The Salinas Valley Spartans didn’t have the type of season they wanted to in 2016, finishing at 5-5, but this year they’re confident the pieces are in place to surpass that mark and get back to the level they were once at.
“This year we, as the new ownership group, told ourselves if we are going to continue with this team, we need to make a big splash this year,” Spartans owner Ryan Tompkins told Develepmental Football USA. “There were a lot of players last year that were unhappy about the direction. They didn’t feel there was the leadership.
“Because of that, the president of the foundation made me head coach and head of football operations. I went out and got six of the finest coaches in the Salinas area; guys who I know will earn the respect of the guys. Just that alone, having a foundation of coaches, rubs off on the guys because they know we are taking this serious.”
To accompany the change, the Spartans also modified their look with a new logo.
“We kept the colors, but changed the logo to signify a change in direction and culture and to show we are shutting the door on the past and taking it forward into the future,” Tompkins said. “We also started a partnership with Family of Athletes, FOA, making them our vendor of merchandise. We are in this for the same reasons so we actually came out and did a mini-camp with 200 kids with them. The team helped all these groups of kids with football skills and it was a huge success.”
While change can lead to attrition, and there was some, there wasn’t as much as one would expect because the changes were all overwhelmingly positive for the organization, team, and community as a whole.
“The roster was split right down the middle at first about returning,” Tompkins said. “The guys who immediately knew they were coming back knew we were taking it over and had hope in what we were telling them. We got a lot of new guys and returned guys who had played here before who had been in hiding so to speak now that the old regime is gone.”
Although the Spartans didn’t lose as many players as they maybe expected, they did lose a few key members of the team. Despite that, there are still plenty of impact players on this roster.
“The team’s leader in tackles and sacks, as well as the league leader in tackles for loss, linebacker Ed Canadas went to the North Bay Rattlers,” Tompkins said. “Linebacker Mike Brown was on the fence. He was nursing an injury and decided he wasn’t going to play, but rather take the year off. Being who I am, I try to keep guys in the family. I asked him to be on the coaching staff so he could still be on the team. I see it as an opportunity to keep our guys whether they’re on the team or not.
“Antoine Davis was an impact player last year, but never really had the opportunity. With those guys moving on, Antoine and others will get their opportunity. We have Antoine, Efren Lopez and Mikey Sarmiento as our linebacking corps. They’re all capable of leading the team on defense. We still have others trickling it too that could be impact players on defense.”
With most of the attrition coming on defense, coach Tompkins and his staff are expecting their offense to be a strong unit in the PCFL, but they had to fix one key position group for that to be possible.
“It all starts with the offensive line,” Tompkins said. “You can have the best quarterback in the league, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t protect him and keep him upright. Last year our offensive line was big, but not real agile or athletic. I had a lot of time to observe the team last year as part of the foundation. This year we have pretty much a completely new offensive line. The good thing about them is they’re mobile, agile, athletic, and big. That’ll help a lot. I see the whole offense being much better because of the offensive line.
“Last year we had Alvin Jelks and Daunte Mills at running back. Daunte also went to the South Beach Outlaws so this year we have Alvin back and he’s our star running back. We also have Marquis “MarMar” Brooks, Curtis Shell, and Lorenzo Preston. We’re going to be really good on the ground. At quarterback, we brought in Curt Ceralde . Curt played for North Salinas High School and was a captain at Hartnell JC before playing at Arkansas Tech. He came back and was the quarterback coach at Hartnell so we are lucky to have him. Our backup will be Mitchell Kidd who was the guy that came in at the end of last year and salvaged what we had.”
With the talent returning to the roster and the new expanded coaching staff in place, the future is looking bright for Salinas Valley and the players are recognizing that potential everyday.
“I’ve had guys come up to me and tell me how great it is and how it’s what they’ve been looking for,” Tompkins said. “Everyone is where they need to be. No one is sitting around wondering where they need to be. There is organization and with organization you have guys buying in. I talked to a couple of the offensive linemen and they said last year at practice they would just sit around and talk until it was time for team time. This year we have position coaches. It’s so different than what I saw last year. We’re miles ahead of where we were. The crazy thing is that despite all that, we still made it into the playoffs and almost won our first game against the South Bay Patriots.
“Our goal this year is to get to the championship and win it. I’m not trying to be bold, but we’re not looking at this as a rebuild year. We are looking at it like a go and win-it-all year.”
If the early results are any indication, the Spartans could be closer than many think to that goal of ending the year with hardware in their hands at the 50-yard line.