ATASCADERO — They say there are only two seasons in America, football season, and waiting for football season. If you drove past the upper fields at Atascadero High School on Tuesday around 3 p.m. you heard the indicator that football is back. The unmistakable “A- T- A- S- C- A- D- E- R- O” spell out that every football player learns on their first day of youth echoed throughout the small valley, bouncing off the oak trees, where the high school sits.
The Greyhounds finished 3-7 last year, which is certainly a down year for a team and fan base that is used to league titles and playoff games. Many things have changed from last year to this year and there was a buzz in Atascadero’s camp on Tuesday. Perhaps it was just the first day of camp excitement, maybe it is the move from the Southern Section to the Central Section.
“I think there is a little [different feeling this year]. It feels different, I haven’t put my finger on what it is,” AHS head coach Vic Cooper said. “I don't know if it’s the new league or playoff divisions or what. This is the first year in a while that I haven’t had one of my own sons playing, that might be it, I’m not sure. Maybe it is just a little renewed confidence or something, but it does feel a little bit different.”
This will be Cooper’s 15th year as the head coach of the Greyhounds and his 30th year coaching at Atascadero in total. Cooper will continue to coordinate the offense and call the plays but will have a few new faces on the sidelines with him. The Greyhounds brought in a new quarterbacks coach, Mark Gross, who coached at Mission Prep during their successful run a few years back. The Hounds have also added Jerry Reynolds, the former Templeton Eagles coach and father to J.R. Reynolds (the Paso Robles High School Bearcats head coach), to help the offensive line and Paul Teixeira will help with the receivers and skill guys.
“It is just like a football team, there is no football player out there that can do everything by themselves and same thing goes for football coaches, the more you have the better,” Cooper said.
As for position battles, the Hounds have one at an important position, quarterback. Cade VanAllen, who started when healthy for Atascadero last year is not returning which leaves the battle between a pair of juniors.
Tyler Chapman played last year as a sophomore earning important crunchtime reps, often running the offense out of the pistol with a heavy dose of the option. Something Cooper says they will look to continue if he wins the job.
Chapman will be competing for the job with Wesley Cooper, who played on the JV last season.
“Cooper is more of a traditional guy,” coach Cooper said. “He is a guy that two years ago I probably would have thought should have been a tight end or defensive tackle or something, but he has really worked his butt off to turn himself into a pretty good quarterback.”
Atascadero has nine returning starters this year with five of them coming from the defense, which led the team a year ago. The returners also come in key positions which could help the defense become even more stout this year.
The defense returns two second team all-league selections in inside linebacker Matthew Perry and rush end Salvatore DeRose, along with their other inside linebacker Scott Morgan and both corners from last year, Cullen Cooper and Wyatt McKenzie.
“The linebackers, as kind of being the quarterbacks of the defense, are real important,” coach Cooper said. “Those two guys set the tone already in spring and summer as the level of expectation of what is going to happen so I look forward to see how the rest of the guys follow in behind those two.”
Atascadero will play in the Mountain League this year in Division 1 of the Central Section with their league games coming against Righetti, Arroyo Grande, Paso Robles and new addition St. Joseph. The Hounds do not have a week zero game this season but will open the year with three consecutive home games starting on Aug. 24 against former league opponent San Luis Obispo.