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Calm Before the Storm

FINAL TUNE-UP: Justin Mesa, San Marino High School’s new head varsity football coach, was pleased with his squad’s progress as summer workouts ended. Mitch Lehman Photos

Memorial Day?

Not even close.


We’re getting there.

July 4th?

Start making plans.

End of summer school?


A friend of mine refers to it as “the gradual, yet constant evisceration of summer.” Whereas San Marino families once had at least a full month for relaxation and recreation before the school re-boot after Labor Day, those associated with Titan football this year have eleven days between the final day of summer workouts and the opening of what new head football Coach Justin Mesa is calling “Camp.”

“It’s going well,” said Mesa shortly after the final day of summer school-associated practices went into the history book last week.

Official workouts begin on Wednesday, July 24—easily the earliest in school history—but with a new twist. Gone is the traditional “two-a-day” format, to be replaced by what Mesa called “a different model.” The Titans will practice from 7:45 – 11:45 from Monday through Thursday with a 9 – 11:00 a.m. workout slated for Fridays.

“We want the kids to be kids,” said Mesa of the new schedule, which meets California’s four-hours-per-day-maximum guidelines. “There is no sense in having a morning workout and then bringing them back again in the afternoon. The shorter Friday session also allows for a little longer weekend.”

The state also requires a minimum three-hour break if a team chooses to have two workouts in the same day.

Mesa acknowledged the huge coaching shoes left behind by Mike Hobbie, who retired in January after eight very successful seasons at the helm. His coaching staff is starting to fill up and the 2019 season is beginning to take shape. The Titans will field a full varsity team and a ten-game schedule, but for the first time in the history of the program there are only two levels of football on the docket, with a frosh-soph squad also slated for action. Last year, the Titans fielded freshman, junior varsity and varsity lineup, but were forced to abandon the frosh midway through the season as the rosters thinned.

“The numbers just weren’t there for us to have a freshman team,” said Mesa. “And we will be counting on some sophomores to step up at the varsity level, too.”

Mesa, 36, has 18 years of coaching and administrative experience and will also teach physical education at San Marino High School. Mesa recently wrapped up a two-year commitment as director of recruiting at the University of Wyoming, where he helped the Cowboys garner its highest-ranked recruiting class since 2011. Before his assignment in Wyoming, Mesa was a member of the staff at Dixie State University. where he coached wide receivers and coordinated special teams for the Trailblazers in 2016. In 2017, he was promoted to passing game coordinator and also recruited Southern and Central California, as well as the state of Utah.

Mesa served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Loyola High School in Los Angeles for three seasons from 2013-15.

He also spent six very formative seasons in a variety of administrative and coaching roles at USC from 2007-12, including stints as a recruiting and operations assistant, tight end and wide receivers coach, graduate assistant coach and assistant quarterback coach, where he served under current Trojan head Coach Clay Helton.

But now, his sights are set on replacing Hobbie, who guided the Titans to two Rio Hondo League championships while compiling a remarkable 33-7 record against league foes. Hobbie also compiled a perfect 8-0 mark against rival South Pasadena, a fact he cherished. As he departed San Marino for his Florida retirement, Hobbie mentioned quite humbly to this reporter that he never lost to the Tigers, picking up six more wins as the Titans’; baseball coach his final two seasons at the school. In all, the Titans were 77-25-1 overall under his watch and among his many accomplishments, Hobbie led the 2015 Titans to a 15-1 record, Rio Hondo League, CIF and Regional titles and a spot in the State Championship game.

Mesa sais he is “very pleased” with the squad’s progression under his fledgling watch.

“There is a lot of improvement going on,” he said. “The biggest positive is the kids’ commitment to technique and doing the right things. Also, the student-athletes seem to be bought-in to what we are doing here. The improvement we have seen in six weeks on the field and in the weight room has been excellent.”

Mesa was also impressed that he didn’t sense Hobbie’s shadow looming over the proceedings.

“This is a big shift for them,” Mesa said. “The kids are committed to learning and there has been no ‘Coach Hobbie did this’ or ‘Coach Hobbie did that.’ Any time you have a coaching change you might get that, but I have never heard the words ‘Hobbie did it this way.’ Coach Hobbie was very successful and for these kids to buy in and accept a new way, that is a testament to them.”

Mesa said that Hobbie was “great, very helpful” during the transition period in May when Mesa came to campus and Hobbie was packing up to leave it.

“We checked in with one another every day for that month that we were there together,” Mesa said. “Mike was awesome and made himself available, but he also gave me plenty of space to make it my own.”

Next up: Camp, but not the kind that includes cabins, hikes and skits. More like blood, sweat and tears.

“This will be all about honing in on the assignments and the techniques,” Mesa said. “We are building a foundation and first and foremost is the culture. The kids will develop that. Then it’s about putting the the Xs and Os to it. Our job is sorting through the entire process and installing what will give us the best chance of winning and being successful.”

And you won’t have to wait very long to see the early returns. The annual Blue & White Game is scheduled for Saturday, August 10 with the season opener slated for Friday, August 23 at Charter Oak.

“We have a lot to do,” said Mesa. “But when you see the improvement and the buy-in, that is why you do it. When you take a step back and see the product coming together, that is what it is all about.”


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