Second-year coach Matt Andersen has a small, but determined group setting its sights on limiting mistakes, playing together and, perhaps paramount, being able to compete.
“It’s about competitiveness this year,” Andersen said. “My goal, more than anything, is to have this team competing and being able to play with whoever is on the field.
“I’m not really interested in talking about wins or losses, but I would say our expectations are higher because we’re ready to compete.”
Andersen’s squad numbers 29, which is a big drop from 40 earlier this summer.
Yet, perhaps it could be said that his smaller team is purer and more committed.
“The younger guys on this team have bought in and I’m real proud of that,” Andersen said. “It’s been the older guys who still have had trouble with showing up one day and not coming back the next, but that’s the way it is. We’ll work with whoever is here.”
The Tornadoes finished 2-8 last season, winning their first two contests (one via forfeit) and then losing the next eight by an average margin of 37 points. The season capper came Nov. 8 when Hoover fell to crosstown archrival Glendale, 49-6, which marked the Nitros’ fourth straight win in the Jewel City rivalry.
Perhaps getting the program in shape begins with beating Glendale or then again maybe it’s just a matter of being “more competitive,” as Andersen believes.
“We’d love to beat them, but that’s the last game of the season and we have a long way to go before that,” Andersen said.
By the time that contest rolls around, the Tornadoes hope to have team captain Rayvin Tanhueco back in the lineup.
Hoover’s No. 1 back is out for four to six weeks after suffering a hairline fracture of his collarbone during a scrimmage versus Alhambra.
The ground game was supposed to be the Tornadoes’ bread and butter this season and the squad will now depend heavily on senior running back Davit Nersisyan and junior fullback Jessie Martinez.
“It’s big not to have Rayvin, but we’re still good enough that we can win and wait until he comes back,” said Martinez, also a 138-pound wrestler. “We can still pound the ball.”
Outside of a healthy backfield, perhaps Hoover’s next strongest position is the offensive line, which is anchored by senior captain Josh Lee.
“We know what our job is and that’s to give our quarterback time and to create holes for our running backs,” Lee said. “If we’re strong, like we know we can be, then that’s going to help the offense.”
Lee will line up at left tackle and will be positioned with senior left guard Andy Avina, junior center Geraldy Martinez, senior right guard Ernest Nadurata and senior right tackle Julian Tamalmantes.
“All these guys saw action last year and this will be an area of strength,” Andersen said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what the line can do.”
The offensive line’s execution will be vital to the progress of senior quarterback Vaughn Parawan, who is taking over for Kenneth Traquena this season.
“We’ve worked hard this spring and summer and we’ve improved,” Parawan said. “We lost some players, but we have enough people left and we’re going to do our best.”
When Parawan drops back, his likely No. 1 target will be junior wide receiver Ryan Williams, a solid route runner.
“We have about eight plays that I feel we run really well and I’m really happy about that,” Andersen said. “Some teams can do one or two and we have eight that we’re very comfortable with.”
On defense, the Tornadoes’ 4-4 unit is led up front by senior Mher Torrosian, Pierre Dimidjian, Jessie Martinez and Lee.
The linebacking corps features a talented two-way player in Mike Barsomian, who also lines up at tight end, along with strong side linebacker Aram Grigoryan, Nersisyan and Avina.
As for the secondary, Williams and Gomez will see time at safety, while Minas Berberian is the team’s top cornerback.
“For us to have success, we need to be able to do two things,” Andersen said. “We’re going to have to stay healthy and we’re going to have to finish games. If we do that, then we’ll be able to compete.”
Follow Andrew J. Campa on Twitter: @campadresports.