Christopher High’s football team lost about half of its starters from last season’s group that won a share of the league title and went on a postseason run.
The good news is that head coach Darren Yafai has the other half returning but in order for them to achieve the same success they’ve got to step it up quickly, especially with a tough road ahead of them.
“Some of these guys got to go from being a pretty good football player as a junior to being a great football player as a senior,” he said. “Not a rebuilding year, but a growing year.”
The Cougars finished in a three-way tie for the Blossom Valley Athletic League Mount Hamilton Division crown and lost in the Central Coast Section Division II quarterfinals in 2022.
They also lost three of their four starters on the defensive line along with starting center Jacob Ahumada who is playing at the University of Nevada Las Vegas this season. As a result, Christopher is struggling to run the ball.
“We have to find a way to get better in the running game and that’s blocking, assignments, being physical,” Yafai said.
The Cougars can still sling the football, though.
Senior receiver Amari Bluford finished with a game-best 166 yards receiving on six receptions and two touchdowns in their 23-13 season-opening win over North Monterey County High in non-league action Aug. 25.
Bluford said each season the goal is to win a league title, yet this year they have bigger aspirations including a CCS championship and a shot to compete in the CIF NorCal playoffs.
“I think throughout the year we’ll start to build up more chemistry with each other, our line will start getting better and they’ll build their own chemistry,” he said. “Then our defense will be more focused throughout the whole entire game.”
Bluford likes what he sees from fellow teammates juniors Matthew Boles, Evan Vernon and Tyler Green, who has been playing opposite of Bluford as the No. 2 defensive back.
The speedy receiver has also seen junior starting quarterback Jaxen Robinson really mature in an offseason where both players teamed up to improve for the 2023 campaign.
Robinson completed 18-of-29 pass attempts for 255 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions in last week’s season-opening win.
Despite the win, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound right-hander said they let the foot off the gas pedal a little bit against NMC and injuries including cramping kept players on the sidelines.
“We can learn from that and take it to next week so we can make ourselves better,” Robinson said.
The Bluford and Robinson connection dates back to middle school where they played together. Then the chemistry really began when both players were on Christopher’s JV team just two seasons ago.
Robinson got a chance to play at the varsity level in 2022 before he was sidelined with an injury.
However, Bluford didn’t see much playing time on offense sitting behind standouts such as seniors Saed Mustafa and Will Rizqallah, and recent graduates Jaterius Lee and Eric Argumedo.
Bluford—who competed on the track team in the spring—primarily plays defensive back but he’s set to make an impact on offense as well.
“I hit [Robinson] up right away,” he said. “We’ve been working this whole year. Working on our timing, our connection and based off what the defense shows us we know how to react to each other. So it’s been awesome.”
Robinson and Bluford hit the field just about everyday to run routes and plays. They hit the weight room and participated in grueling exercise routines such as running uphill.
Bluford said they also hung out at his house to watch game film and built a strong bond during the offseason.
“Stuff like that, it really adds up over time,” he said.
Christopher finished with a 9-2 overall record and BVAL Mount Hamilton tri-championship alongside Live Oak and Lincoln high schools in 2022.
The trio will battle it out yet again for the league title but let’s not forget about Leland, Santa Teresa and Oak Grove, which will also provide some competition in what is considered the “A” tier of the four divisions within the league.
Prior to league play, the Cougars (1-0) will play at Piedmont Hills (0-0) in non-league action Sept. 1, followed by a meeting at home against San Mateo (1-0) on Sept. 8. Both games are slated to kick off at 7pm.
“I definitely know we have a target on our back this year but I’m all for it and I’m ready for it,” Bluford said.
Robinson realizes they have several young players on the roster who will need to fill in some big shoes and believes there’s plenty of good talent up and down the roster to do so.
“Offense, defense, special teams, whatever, we just gotta push each other to get better. That’s always the goal,” he said.
Another goal for Robinson is to finish the regular season with an unblemished 10-0 overall record, earn a home seed for CCS playoffs and this time win the BVAL Mount Hamilton Division outright.
“Leave everything on the field, empty the tank,” he said.