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First-year coaches embrace unique challenge ahead

South San Francisco players gear up for their first year under Dion Evans. Photo courtesy of South City Football
South San Francisco players gear up for their first year under Dion Evans. Photo courtesy of South City Football

The first days of Matt Hoefs’ tenure as Liberty’s head football coach have been far from normal, but he and the Lions are taking advantage of every opportunity.

Hoefs was hired late in the process in July when Ryan Partridge – who led the program to a 34-5 record in three years and the first-ever state title for the Lions in 2018 – took an assistant job at the collegiate level at Ferris State.

That would typically be a quick turnaround for the upcoming football season that was supposed to begin this past weekend, yet 2020 has not been a normal year, with the COVID-19 pandemic halting everything in the world and leading to the California Interscholastic Federation to devise a new athletics calendar that has the first football games now slated in January.

While this is far from normal, Hoefs is enjoying the new job and embracing the opportunity that presents itself in Brentwood to guide a program that has emerged into one of the best in the area.

“Obviously being hired in late July in any normal football season would be really, really hectic, but we’re kind of looking at it from a positive point of a view of maybe them pushing back the season gives us a little chance to let our coordinators kind of get settled in, let our coaches learn from each other – especially with two new coordinators,” Hoefs said. “We’re just taking advantage of this extra time.”

Many new coaches throughout the Bay Area are holding a similar mindset to Hoefs that while these are unprecedented times, the more they use these days to their advantage the more they will be ready for when the season does roll around in what is now the spring 2021 campaign.”

South San Francisco head coach Dion Evans, like Hoefs, is in his first year at his new program, and they are doing all they can to prepare themselves for when they can be out there as a team.

Right now, they have multiple Zoom meetings through the week as a team at 4 p.m., and what’s the reason for that time? Well, it’s the same time they will be out on the field .

In Evans’ words, they have accepted the time period they are in and have “embraced the whole idea of Zoom.”

“We’re trying to keep a consistent time, even with our zoom meetings so that when we go to be on the field, it’s still the same time,” Evans said. “So I’m creating a sense of expectation, a sense of this is what we do, a sense of structure. This is the time frame. You need to be prepared to be concentrating on football, and so far it has worked pretty well.”

At Liberty’s rival in Brentwood, Heritage High School also welcomed in a new head coach: Dave Fogelstrom, whose time as a head coach was immediately swept into the heat of a pandemic.

And the results from the program and buy in from the community have been impressive. Before the shelter in place went into effect, there were 40 players attending the lifting sessions before school.

They would alter their schedule once shelter in place did occur, where players posted their at-home workouts on Twitter. Each week, Fogelstromg would draw a name and that player would either earn a t-shirt or an In-N-Out gift card.

“I drove all over Brentwood for two months handing stuff out and got to meet some of the families,” Fogelstrom said.”It was a good way to get to know my players better.  We actually were able to stay connected with the players quite a bit because everyone wanted to win a shirt or gift card.  Coach Hartwig ran some Zoom meetings with his offensive linemen and I also ran some with our quarterbacks.  We learned as we went and did everything we could to stay connected with our players.”

Coaches would have loved to have just finished up their first weekend of the 2020 season, but they understand and teach their squad that when adversity hits, you wake that’s thrown at you and get stronger because of it.

By the time 2021 hits, they will be stronger and more prepared than ever for the games to commence.

“We would love to be playing football this week, but it is what is and we’re just kind of moving on,” Hoefs said. “I think with the kids adjusting to the distance learning and all the new different things as well, we’re just taking it with stride and day by day.”

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