Looking back as Clovis East's interim football coach in 2009, Ryan Reynolds admits to an "awkward" season -- the only losing one in the program's nine-year history.
"Being the head coach, but not being the head coach, it was different," he says of the 4-7 year.
But if this season plays out like the Timberwolves think it can -- senior cornerback Stephan Watson mentions "14-0" -- credit will return to Reynolds for not wavering when many others might have.
"A lot of coaches who come out for one year will do anything they can for a win," says Tim Murphy, who returns as coach after taking the season off for personal reasons. "But Ryan stuck to his guns and benched a decent amount of seniors; he didn't let them get away with anything."
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Consequently, Reynolds started 11 juniors -- far more than Murphy generally has in an eight-year, 77-22 career that has delivered two Central Section titles on The East Side -- effectively laying the foundation for this season.
"If we have success like I think we're going to have, it's going to have a lot more to do with Ryan and his crew [in 2009] than me coming back," Murphy says. "I really believe that; I'm not just saying the politically correct thing."
Reynolds returns as defensive coordinator at a program that has never won fewer than eight games or lost consecutive games in the same season under Murphy.
And Reynolds has no regrets for failing to coddle last year's senior class, one largely responsible for a squad of 42 -- about 20 under the program's average.
"Looking back after the fact," he says, "had I looked the other way [from problems], we might have gotten another win or two. But the way I look at it, if I turned my back, we may not have had four wins, either. It allowed us to continue to get better."
The Timberwolves' final three losses were by seven points against Clovis West, three against a Buchanan team that went 10-0 in the regular season and two against Division I runner-up Centennial.
Centennial and Clovis East come out Nos. 1-2 in The Bee's preseason poll.
The Timberwolves will be tested early: D-II champion Edison, which went 10-4; Southern Section power Redlands East, which gets help from a 10-0 junior varsity after going 11-1; Liberty-Bakersfield, which went 8-4; and D-I titlist Bullard, which went 13-0.
Clovis East will counter with a double-wing offense loaded in every corner, and a defense featuring arguably the section's finest secondary.
Returning to pilot the offense is Daniel Corona, with whom Murphy likens to Westy Guill (22-4 as a starter, including 2003 section title).
Running back Khary Coleman should ease the loss of school record-breaker Sean Johnson-Bey (2,225-yards, 18 touchdowns). Tight end George Macias (6-3, 230) is attracting college attention. And center Roman Porras (6-3, 220) anchors the front.
The team's strength is the secondary, with cornerbacks Watson and Jerral Brown, and safeties Jerry Haymon and Basie Destefanis.
Watson cringes when reviewing 2009: "A lot of fighting and fussing, especially when we started to lose."
But he plows forward into 2010: "The goal is 14-0. And I think we'll accomplish that."