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Valencia Gets Lift From Its Makeover

Coach Mike Marrujo changes the Tigers' offensive and defensive plans based on demographics of players in his program.


The changes were subtle, but necessary.

When Valencia Coach Mike Marrujo rewrote his playbook two years ago, his plan was to reorganize the team's dwindling talent pool as well.

Marrujo has cited a shift in the school's demographics as the biggest reason participation in the football program has decreased--along with the championships. Valencia won three Southern Section and eight Orange League titles between 1983-93, but went 25-29-2 over the next five years.

It was time for a little makeover.

"We ended up changing our offense and defense," said Marrujo, in his 20th season at the school. "We changed our schemes, tried to adjust to whatever [players] we have. You just have to deal with what you've got and do the best you can with it."

Before the 1998 season, Marrujo discarded his wing-T offense--a system employed the previous 17 years at Valencia and one that helped Ray Pallares rush for 5,398 yards from 1983-85, breaking state and Orange County career records at the time--and implemented a one-back, four-receivers set.

The wing-T offense, which relies heavily on misdirection, works best with three quality running backs. Those were getting more difficult to find each year.

"We needed to score more points," Marrujo said. "So we decided to change things up."

Marrujo's plan appears to be working. After a 6-5 record in 1998, the Tigers rebounded to finish 9-3 last season. Scott Parker, who earned first-team all-league honors after rushing for 1,072 yards and six touchdowns as a junior, returns this season.

"The one-back offense works well," said Parker, who only lost one fumble last season. "We have a tendency to pass a lot and you can pass a lot more out of the one-back set."

Brian Bartczak took advantage last season, passing for 1,973 yards. His 19 touchdowns were fourth best among county quarterbacks. With less skill and experience at the quarterback position this season, Parker is expected to carry more of the offensive load.

"He's a player," said Savanna Coach Fred Di Palma. "Against us last season, he broke one for about 30 yards. He's as solid as they come."

Di Palma, in his 12th season at Savanna, isn't as much concerned about the formation as the athletes who set it in motion. If the opposing defense lacks speed, that can create a long night against the one-back offense.

"Everything is relative to the quality of people we're playing against," Di Palma said. "The single back forces you to cover more receivers and it spreads you out."

Sonny Lopez, a second-team all-league selection at wide receiver last season, said the new offense is giving the team confidence it can accomplish what past Valencia teams have in the past.

"It looks better," Lopez said. "It's like our third year in the new offense and it's working to our advantage."

Marrujo also scrapped his free-wheeling defense in favor of a more scripted, aggressive style.

"Before, we always used to teach our defense, 'Bend, don't break,' " Marrujo said. "We could sit in a basic 50 defense and say, 'Come and get us.' But as times changed, it was time to adjust. We became more of an aggressive defense."

Valencia's football teams went 50 years without a league championship before they finally broke through in 1983. The Tigers added six more Orange League titles before the decade ended, and also won their first Southern Section title in 1987.

After winning section titles in 1991 and '92, Valencia was in position to win its third consecutive championship, but Savanna shocked the top-seeded Tigers in the semifinals, 20-0, and went on to win the Division VI title in 1993.

That was the beginning of the downturn for Valencia, which fell to 5-6-1 in 1994 and 3-7 in 1995, missing the playoffs that season for the first time since 1981.

"We're still struggling," Marrujo said. "We can't just sit back and say, 'We're going to take you on.' When you have a lot of guys going both ways, you don't have that luxury."

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