Call it a clean slate. Call it a reboot. Call it Version 2.0.
Whatever you call it, the Santa Monica High School football team’s upcoming season is a fresh start and an opportunity for the program to distance itself from a 2015 campaign during which it was winless on the field.
The few returning players have spent the offseason training under second-year coach Ramsey Lambert and helping new participants get up to speed as they envision and work towards achieving a more successful year on the gridiron.
“They feel the pain from last year, having to send those seniors off like that,” Lambert said. “They want to go out on a higher note. They really have brought the young guys in. They put them under their wings and are guiding them along this process.”
The process begins in earnest with tonight’s season opener on the road against Santa Ana-Segerstrom, which is slated for 7 p.m., the first challenge in a nonconference slate that also includes games against Cypress, Compton, Dana Point-Dana Hills and Torrance-South.
It’s a series of tests that will likely be telling for the Vikings, who struggled mightily in their first year under Lambert. Last year, the program was reeling from the departure of then-coach Travis Clark and had very little time for preparation between Lambert’s arrival and the first game.
This time around, Lambert played an active role in player development during the winter and spring and could make sure his students were familiar with his systems and style.
“Kids from last year didn’t have that luxury, and it showed,” he said. “This year, we’ve had a good offseason and summer session to get everything installed. We’re more technically sound, kids are more comfortable with our terminology and they understand the expectations. They’re excited to get going.”
The team’s offseason was bolstered in part by the renovation of the Samohi weight room, which now can support more athletes at any given time. Lambert said he’s seen a “drastic change” in his players’ strength, agility and explosiveness. There are close to 50 players on the roster but just four returners on each side of the ball.
The offense will rely heavily on junior quarterback Dariush Sayson, who showed promise in several starts last year before breaking his hand, and junior running back Tony Dancy.
“He’s like the big brother that everyone looks up to because of his size,” Lambert said.
Lambert is also looking to seniors Tanner Whitesell, Elijah Gonzalez and Isaac Gutierrez for leadership on a squad that lacks ample varsity experience.
Meanwhile, new assistants have joined Lambert’s staff. Samohi teacher James Phelan and Sayson’s father, Joey, will work with the linemen. Nick Yanez will focus on the development of defensive backs and wide receivers. Lambert will make the calls on offense and defense, although he said that arrangement could change as the season goes on.
“Staff has had time to get on the same page, work together and get to understand what we want to do,” Lambert said. “We didn’t have the time for that last year. The kids have bought in, and everyone’s talking the same language. We said, ‘Let’s acclimate and see where it takes us.’”