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Football Preview: Sage Hill aiming for U-turn

Tolver refocusing on details, building good habits in quest to bounce back from Lightning's first winless season in 2012.

August 24, 2013|By David Carrillo PeƱaloza
(SCOTT SMELTZER…)

Since May, J.R. Tolver's commute to work changed. He moved to Oceanside to be closer to family in San Diego, where he grew up.

The drive to where he works, Sage Hill School, isn't too bad, taking him 40 minutes to get to the Newport Coast campus. The drive allows him to collect his thoughts, analyze and plan his day as the school's football coach.

These days, like most high school football coaches before the season kicks off, Tolver has a lot on his mind. What he thinks about most is how his team will improve from last year's forgettable season.

Before he starts his car, Tolver said he has put the program's first winless season in the rearview mirror.

"I'm cautiously optimistic," Tolver said of his fifth season in charge of the Lightning. "Coming off an 0-10 season, you want to be honest about where you're coming from and what you're coming off of.

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"[Last season is] behind us because every year is different. For one, you have guys who are leaders as seniors that are no longer with you, and for two, you have a new crop of kids who had never been in your program before. I think in small-school ball the swing from 0-10 to 10-0 isn't really that far out of reach."

Going from a winless season to an undefeated one would be quite the turnaround for Sage Hill, which returns many of the same starters from a year ago. Seven return on offense and six on defense.

The first goal, as one of the returnees, senior Sam Masarik, a wide receiver and free safety, put it, is to win a game. Sage Hill's last triumph on the field came on Oct. 28, 2011. The Lightning are in the midst of a 12-game losing skid, the worst in the program's history.

Tolver's past two seasons turned out nothing like his first two in which he led the Lightning to winning seasons and the CIF Southern Section East Valley Division playoffs. Injuries to key personnel and taxing nonleague schedules have affected the team's success rate the last two years.

Tolver takes responsibility for Sage Hill finishing a combined 3-17 the past two years. He's the athletic director at the school and his harshest critic.

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