They don’t have helmets and pads on quite yet, but all of the Long Beach high school football players have returned to regular practice this month.
While teams like Long Beach Poly and Millikan are gearing up for the season with their returning superstars showcasing their talents in elite passing tournaments, teams like Wilson and Lakewood are trying to erase the memories of disappointing 2021 seasons.
The Bruins and Lancers find themselves in very similar situations this year with second-year coaches who are alums and know what their schools are capable of. Wilson went 1-8 in its first year under coach Scott Meyer, and Lakewood went 3-7 in its first year under coach Justin Utupo.
“Last year was definitely rebuilding coming off COVID,” said Meyer, who wasn’t hired until the summer before last season. “We started a ton of sophomores last year. The second year is always much easier. The attitude and effort in spring was really good. We’re trying to get back to where we should be.”
“I see our competitive nature coming out and I know we’re all driving to improve and be better this season,” Wilson senior linebacker James Ma’ae said.
Lakewood also has a host of talent coming back with experience and a chip on their shoulders after missing the players last season. Senior quarterback Brayden Downen and senior defensive lineman Rahkeen Moore will be key leaders on both sides of the ball.
The Lancers have their biggest turnout win years, and the increased numbers on the field have made for better and more competitive practice. Utupo has also incorporated joint practices instead of 7-on-7 summer tournaments in order to keep his group sharp.
“We also did it in the spring with schools like Esperanza,” Utupo said. “It’s very beneficial. They do it in the NFL all of the time during camps. It’s just like we were doing another practice but it’s very close to a scrimmage.”
Wilson and Lakewood also return the vast majority of their assistant coaches this year, and both head coaches think that’s going to be key in the rebuilding process.
“Being able to bring back mostly the same coaching staff with the additions of Lakewood alums like (offensive coach Demon Lampkin) has been important,” Utupo said. “That chemistry between players and coaches is a huge advantage for us.”