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Football: Lightning seeking foothold

With new artificial playing surface on home field, Sage Hill aims to bounce back after disappointing 3-7 season.

August 13, 2012|By David Carrillo PeƱaloza
  • Sage Hill School quarterback Harrison Ray, left, fakes a handoff to running back Charlie Kim during preseason practice.
Sage Hill School quarterback Harrison Ray, left, fakes… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

On Aug. 6, Coach J.R. Tolver and his Sage Hill School team stepped on the football field for the first time this season.

The season opener isn't until Aug. 24, but the walk-through was like no other.

Gone was the grass.

In was a new artificial turf.

The timing was perfect to Tolver. The $1 million renovation to Ramer Field looked complete, just in time for the Lightning to begin the first week of two-a-day practices.

"You can tell there's definitely a sense of pride associated with a great facility," said Tolver, whose team plays host to Notre Dame of Riverside in a scrimmage on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. "One of the things that [my players have] shown since we started is that they take that extra step to keep everything clean and to make sure that things are picked up. They're taking the pride into the fact now that, 'Hey, this our school!' So when somebody comes to our school, we have to protect it."

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Sage Hill's home-field advantage comes right away, the first game of the season.

The small private school opens against Calvary Chapel. The matchup is the first for Sage Hill against an Orange Coast League team.

The nonleague contest is a test for the Lightning. Both teams are coming off disappointing 3-7 seasons, so getting off to a good start is crucial.

Sage Hill opened last season with a win, the same way it had the past two years under Tolver. Then the Lightning dropped five straight games, losing by an average of almost five touchdowns per game during the skid.

The season ended with Sage Hill placing third in the Academy League, not good enough to secure a third straight CIF Southern Section East Valley Division playoff berth.

"It was difficult because our expectations were high," Tolver said of last season. "I had six or seven … seniors that could really play, that were arguably some of the best athletes that I ever had on my team.

"We played a pretty tough schedule. Every team is different. I think that we had success that first year and that second year, and maybe there was a little bit of, 'Well, we're going to be successful this year.' We learned a hard lesson last year. Every year is different. Every team has to figure out [its] own identity, and last year we didn't do a great job of figuring out what our identity was, and before you know it, it was too late."

There is a lot of optimism at Sage Hill that a turnaround is coming.

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