Plenty of tears were shed Friday night at Gustafson Stadium—understandably so—in the moments following the Pleasanton football team’s playoff defeat to Canyon Lake.
While it hurts for the Eagles, especially those who suited up for the last time, the future of the program is bright.
When the players and coaches begin to look toward next year, I hope they see what I see: a Pleasanton squad that is poised to build on what was a historic season in its own right.
The Eagles won a share of the District 15-4A Division I championship, snapping a two-year playoff drought in the process.
It was Pleasanton’s first district title since 2007, the year the Eagles made their magical run to the state semifinals.
With its 32-16 win over Rio Grande City Grulla in the bi-district round, Pleasanton also picked up its first postseason win since that season.
The Eagles finished 11-3 in 2007, one of only three times in school history the team reached 10 wins.
That’s right. This year’s squad accomplished a rare feat in finishing 10-2.
What is especially impressive about Pleasanton’s run is doing it all under the direction of a new head coach. A head coach who was going to inject new ideas while maintaining the traditions left behind by Tab Dumont and other past coaches.
Although Stephen Liska was no stranger around town, the longtime Eagles defensive coordinator adjusted to his new role with what seemed like, from the outside, relative ease.
A self-described “kid at heart,” Liska appeared to enjoy every moment leading his team this season through the ups and a couple of downs.
The old sports cliche of a “players coach” applies perfectly to Liska, who made his rounds hugging and congratulating players before each postgame interview. The obvious love for their coach radiated from the Eagles, too.
And Liska brought more than just a fun and playful attitude. He instilled values and the right mindset in his players. With high school athletes, that is just as important as picking up wins.
Now, the returning Pleasanton players have the foundation set for more success under Liska and the longtime nucleus of familiar coaches that round out the staff.
The Eagles will return talent and experience next season and could make a deeper run in the playoffs.
Johnny Zamora will be in his third year as starting quarterback, with the dangerous Dalton Hobbs on the outside at receiver.
Sophomore Daniel Valadez showed positive signs at running back and will be behind linemen such as Hunter Norment, Hunter Barnett and Ethan Solomon, who will double as defenders as well.
Sophomore Louis Arguijo will lead the defensive line after a strong campaign. Joining him on defense will be linebackers Steven Mendiola and Fisher Underbrink, defensive end Claven Maxwell and Jerrylee Ramirez and Alvino Casarez in the secondary.
And those are just players with varsity experience.
While it may still be too soon to get past the pain of the playoff loss, there is plenty of reason to be optimistic about what lies ahead. And when the time is right to think about it, I believe the players and coaches will feel the same.