Loud laughter still punctuates practice. And Tim Gutierrez's letter-perfect X, Y and Z receivers continue to spend afternoons running under his passes.
Santa Clara High is taking no special preparations for Trabuco Hills, the defending Division VIII champion and Santa Clara's opponent in a semifinal game Friday night at 7:30 at Oxnard High.
As usual, the workouts are loose and the spirals tight.
The Saints, who fell in the quarterfinals last year, have learned little about Trabuco Hills, prefering to concentrate on what they do best: Let Gutierrez wing it.
Not bad strategy considering the quarterback's stature. In all-time career passing yardage, the senior ranks fifth in the state and third in the Southern Section with 6,930. Gutierrez set a state record last season with a 70.4 completion percentage.
This year he has a percentage of 63.6%, hitting 189 of 297 passes for 2,618 yards and 17 touchdowns. Gutierrez has thrown eight interceptions, only one in the past six games.
He has also helped a couple of unheralded wide receivers named Jason Daw and Paul Muro compile eye-popping statistics. Daw, known as receiver "X" in the Santa Clara play book, has a county-high 61 receptions for 1,172 yards. Muro, who is receiver "Z," has 54 catches for 809 yards. Tight end Carlos Martinez, receiver "Y" and an effective run blocker, has 19 catches for 143 yards.
Daw, a senior in his first year of high school football, has shown steady improvement culminating in an 11-catch performance last week. The rangy 6-1 receiver is especially adept at breaking his route and finding an open area when he sees Gutierrez in trouble.
Muro, a stocky 5-11 junior who played running back his first two years at Santa Clara, is unafraid of catching the ball over the middle. He also starts at strong safety.
Tailback Kwinn Knight is Santa Clara's most experienced and versatile back and is a primary reason the Saints average 356 yards a game. Only 5-9, 170 pounds, Knight has scored a county-record 31 touchdowns on rushes, receptions and kick returns. He also starts at free safety.
Fullbacks Scottie Tripp, a sophomore, and Augie Maciel, a senior, alternate every play. Maciel also starts at linebacker in the Saints' 5-2 defense. Mike Hager, another two-way starter, is the other linebacker.
Two-way lineman Leo Berry is questionable with a foot injury. Rob DeCamp will play offensive tackle for Berry and Antonio Gallegos will fill in at defensive end.
Saint defenders, seven of whom also start on offense, are saddled with the task of containing the varied Trabuco Hills attack. Nose guard Roger Miranda and tackles Ted Lawrence and Jack McCormick must pressure Mustang quarterback Tim Manning.
Manning, a senior who was an All-Southern Section defensive back last season, provides leadership and quickness. He does not pass as well as Dave Lowery, last season's Trabuco Hills' quarterback who passed for 3,300 yards, but Manning (6-0, 175) makes few mistakes. He has passed for 2,111 yards with a completion percentage of 58.3 and he has rushed for 609 yards.
Halfback Pete Burke (6-0, 175) and fullback Ben Rooker (6-3, 215) each have about 700 yards rushing. Rooker, healthy after missing five weeks with a knee injury, gained 134 yards last week in a 35-21 victory over Cabrillo.
"We rushed for 335 yards last week, which the linemen thought was a lot of fun," Coach Jim Barnett said.
Defensively, Trabuco Hills is weakest at linebacker and strongest in the secondary. "Most teams just don't try to pass against us, although I know that won't be the case with Santa Clara," Barnett said.
Indeed, Gutierrez is bound to test a secondary that includes Manning and returning starter Greg Hughes at safety and cornerbacks Rick Sparks, Jim Skidmore and Mike Canett. All five will be on the field much of the game.
So will Gutierrez, Knight and the X, Y, Z receivers, however, a combination that Santa Clara hopes spells victory.
Thousand Oaks (11-0-1) vs. Muir (10-1-1) at Citrus Junior College, Friday, 7:30 p.m.: The misery Muir causes opponents is matched only by its own. First-year Coach John Tyree has had problems breaking his frisky Mustangs, especially junior quarterbacks Demetrius Martin and Sedrick Thomas.
Thomas started last week for the first time since Muir's loss to Arcadia on Oct. 13. The Mustangs whipped San Marcos, 28-0, for their fourth shutout of the season, but Tyree didn't credit the quarterback.
"We are very disappointed," he said. "Neither quarterback runs the wishbone option well, and that's what we ought to do well. Then we go to a run-and-shoot and neither is any good at that, either. I'm disgusted."
Tyree simplified the offense last week, ordering Thomas to hand the ball to tailback Sam Williford, who rushed for 194 yards in 24 carries. It was a marked increase in workload for Williford, who has only 536 yards in 80 carries all season.