two-by-two and took the field – illuminated by four light towers – that had already gathered dew.

The signal came from head coach Tim Pierleoni at 12:00.01 a.m. Friday morning. And just like that the sharp, crunching sounds of pads on pads and instructions belted out over the swoosh of players zigging and zagging around the field filled the air.

Football 2012 was under way.

The moment served some symbolism, connecting the first Midnight Madness practice in 2010, when a relatively unknown first-year varsity squad hit the ground running, to a team that has a league title to its credit two short years later.

No longer will the Cougars sneak up on opponents. Instead, a spotlight, generated by last season’s 10-2 record, will sit over CHS as it tackles another challenge – the stacked Gabilan Division of the restructured Monterey Bay League.

The Cougars’ brand of football isn’t a mystery anymore.

“That’s OK,” Pierleoni said. “When we started this, that’s what we wanted. We wanted to get to that level of play. Now it’s about coaching the kids up to continue to compete.”

As the Cougars went through their pregame warm-ups, all worked out some of the kinks that may have formed during the 10-day buffer period that separates the end of summer training and the Central Coast Section’s first official day of the fall season. The hour-and-a-half practice session also involved position drills, 7 vs. 7 and an offense vs. defense period.

“Us coaches won’t even sleep tonight,” Pierleoni said. “We will meet all night long and plan. I’m blessed to have a good group of quality coaches.”

Much of the overnight planning, Pierleoni said, will deal with lying out practice blue prints and the like. However, much will also entail conversations revolving around how to best fill the voids left behind by the 25 graduated seniors – a group that included a league MVP, two defensive position MVP’s, and seven first-team, four second-team and three honorable mention honorees.

At first glance, that looks daunting. But fresh starts aren’t so bad, and the Cougars do return a number of key pieces, including stalwarts – Tyler DeCarlo and Tomas Zamora (both second-team MBL in 2011) – on the offensive line, which Pierleoni said will be one of the Cougars’ strong suits this season.

• That group of five will block for Rayshon Mills, who was off to a terrific start at running back as a sophomore, gaining 325 yards on 21 catches and 99 yards on 27 carries, before missing the final four games of the year. Trevor Hadnot is also forecasted to be a solid candidate to factor in on offense, Pierleoni said.

CHS also welcomes back senior Takoda Bowers, who towers at 6-foot-5. He will resume his role at tight end/defensive end.

• Three players – Sterling Montgomery, Joel Jimenez and Anthony Sammut – are vying for the quarterback position. One will step into the shoes of Brandon Pickens, who called the shots for the Cougars in each of the first three years of the program’s existence.

Pierleoni said each will get a shot at proving himself as fall practice continues.

• Sophomore middle linebacker Jacob Moen, senior cornerback Brandon Kleder and junior lineman Mark Riffle saw action as underclassmen last season and should see their responsibilities increase heading into the year. Others assuredly will make their case as starters as the Aug. 31 opener against Sobrato moves closer.

• A full team preview will run in the Dispatch prior to opening night.

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