In sweltering heat, about four dozen high school athletes are doing drills while coaches bark instructions at them. These players won’t actually play a game for another four months, but they know that starting jobs can be on the line even today.
Welcome to spring football at Berkeley High. The 50 or so juniors- and seniors-to-be that are on the field for the next two weeks are the immediate future of the team, and will be put through their paces as if the season started next month. With a new varsity coach in charge, few of the players know what to expect.
Although new head coach Matt Bissell has coached most of these players before as the junior varsity coach over the past two seasons, this will be his first crack at spring football, since it is only for varsity players. He has to plan the next four months, and that’s just to get to the first game.
“I’ve been running around like a guy with his head cut off,” Bissell said. “There’s a lot of things for me to do every day.”
Bissell not only had to adjust to life in the fast lane when he was chosen varsity coach earlier this year, but he’s had to round up an entire coaching staff, as none of last year’s assistants stuck around after former head coach Gary Weaver decided to leave. Weaver had some success in his only year at BHS, tying for the ACCAL title and missing the playoffs by a tie-breaker.
Working both inside and outside the school, the new coach has managed to put together a staff of 10 assistants.
“They’ve come from all over. Some of them called me, some got to me over the Internet, and a couple of faculty members approached me,” Bissell said.
The most work will need to be on the offense, as Bissell decided to change from last year’s pro-style offense to a mix of several different systems.
“We’re doing variations of some things we’ve seen from successful local high school programs,” he said. “There will be a lot more movement than last year, which should play to our strengths.”
The new offense will be complex, meaning the returning players will have to make a fast adjustment. They will also be adjusting to a new offensive coordinator, who is a former head coach at another Bay Area program. But Bissell is confident that between spring ball and summer workouts, things will come together.
“We’re throwing a lot of stuff at them right now, and they’re a little confused,” he said. “But I know almost all of these kids, and they’re responding really well.”
Bissell is also impressed at the effort shown by most of the returning starters. According to him, very few players are taking their positions for granted.
“You’ve always got the mantra of ‘no job is safe,’ but between what I saw of some guys last year and how hard I’ve seen them work so far, I can’t help but pencil in some guys,” he said.