Asked to define Trinity football in one adjective, most people would probably lean toward words like “physical” or “big,” or maybe even “passionate.” But in 2017, at least for head coach Chris Jensen, he’s hoping the word “smart” comes to mind.
Jensen said he’s been hammering home the theme “smart teams are hard to beat” since offseason began.
“We’ve got to play smarter,” Jensen said. “We feel like the only team that beat Trinity last year was Trinity. The good news is we can fix that. We can play smarter. We have to coach better as coaches and not beat ourselves. That’s the No. 1 rule in football, is don’t beat yourself.”
Spring football also offers teams opportunities to accomplish some things they can’t otherwise do during the fall.
“The one thing that spring affords us that we don’t have in the season is time,” Jensen said. “Time to maybe play a guy at a different position. Time to maybe play him on the other side of the football. Time to focus on fundamentals. When you play the schedule that we play and go out on Monday with a game on Friday, you don’t have time to mess around and do all that.”
My group went 10-0 as freshmen, so we have high expectations and I think that will push us to do well.
- Trinity starting quarterback candidate Esteban Larranaga
And those experiments can sometime yield beneficial results.
“You also have time to find players,” Jensen added. “There’s always pleasant surprises. There are guys who come out of nowhere that you wouldn’t have had time to try him at a particular spot during the season. But in the spring you have time.”
For example, Brandon Theus was a starting wide receiver last season. The coaching staff decided to try him at outside linebacker this spring, and Jensen thinks he’ll be a playmaker there.
Another example is running back Katerian Lewis, who played on the JV as a junior last season.
“We know what Courage [Keihn] can do, so we put some other guys in and Katerian, I think he weighs all of 140 pounds, he is hard to tackle. He can get through the skinniest of cracks in the defense. He’s been a pleasant surprise.”
The Trojans will need to find a new quarterback for 2017, with Malini Maile and Noah Wineteer graduating. Junior-to-be Laki Ellis and senior-to-be Esteban Larranaga are the likely prospects, though Marcus Ervin, a sophomore, is on the radar.
“We’re not locked in on anybody, but we’ve got some guys we’re encouraged by,” Jensen said.
Larranaga has experienced plenty of winning at the freshman and JV levels while waiting his turn with the varsity squad and feels that will pay dividends for his senior class.
“I think we have high expectations and I think that will push us to be successful,” he said. “My group went 10-0 as freshmen, so we have high expectations and I think that will push us to do well.”
As for senior leaders on this team, well, take your pick.
“We have 68 of them,” Jensen said. “What I’m seeing is guys doing what they’re supposed to do and being where they’re supposed to be and giving the effort they’re supposed to give.”
Some may handle leadership a little differently. Jensen said lineman Izaih Filikitonga, the team’s most highly recruited player, plays his part.
“That helps, when your stars lead,” he said, pointing out that others, like Keihn, are less direct about it.
“He’s a man of few words, but goes about his business doing what he’s supposed to do.”
Trinity will end its spring without a spring game. The Trojans scrimmage multiple times during their three weeks of spring practice, and thus don’t find the need for a big production at the end. That means the team will enter the long, hot summer before fall camp finally arrives. Some are anxious to bypass the summer, but Larranaga advised teammates not to get in too big a rush.
“Personally, I’m looking forward to the summer,” he said. “I see it as a time to get better, faster, stronger and really improve our game as much as possible.”
Larranaga knows he and his fellow Class of 2018 has just one shot left at leaving its legacy.
“It’s extremely important and I think it’s something we all think about,” he said. “We all acknowledge that we’re Trinity and losing two years in a row in the first round is not something that is common for us. So, we do feel pressure, but at the same time, motivation to do really well and be successful.”