“We have the most veterans returning,” he said of this year’s roster, compared with last year and the year before. “They’re going to be very big impact players for us. That’s exciting, as a coach. We’re able to open up the offense and defense, because they know us and know what we’re expecting.”
He added that last year’s seniors made big contributions to the growing team and also helped build up younger players.
As at the other small schools in the CCAA, Millennium players join the varsity team their freshman year. Most of the seniors on this year’s squad started in their first or second years of high school. Dias said that turns out to be a strong point as he’s built the program at the charter school.
“We don’t have big size on the line, but we have team speed, and they know our offense pretty well. It’s much easier to run a practice when you don’t have to hold up a playbook and show pictures,” Dias said.
Millennium went 5-6 last year, finishing in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division V playoffs, and had a 3-2 record in the CCAA to place third in the league. A second trip to the playoffs in three years was a confidence boost that players expect will carry them past their toughest league rivals, Brookside Christian and Big Valley Christian, this year.
Senior quarterback Jamani Woods, starting his fourth year on the Falcons, said the focus each year is to make sure teammates trust in one another’s abilities.
“We have some competition when we’re playing against each other, but at the end of the day, we’re all family, and we look out for each other,” he said. “We have that close bond. It’s a small school — we all have classes together. Even with the coaches. The coaches are our teachers, and they’re on campus every day.”
He added that having all age groups together on one team gives players a better chance to inspire each other.
“Playing as a freshman on varsity, you have to learn fast. You can’t be lazy on the field or it will be a bad situation for you,” he said. “It really gets you stronger and bigger.”
Senior running back and linebacker A.J. Takata added that each year, the players strive to affirm that team bond. Even those who didn’t get into the game every week last year show the benefit of experience.
“That’s why this year we’re going to be better. Now they’re juniors, and now they’re going to get to play. They’ve got the experience.”
Takata added that team unity makes a big difference for the Falcons after a couple of successful seasons.
“This year, we’ve got all of the team together. It’s not just one person. It’s everybody.”
Junior center Jacob Eakin added that the offense is prepared to make a big impression.
“Our team speed is better overall this year. Our line is faster than it has been in the past,” he said. “We seem to have a better mental take to the game than we’ve had in the past years. I feel like we have a really good shot this year.”
He added that last year’s loss in the first round of playoffs to Highlands High was a tough way to end the season, and the team hopes to make up for that.
“It’s going to be about learning from that and trying to get past the first round and just keep going in the playoffs.”
Other seniors who have been with the Falcons on their two trips to the playoffs include wide receivers Drew and Tanner Carroll, tight end-linebacker Raj Kumar and offensive lineman Justin DeLaCruz.
Juniors who started as freshmen and stood out last year as sophomores include Austin Larson and Alex Lambert.
“Right now (Larson) fits best for us on the line, because he’s been there for two years,” Dias said. “With him on the line, he can teach and help groom some of our younger guys for the next year.”
Dias said that Lambert, who will be a linebacker and tight end, comes back stronger and faster than last year.
Millennium’s five-game preseason begins with a Zero Week game at home against Turlock Christian on Aug. 27 and will include two more home games before the Falcons take a week off to prepare for Brookside Christian on Oct. 7 in Stockton. Brookside is the returning CCAA champion and defending Sac-Joaquin Section Division VI champion, and played in the Division IV state championship.
Most schools at Millennium’s level, Division V and VI, don’t have enough players for junior varsity squads, but the Falcons will have at least one JV game, when Oakland High School comes to town for a preseason game Sept. 10. Dias said that, just for that day, the freshmen and sophomores will play in one game and the juniors and seniors in another.
Millennium High football 2011
Saturday, Aug. 27: vs. Turlock Christian, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 3: at Amador, Sutter Creek, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 10: vs. Oakland High School, 5/7 p.m. (JV/V)
Saturday, Sept. 17: at St. Elizabeth, Oakland, 1:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 24: vs. Emery, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 1: Bye
Friday, Oct 7: at Brookside Christian*, Stockton, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 15: at Stone Ridge Christian*, Merced, 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 21: at Big Valley Christian*, Modesto, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29: vs. Jim Elliot Christian*, 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5: vs. Sierra Ridge/Rite of Passage*, noon (homecoming)
Home games, in bold, are at Kimball High’s Don Nicholson Stadium
* Central California Athletic Alliance game