Santana gets his shot to build Mills Football from the ground up
BURLINGTON - Lewis Mills is entering its fourth year of varsity football but new head coach Jose Santana is entering his first season with the Spartans with a clean slate.
With the Spartans coming off a winless campaign and the program in need of an overhaul, Santana is approaching his first season with optimism while also realizing there is a lot of work to be done.
Where some coaches come to a program and have to maintain tradition that won't be the case for Santana, actually he'll be charged with changing it. The Spartans went 2-8 in 2010, 2-8 in 2011 and then bottom fell out before a solid foundation was even really built. The Spartans went 0-10 last season, were shutout five times and scored only 48 points in 10 games.
Those numbers don't add up to the most appealing program for a coach to take over, but Santana is undaunted and is relishing the chance to call a program his own.
"As a coach you start off and work your way up and anybody who coach’s football eventually wants to be a head coach," Santana said. "It's one of those where a coach says now I get to run things my way."
What exactly that way will be remains to be seen, but Santana is experienced and has been around winning programs in his 20 years as a high school coach and a four-year stint in college. One of the main things that will be a part of Santana's way of running things is an insistence on effort and competitiveness.
"We are going to play four quarters of football, not just one or two like we did last year with all the blowouts that we had," Santana said. "We will be competitive and play a smash mouth and rugged, physical style. We have played that way our last two scrimmages. We sent out a little message that win or lose, Lewis Mills is coming to play football."
The Spartans will run multiple sets on offense and a 4-2-5 defense, one that Santana said has been effective in its scrimmages, including a shutout of Vinal Tech. It will be important for Mills to have success early in the season, especially coming off a winless season. So far in the preseason things are heading in the right direction.
"Our defense has been very solid -and we are pretty confident on the defensive side of the ball," Santana said. "We have not taken advantage of all of our scoring opportunities on offense and the offense is still something we are working on."
The offense needing work is no surprise, especially after a season that saw the Spartans average less than five points a game. As anemic as that sounds, Santana's biggest task isn't installing a new offense or finding a quarterback, it's changing the culture of a program that has won four games in three varsity seasons.
"The biggest thing for us to accomplish as coaches is to get the kids to buy in," Santana said. "We need to change the culture and establish a winning attitude. So far the kids are buying in to our philosophy and what we are trying to do on offense and defense."
Helping Santana shift the culture within the program will be captains Trevor Watts (safety/wide receiver), Max Stone (safety/running back), Dominick Jankowski (tight end/defensive end) and Cam McHale (linebacker/guard). With a program of 65 players including at least 22 freshmen, the captains will have to help Santana lead the way.
"I think this preseason is going a lot better than some of the others we have had," McHale said. "We have become more of a team than we have in the past. Since we hit rock bottom at 0-10, we can only get better and things have really been progressing."