Cougars football on the move

Joe Fleming plans on having another monster season for Christopher. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Coming off a strong 2018 season in which it had its best season ever competing in the A division, Christopher High will once again be up against strong competition. Yet this year’s team seemingly has the potential to make some serious noise in the Pacific Coast League’s Gabilan Division.

“We’re a stronger team,” said Billy Norman, a senior inside linebacker. “We’ve been working out really hard in the off-season, and I feel like it’s going to pay off.”

Longtime Cougars coach Tim Pierleoni said it best—Christopher is in tough as it will face the likes of Aptos, Hollister, Palma and Salinas in league action. The Cougars went a respectable 3-4 in the Gabilan Division last season, and if they could improve by one game in 2019, it would be monumental because it would mean they would have beaten one of the aforementioned four league stalwarts.

“Those four teams will be really tough to beat, but it’s a good challenge and I’m excited about it because we’ve had the best off-season we’ve ever had in the 11 years of the program,” Pierleoni said. “We hired a strength and conditioning guy who is dealing with the weight room, and they (the players) don’t have to hear my voice all the time. The attitude of the kids have been tremendous, and we’ve had 100 percent participation all summer long.”

To summarize the state of the team, Christopher has more experience and possibly talent on the offensive and defensive line, but it is younger at the skill positions. If the linemen play solid as expected and the skill position players blossom, watch out. The Cougars return two-way lineman Joe Fleming, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound senior who has shined in various camps. Pierleoni and Norman were effusive in their praise for Fleming.

“He is the real deal,” Pierleoni said. “He’s a dominant defensive lineman and everyone is recruiting him. He could start at tight end if we really needed him to because he’s that athletic.”

The Cougars have had some dynamic quarterbacks in their program, and junior signal-caller James Goodrich could be the next one to make an impact. Pierleoni likes Goodrich’s work ethic and Norman expressed confidence that Goodrich will emerge as a quality quarterback.

“James is a real tough kid with a good arm and good touch,” Pierleoni said. “He’s put in a lot of work and he won’t quit.”

Senior running back Wyatt Franklin has big-time playmaking potential, possessing speed and strength. At 5-foot-7 and 185 pounds, Franklin could become the team’s workhorse running the ball.

“He’s probably the strongest kid on the team,” Pierleoni said. “We’re looking forward to seeing him have a breakout year. He sat behind Tyler Davis last year, so he’s hungry.”

Sophomore wide receiver Cody Ahola has shown plenty of promise, displaying tremendous speed and focus in catching passes. As a freshman last year, Ahola was a varsity athlete in three sports: baseball, basketball and football. Ahola led the team in receiving yards and catches in the playoff loss to powerhouse Valley Christian last season.

“He’s probably the fastest kid on the team, plays with an attitude on defense and catches every ball thrown to him,” Pierleoni said.

Adam Andrade, a junior receiver/safety, also has the capability to make plays with his speed and instincts. Norman has earned Pierleoni’s respect and amazement after the linebacker dislocated his shoulder twice in 2018, an injury that ended Pierleoni’s playing career.

“Billy dislocated his shoulder in a game against Seaside and came back two weeks later,” Pierleoni said. “That shows me a lot of heart right there. I had a dislocated shoulder and I wanted nothing to do with football after that. For him to jump back in two weeks later shows a lot of guts.”

Returning to the field while not being close to 100 percent almost cost Norman, as the second time he dislocated his shoulder he also tore additional tendons and ligaments and chipped a bone.

“Looking back on it, I don’t regret it (coming back early), but at the same time I’ll be a little more cautious if something like this happens again,” Norman said.

Norman underwent surgery last November and approached physical therapy in the same way he approaches football—with a purpose and attitude. As a result, Norman was cleared for physical activities in April, a month before the original date. From there, Norman rebuilt his body, which had gotten out of shape since he couldn’t train or lift weights post surgery.

“But now I’m back to where I wanted to be and more,” he said.

Norman prides himself on being consistent in every aspect of the game. He likes to watch video and scout his opponents so once the game starts, he’s the most prepared player on the field.

“When I go into the game, I usually know what the other team is running and what plays they like to run in certain formations,” he said. “I feel quick around linemen, I have a nose for the ball and I can shed blocks.”

SCHEDULE

8/30 vs. King’s Academy, 7:30 p.m.

9/6 at Live Oak, 7 p.m.

9/13 vs. Seaside, 7:30 p.m.

9/27 vs. Carmel, 7:30 p.m.

10/4 at San Benito, 7;30 p.m.

10/11 at Salinas, 7:30 p.m.

10/18 vs. Palma, 7:30 p.m.

10/25 at Aptos, 7:30 p.m.

10/31 at Alvarez, 7:30 p.m.

11/8 vs. Gilroy, 7:30 p.m.

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