Being a former college football player, Bellarmine-Jefferson Principal Michael Stumph said it was a difficult decision to have to cancel a portion of the Guards season, as word about the cancellations were made official by the school on Wednesday via press release.
Stumph, who played as offensive guard at Indiana University from 1992-94, said although the administration had to scrap the program’s first three nonleague games to start the season, the school does plan to field a team. He added that in addition to a low turnout, the cancellations were due to players coming out for the team late for preseason practices and the athletes were just not prepared for competition.
"The decision that we had to make didn’t come lightly," said Stumph, who is in his first school year at Bell-Jeff. “But because we had players coming out late, we knew they just weren’t where they should be in terms of being prepared for the season.
"We do have enough players now to field a team. I think there are 19 to 20 kids out there now. The coaches are doing their best now to get those players ready for the season."
Word of the cancellations came Wednesday afternoon in a press release from first-year coach Lance Fauria. In the release, Fauria began by emphasizing "Bellarmine-Jefferson will have a football team this season." However, the release also read that the school had to cancel its first three games and the problem of low numbers still lingers.
"We have been out there practicing and the kids we do have out have been working very hard," Fauria said. "We have had to look around the school for players to help fill out the team. But the big thing is with the enrollment at the school. We have to increase the enrollment at the school to get the numbers up."
Stemph agreed about the need to increase the school’s enrollment.
"This is something that we have to work hard to do," he said. "Hopefully we can add some classes and do other things to attract students to the school."
The enrollment at Bell-Jeff in 2011 was more than 300. That number has dipped below 200 this school year.
The Guards were scheduled to open their season Friday against North Hollywood. Also scrapped was the Sept. 6 game against Brentwood and the Sept. 14 contest against Bishop Montgomery.
"The Bell-Jeff coaches and administration have contacted North Hollywood, Brentwood and Bishop Montgomery to let them know we will not be ready to play. We made the decision in hope that these teams might be able to find another game in their schedule," the release read.
Brentwood Athletic Director Amanda Kelson confirmed Wednesday that she was contacted about the cancellation just last week by the Bell-Jeff administration.
"That didn’t leave us a lot of time to try and find a replacement game," Kelson said. "That was going to be our season opener. We are still waiting to hear from teams if we can get a game."
With the cancellation of the three games, Bell-Jeff will instead try to play a modified seven-game schedule.
"Bell-Jeff will play a seven-game schedule beginning on Sept. 21 at Chadwick High School," the release read. "The extra time to prepare will allow our student-athletes to be in a position to be competitive over the shorter season."
The Guards also still have nonleague games scheduled against Pasadena Poly (Sept. 26) and Santa Clarita Christian (Oct. 5) before opening Santa Fe League play Oct. 12 at St. Monica.
One of the teams on Bell-Jeff’s Santa Fe League schedule is defending champion Salesian.
"I did hear the program was struggling," Salesian Coach Roddy Hiatt said. "Bell-Jeff hasn’t had a JV team to play us for a few years now."
Fauria took over at Bell-Jeff for outgoing football coach and athletic director David Machuca, who accepted the job as offensive coordinator under coach John Rome at Glendale Community College.
Last season, Bell-Jeff had a 4-7 record (2-2 in Santa Fe League). The Guards qualified for the CIF Southern Section Division Northeast playoffs, losing to No. 2 Rio Hondo Prep, 57-6. Rio Hondo Prep went on to win the division title.
It was the first time the Guards qualified for the postseason in three years.
Machuca said it’s difficult to see the program struggling.
"It’s hard because it’s a program that’s been around so many years and had some good teams over the years," said Machuca, a Burbank High graduate. "But it’s harder for someone like my brother [Bobby], who is an alumni and who played football there. I didn’t go to the school; I was only a coach there. I just hope they don’t have to cancel the rest of the season."
Machuca had to deal with the departure of a handful of players midway through last season. And with the Bell-Jeff enrollment declining in recent years, he said it became more difficult keeping the numbers in the program up.
"It wasn’t so much that I saw the writing on the wall," he said. "There were just so many difficulties with the school, especially with the enrollment. But I would have thought that they would be able to at least field a team. I know that they would probably struggle in football, but I didn’t think they would struggle this much to get a team on the field."
Bell-Jeff struggled the previous two seasons before Machuca's arrival, finishing last in the Santa Fe League both years. The Guards went 5-15 (0-8 in league) in the two years.
However, it was only a few years ago that Bell-Jeff enjoyed its share of success. In just his second season as coach in 2000, the Rolando Aguirre-coached Guards won a share of the Santa Fe League title. It was the program's first crown in 46 years. Bell-Jeff also captured undisputed championships in 2004 and 2007, as the teams finished with 9-2 records both seasons.
In 2008, Bell-Jeff (8-4) placed second in the Santa Fe League and advanced to the Northeast Division playoff quarterfinals. The Guards defeated Fairmont Prep, 28-21, in a first-round playoff game to earn their first postseason win in more than 50 years. Bell-Jeff fell in the quarterfinals to Linfield Christian, 26-0.
One of the most successful players in Bell-Jeff football history is Brendon Doyle, who graduated in 2004. The hard-throwing quarterback was a three-time All-CIF Southern Section selection before going to Glendale Community College and helping the Vaqueros to a victory in the Western State Bowl in 2006. Doyle also played at Weber State on a team that captured a Big Sky conference title in 2008 and competed in the American Indoor Football Assn., an arena league.
Doyle said he was surprised when he heard about the troubles facing the Bell-Jeff program.
"I know the school has been struggling, but not to be able to field a football team for the first few games is pretty disheartening," Doyle said. “I thought it might be bad, but I didn’t know it was that bad.
"It’s really tough to see. Bell-Jeff is my alma mater and I enjoyed my time there. I just want them to get back on track, and not to a championship level necessarily, but just to be able to compete and put a team on the field."
Despite the cancellations, Fauria said the Guards are hard at work and are looking forward to the opening of their season. Athletes who the coach expects to make significant contributions are sophomore offensive and defensive lineman Max Belsido (6 feet, 220 pounds), senior running back/defensive back Miles Hopkins (5-7, 175) and sophomore quarterback Issac Etter (6-0, 165).
"It’s a tough situation for us, but hopefully we will be able to work through it," Fauria said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun