MALIBU HIGH — The regular season opener for the Malibu High football team is a month away. With time ticking down to the Sept. 1 kickoff at St. Monica, the Sharks finished summer football in high spirits and confident of the season that lies ahead. The team now enters its “dead period” until Aug. 9 when fall camp begins.

“I believe we got better throughout the summer,” Malibu Coach Ray Humphrey said. “The guys worked hard in the weight room and I thought we did rather well in the passing tournaments.”

Malibu ended the 2011 season with a 5-5 overall record and 1-3 in the Frontier League. The Sharks graduated 12 seniors from a roster of only 19 players. With only four returning starters and just seven returning lettermen overall, Humphrey came into the summer with plenty of question marks.

Over the summer, 23 players joined the program and took part in off-season workouts seeking to provide answers. Most came from last year’s junior varsity team, but a few local transfer students were included as well.

“I didn’t know what to expect after having graduated some really good seniors,” Humphrey said. “But the team has developed well and it has started to come together. We have grown a lot, become stronger and are starting to get things figured out.”

Humphrey instituted a regimented strength and conditioning schedule that had the Sharks in the weight room five days a week. The goal of developing physical and mental toughness as well as team camaraderie was a focal point of the weight room.

In addition to lifting and agility work, Malibu participated in two summer passing tournaments to help identify strengths and weaknesses in its passing game and to create continuity and cohesion among the skill players.

Malibu competed in the prestigious “Under Armour Classic” at El Toro High School, which featured 24 teams. Some of Southern California’s best teams — including Servite, Westlake, Hart and El Toro — took part in that tournament.

The Sharks also competed in the Chadwick Tournament, a small-schools gathering with similar enrollments to that of Malibu.

“We started off strong, got a little shaky and then picked it up at the end,” Humphrey said of the team’s passing attack. “Competing against Westlake, Hart and other schools of that nature, I wanted to see how we would handle those tough situations. I thought we handled it pretty well.”

Junior quarterbacks Dylan Miller and Chase Gardella made the most of their summer leading the Malibu offense. Miller, the returning quarterback from last season, and Gardella, a transfer from Westlake, will compete throughout fall camp to determine the team’s starter.

“Dylan stepped up his game a lot with a strong offseason,” Humphrey said. “He attended quarterback combines and responded well to the challenge of another good quarterback on our team. Chase has a strong arm and brings a lot to the table. It’s going to be a battle between them.”

Other skill players who had a strong summer were senior wide receivers Brennan Cassone and Apollo Loomis. They could form a potent one-two punch at the wide receiver position.

“We progressed over time and played against some great competition,” Cassone said. “I thought it went real well. We all have good attitudes.”

A victory against powerful St. Bonaventure this summer in a three-way passing scrimmage surprised even Cassone and his teammates, instilling them with belief.

“To beat St. Bonny gave us a lot of hope and confidence,” said Cassone.

While passing tournaments consist of seven-on-seven competition, the Sharks’ offensive and defensive linemen didn’t go unnoticed as they worked diligently on fine-tuning their rushing and blocking techniques.

Seniors Eddie Johnstone, Torino Ruiz, Nick Carlson and Jordan Alexander are returning lettermen and form the heart and soul of this year’s Shark squad.

“The team came together during the summer,” said Johnstone, who will enjoy a week in Hawaii before beginning hell week in August. “Our team really raised its energy level. I’m feeling good and ready for a break.”

“Football is a long season,” Humphrey added. “We want them to be refreshed and not burned out. I hope they enjoy their time off and are ready to get after it in a few weeks. I’m excited.”

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