In the middle of their 0-5 start, the loss became personal to members of the Oaks Christian School football team.
The No.3 loss, a 30-7 decision to Colorado-Valor Christian at the Honor Bowl in San Diego, prompted Jalen Lewis – one of the four team captains – to step into action.
He and his fellow captains called a team meeting, made up entirely of players, with the goal of having a frank, honest and open discussion about the state of the Lions.
âNo coaches, no parents, no one other than the players,â said Lewis, junior defensive back / wide receiver. âI thought it was time to talk about everything. We needed a healthy conversation to discuss where we were going, what each of our roles should be and what we needed to change to achieve our goal. potential.
âWe needed to let it all out, for each of us to say how we feel. Each player had something to say. It totally cleared the air. It allowed us to regain our confidence in each other. others. We have learned to believe each other. It turned out so important. “
There would be two more losses, but one team’s momentum seemed to be turning. The fifth loss was a close decision, 28-23 against Damien, where a few near misses on offensive plays turned out to make the difference.
“We definitely started to play better after this meeting,” said senior quarterback Cole Tannenbaum. “We felt better about ourselves and closer as a team. Now I think we’re ready to show what kind of team we are the rest of the season.”
Oaks Christian is now on a two-game winning streak, including a 35-14 victory over Camarillo, in the launch of the Marmonte League competition on Friday night. The Lions will make the short drive to Thousand Oaks Boulevard to take on longtime rival and host Westlake (4-3) starting with a kickoff at 7 p.m.
These five losses don’t mean much anymore. Oaks Christian can achieve all of his goals with a closing push. Two wins get at least second in the league and an automatic playoff spot.
A possible showdown in the regular season finale is looming. In week 10, provided the two schools survive the clashes over the next two weeks, Oaks Christian would host the undefeated St. Bonaventure to decide the league championship.
âMaybe we’re looking to the future a little bit,â Lewis said with a smile. âBut really, our only focus right now is on Westlake. We understand that we can’t ignore anyone in this league. It’s a week at a time, but we want to finish 5-5 and add three more playoff wins. .
“We are doing it and we will play for a championship (CIF-SS).”
Head coach Charles Collins knows how difficult his team’s pre-league schedule has turned out to be. He also knows that his team is particularly well prepared.
âNo one has played a more difficult schedule than us,â he said. “We are definitely battle tested and better at it.”
The Lions are 2-5 and are still a handful of opponents. A roster filled with talent includes Lewis, among the best two-way players in the Southern Section; Tannenbaum, who will likely land on a Pac-12 roster next year; and Johnny Thompson, a junior who was recently donated by USC.
Lewis, at 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, leads the Lions with 40 catches for 428 yards and seven touchdowns, and has 37 tackles (5.3 per game) and a pair of interceptions. He also scored touchdowns on a pick-six and a kickoff return.
Tannenbaum completed 103 of 182 attempted passes for 1,119 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. Thompson racked up 410 yards and four touchdowns on 79 carries.
The defense is led by Lewis at the back and two of the area’s top assistants and future Pac-12 players.
Mathias Malaki-Donaldson, a massive 6-5, 230-pound defensive end, had five sacks. Sterling Lane, a 6-4 senior defensive end, has 26 solo tackles and one sack.
Lane made a verbal commitment to Arizona; Malaki-Donaldson previously enlisted in the state of Oregon, but now has an offer from USC.
There is a friendly rivalry on game night.
âEvery game we fight for the quarterback,â Malaki-Donaldson said with a smile.
âReally we are pushing each other to be better and that’s a good thing for the team,â he said. “If he does a play, that makes me want to do a play. The same for him. We want to improve each other.”
Malaki-Donaldson, who grew up in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, said attendance at Oaks Christian has sparked personal growth.
âKind of a dream opportunity for me,â he said. “I have fun playing football and being in class. It prepares me for the next level.”
Lewis thrives on both sides of football and doesn’t have to pick a favorite as a Lion.
“I am the happiest anywhere,” he said, sketching a smile.
More expansive, he said: âI grew up playing a defensive back so it’s always special to me. I have to be technical, smart, aggressive and very prepared. I like the challenge.
âOn offense I can be loose and just have fun. It lets me show off my athleticism. It’s really fun scoring touchdowns. I’ve scored nine touchdowns and I know it really helps to win games. “
Lewis rarely leaves the field during games. He said fatigue is not a factor.
âI feel like I’ve trained to do this for so long that my body has totally adapted,â he said. “I don’t even wake up on Saturdays feeling bad.”
Tannenbaum, as team captain and starting quarterback, understands that leadership is a key part of his role. He said he is also striving to improve.
âI’m never really happy with the way I play,â he said. “I can always be better. I can always help the team to be better.”
Tannenbaum grew up in Brentwood and chose Oaks Christian at least in part because of his long tradition as a quarterback.
âGuys like Matt Corral have played here and he’s a favorite for the Heisman,â said Tannenbaum of the former Lions QB who now plays at the University of Mississippi. “I know it means a lot to be the quarterback at Oaks Christian. I’m okay with that. I always want to behave to be better.”
He said the focus is on wins, but there is a personal stat that he would like to achieve.
“My best play is 399 yards,” he said with a smile. “One more yard at 400 and that’s what I want. I want at least 400 yards for a new high level.”
Loren Ledin is the editor-in-chief of The Star. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-437-0285.