CORSAIR FIELD — The preseason has come and gone and Santa Monica football couldn’t be happier.
After three straight weeks of taking on some of the most storied teams in Southern California, Samohi (2-3) begins its trek to three-peat as Ocean League champs against Morningside on Friday at Santa Monica College’s Corsair Field.
The two teams have a long history, but Morningside brings something different to the ball field this year: a new head coach.
Derwin Henderson, who led Southeast High School to a CIF-City Section championship in 2011, has brought order to a team that has traditionally underachieved.
Since taking over, Henderson has decided to go with a number of underclassmen to help build his program from the ground up. So far, it’s working. He has led the Monarchs to a 3-2 record and has many around the Ocean League thinking they could be a surprise this season.
“They’re playing better this year,” Samohi head coach Travis Clark said. “I think their coach is doing well. He has his team flying around, playing with enthusiasm.”
After watching game film, Clark is impressed with Morningside quarterback Clarence Jackson, one of the few seniors in the starting lineup.
Despite starting just his third game, Henderson has high praise for his signal caller. Jackson’s ability to scramble and sit in the pocket when necessary gives Morningside some diversity on offense.
“The guy’s a good athlete,” Henderson said. “Once he learns the position, he’ll be pretty good.”
If Friday’s game turns into a dog fight, Samohi’s Clark won’t be surprised. When the two teams met last year, Samohi was actually trailing heading into the fourth quarter and rode a late rally to victory.
Clark hopes he doesn’t see a repeat of last year’s matchup, but he’s expecting it to be anything but boring.
“Morningside is going to be motivated and they’re going to try to take it to us,” Clark said. “We’re looking forward to this one.”
Friday’s game also has a touch of nostalgia.
The Ocean League is considering realignment with one scenario removing Morningside and Inglewood. The South Bay Athletic Association, which oversees the Ocean and Bay leagues among others, will meet next week to finalize a new alignment, possibly ending Samohi’s long-standing rivalry with Morningside.
Clark said he’d be sad to see Morningside go, but he’s open to what may come. There’s been talk of adding Lawndale and El Segundo to the league, which intrigues Clark.
“It’s good to shake things up sometimes,” Clark said. “Keeps things fresh.”
For Samohi, there won’t be any shake ups this week.
Junior quarterback Nico Basile will get his third straight start behind center. Samohi began the season with a quarterback by committee setup, but Basile rose to the top of the pecking order.
Samohi may have lost his two previous starts against Valencia and Hart, but he kept the Vikings in each game. In both games, Samohi was up in the second half only to see those leads melt away.
Clark is concerned by those second half let downs, but he’s confident that his boys can overcome it as they try for a third straight league crown.
“My kids have to understand that everyone makes adjustments,” he said. “When they do, we have to be prepared to change with them.”
Friday’s game begins at 7 p.m. at Corsair Field.