Jeff Smith 6 p.m., Feb. 27
Steele Canyon named longtime varsity assistant Scott Longerbone (pictured) head coach in the offseason after Ron Boehmke stepped down
Season Preview: Steele Canyon Cougars
Last Year: 8-4 (2nd in Grossmont Hills, lost in D-II quarterfinals) Returning Starters: 6 on offense/3 on defense Top Players: RB Lonnie Tuff (Sr.), S LaShawn Ware (Sr.), QB Brandon Andrade (Sr.), WR Brandon Howard (Sr.), OL/DL Bryce Kelly (Sr.) Newcomers to Watch: WR Markell Lindley (Jr.), WR Lawrence Dickens (Jr.), FS Jordan Johnson (So.)
Steele Canyon spreads field with new head coach
Steele Canyon is trying to make a change at the top of Division II this season after making significant changes within its program during the offseason. The Cougars enter the 2012 campaign with a new head coach and a new offensive approach, transitions they hope will lead to uncharted territory by the end of the year.
“We have a great group of kids and everybody wants it,” said senior safety LaShawn Ware. “From the very first practice, the first thing we talked about was CIF – it’s been a goal from day one and we’ll do all we can to get there.”
After Ron Boehmke stepped down in the offseason, longtime assistant coach Scott Longerbone was named Steele Canyon’s head coach. Longerbone becomes only the second varsity head coach in the 10-year history of the program.
“We wanted to make the transition relatively smooth for the kids,” Longerbone said. “It was already a successful program and we didn’t want to change too much.”
Boehmke is still involved with the program behind the scenes, and did leadership training in the offseason. Since Longerbone has been at Steele Canyon from the program's inception, there has not been much of a difference with him in charge.
“He’s always been one of the top coaches here – he’s was just another head coach the past few years,” said senior running back Lonnie Tuff. “Now that he’s the head coach, he really wants the CIF title. He’s taking more steps for us to try and go and get that CIF.”
One major change for Steele Canyon this season is on offense, where the Cougars are switching from a two-back pro-style offense to a spread attack. Longerbone decided to make the change based on personnel within the program, and brought in offensive coordinator Mark Tipton from Santana to orchestrate the offense.
“We were working a lot during the summer with the new offense, and now we’re kind of used to it,” Tuff said. “At first it was hard changing, but now I think we’re all used to it. Now we’re just trying to perfect it.”
Tuff is Steele Canyon’s featured back, and returns after rushing for 803 yards and averaging 8.7 yards per carry in an injury-shortened junior season. The Cougars also return a senior duo in the passing game – last year’s starting quarterback Brandon Andrade and top receiver Brandon Howard.
“He’s pretty dynamic and he’s going to have a great season because he has grown up a lot and it’s showing,” Longerbone said about Howard. “We had a live scrimmage on Friday and he was doing all the little things right.”
Defensively, Steele Canyon returns only three starters and faces the challenge of replacing three Division I players – safety Chancellor James (Boise State) along with defensive linemen Mario Yakoo (Boise State) and Ben Gossmeyer (Eastern Washington). Ware will lead the Cougars’ fast, young defense from the secondary.
“They’ve got some work to do,” Longerbone said. “We’ve got some guys that are going to step up, but I think it will take some time.”
Steele Canyon opens the season against Cathedral Catholic Aug. 31, which starts a difficult nonleague schedule. The Cougars face St. Augustine (Sept. 7), Eastlake (Sept. 21) and Canyon Country Canyon (Sept. 28) prior to Grossmont Hills league play.
“The first five games are going to be a good test for us and allow us to see where we’re at,” Tuff said. “It’s really going to prepare us well for league.”
The trip to face Canyon on Sept. 28 will offer Steele Canyon players more than just a football game against a quality Southern Section opponent. Longerbone set up the two-day itinerary to simulate a college football road trip.
“We’re treating it kind of like a college experience – staying in a hotel where they set up meeting rooms for us and doing a team day at Magic Mountain,” Longerbone said. “That’s going to be a fun experience.”
Steele Canyon was a Division II quarterfinalist last season, and fell in that round against Mission Hills to snap a streak of three consecutive semifinal appearances. The Cougars are hoping to get over the hump in 2012 in a challenging division.
“This year we’ve been doing more team stuff – not necessarily football stuff but more team trusting activities,” Tuff said. “We’ve been taking steps to take our game to the next level and get where we want to go.”