High School football previews: Throwback mentality makes Alisal unique and challenging

Editor’s note: Herald sportswriter John Devine is spending much of this month visiting Monterey County high schools to get a sneak peek of their football teams. This and other previews are featured at montereyherald.com/sports/high-school-sports

SALINAS – Call it stubborn, yet effective. Opponents know what’s coming. So how come it continues to be a challenge stopping Alisal High’s ground-and-pound offense?

An old school run-first mentality is a thing of the past in an era of pro sets and spread offenses that are geared toward airing it out.

But Alisal coach Cesar Chaidez is a throwback, a former lineman who still believes grinding the ball means chewing up the clock and keeping your defense fully charged.

“We believe the triple option is conducive to our whole objective of controlling the clock,” Chaidez said. “It’s an old school mentality that if you exert your will on an opponent, you’ll be more successful.”

Alisal's David Mandujano catches a pass in practice out of the backfield for Alisal. (John Devine -- Monterey Herald)
Alisal’s David Mandujano catches a pass in practice out of the backfield for Alisal. (John Devine — Monterey Herald)

Chaidez brought a blue-collar attitude to Alisal when he arrived five years ago, instilling discipline, patience and physicality over the course of four quarters. The result is three playoff appearances in the past four years.

Being thrown into the Gabilan Division last fall after winning a share of the Mission Division in 2019 could have crippled the program following the pandemic and having few players on the team.

Yet, the Trojans fought through adversity and some sobering early season setbacks to reach the postseason.

“It was beyond hard,” Chaidez said. “Out of three teams that got tossed into the Gabilan from the Mission, we made the postseason. We wear that as a badge of courage. It’s just about competing.”

The physicality of the Gabilan Division won’t sneak up on Alisal this year. While it finished the year with 29 players, the expectation is Chaidez will have a roster hovering around 52 players this season.

“The kids are fully aware of the rigors of Gabilan Division,” Chaidez said. “You keep hearing about the Big 4 in this division. We want to change that to the Big 5.”

Chaidez was speaking about Aptos, Hollister, Palma and Salinas, four programs that have not missed the postseason in over a decade – two of which Alisal has never beaten.

“We’re not running from it,” Chaidez said. “We’re here to embrace the challenge. We believe what we do is conducive to competing in this league.”

The fight that Alisal showed in its regular season finale in posting a 21-20 win over Alvarez to clinch a playoff spot is a building block going forward.

“The kids are bigger in the Gabilan,” tailback David Mandujano said. “You can’t let that get into your head. I want to make it to the (championship). Go big or go home.”

Alisal's David Mandujano reels in a high pitch during practice. (John Devine -- Monterey Herald)
Alisal’s David Mandujano reels in a high pitch during practice. (John Devine — Monterey Herald)

The next step is finding that path to be competitive against playoff-caliber teams. Last year, the Trojans were shut out by four playoff teams, and outscored 206-15 in five league losses.

“We took our licks,” Chaidez said. “I don’t want to see it as demoralizing. We always say let’s keep the focus on us and keep getting better. We were rewarded with a playoff spot.”

As much of a throwback as Chaidez is with his game plan, the understanding of being more balanced on offense is the next step. Extending the playbook means an occasional pass.

“It’s no secret that we need to be more multi-faceted to take the next step,” Chaidez said. “Our physicality is pretty good. But we can’t keep letting teams put 10 in a box. We need to increase our football IQ.”

As much as Alisal runs the ball, with variations that force defenses to adjust, sprinkling in a pass or two will be emphasized this fall.

“If we can hold our blocks and give our quarterback three or four seconds to make those completions, we will be successful,” Chaidez said. “As the o-line coach, that’s my job.”

The responsibility of the offense appears to be falling into the hands of quarterback Santiago Chaidez, who was named the Most Valuable Player on the Trojans’ junior varsity team last year.

The incoming junior has been a leader in the off-season, utilizing his strength to get the ball downfield either with his arm or legs.

“He still has a lot of work when it comes to throwing the ball,” Cesar Chaidez said. “He is undersized. But he’s smart and he will contribute.”

That power run first mentality means Mandujano will be part of a backfield where his carries are expected to increase this season for the Trojans.

“We weren’t always on the same page last year,” Mandujano said. “We had some cancers on the team. We have a team of believers this year.”

With an offense that often showcases three running backs behind the quarterback, Chaidez likes a surplus of backs to share the load.

Diego Chaidez has been a three-year starting linebacker for the Trojans. But his punishing style fits the offense’s need at fullback, where he’ll likely see more time.

“Experience goes a long way,” Cesar Chaidez said. “These kids are looking forward to being able to carry the ball and earn those extra yards. They’re all going to get touches.”

That includes Damion Gonzalez, who was brought up last year as a sophomore to provide depth on the defensive side of the ball. But he showed glimpses of his potential on offense as a fullback.

The heart of the offense always falls into the hands of the offensive lineman, with Daniel Murguia being the leader in the trenches.

Gonzales provides Alisal with an experienced pass rusher on defense, while linebacker Diego Chaidez anchors the front seven.

“This group is hungrier,” Mandujano said. “People put in the work in the off-season. We’re not the biggest team. But this group has a lot of heart.”

Coming off a postseason appearance and a full off-season, interest has been recreated with the numbers climbing over 100 for two teams.

“The biggest thing is worry about what we can control,” said Chaidez, whose squad opens the year with a Saturday game at Sobrato, followed by two Thursday affairs. “As long as we’re learning and growing, we’re going in the right direction.”

Contributed by local news sources

Next Post

Winchester Mystery House celebrates 100 years as tourist attraction

The Winchester Mystery House is getting a jump on its centennial as a tourist attraction with multiple events planned to celebrate the occasion. The San Jose estate officially opened its doors for public tours on June 30, 1923. Before then, the mansion and gardens were owned and occupied by Sarah […]