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story.lead_photo.caption California quarterback Calen Kruger throws a pass during a game last season against School of the Osage at Osage Beach. Photo by News Tribune

CALIFORNIA — The California football team is looking to take the next step this season after finishing last year with a record of 1-9.

Head coach Derek Scroggins, who is in his second year with the Pintos, said he has seen his team already starting to take that step.

"I think we have seen a lot of that, that next step over the last nine months," Scroggins said. "They have been dedicated to the weight room, and they have been working hard. We had an awesome summer that wrapped up where the kids were showing up on a daily basis and putting in good work and making themselves bigger, stronger, faster and quicker."

This year, the team has seen an increase in the competition for starting spots.

"We were not real senior-heavy last year, and we return a lot of guys that had stepped up," Scroggins said. "Some of the younger guys (are) pushing some of the returning guys for playing time and there are a lot of kids that are impressive so far."

With the competition created at practice, Scroggins said there are two solid groups of players fighting for varsity time.

"I think that is going to push us to get even better," he said.

He added the team has been working on every aspect of the game mentally and physically over the summer. His players have been working on being able to run plays, finding themselves in the right spots and taking the correct angles.

"From a summer perspective, we had a really great summer. Like I said before, the kids have been showing up ready to work," Scroggins said.

When it comes to offense, Scroggins said taking care of the little things is going to be a big key for the Pintos.

"Ball security, taking proper steps, remembering our plays and finishing," Scroggins said. "We had a scrimmage (during the summer) and our varsity group definitely looked pretty solid. They were hitting the right holes and they were using the proper techniques. They were being explosive, and they were finishing."

Scroggins said ideally, the offense will use a mix of passing and running plays, but that can change due to what is working for the team and what the opponent's defense is giving them from game to game.

"I feel that we have gotten significantly better on both sides of the offense with the passing game and the running game," Scroggins said. "So I feel that we got the kids in the right positions where I feel that we should be able to do both."

With players coming back in key positions for the offense, Scroggins said there are multiple players who can have big years. He specifically pointed to returning quarterback Calen Kruger and running back Tagen Higgins as a pair he thinks should have a good year.

"The offensive line has looked very impressive," Scroggins said. "They are doing a great job of opening holes and finishing blocks and blocking to the whistle and (playing) low and aggressive."

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On defense, Scroggins said the Pintos are looking to be fast and aggressive. He said the team has improved its tackling significantly to accomplish this.

"I look for the defense to continue to do well for us," Scroggins said.

Scroggins said the defense has players returning at the linebacker and defensive line positions that can help the team. He said his leaders on this side of the ball will be middle linebackers Garrett Burger and Bryant Davis, but he expects many players to contribute.

"We've got a great defensive line coming back, some great outside linebackers to go with those inside guys," Scroggins said. "Our defensive backs are real strong and it should be a lot of fun for whoever ends up being able to start for us for Week 1. Whoever wins those spots is going to be battle tested and we are going to be ready to go."

Scroggins said the Pintos find themselves in a strong position as the season approaches.

"Really, I don't feel like we have any glaring weaknesses," Scroggins said. "I feel like we definitely (have) two solid groups of starters and backups across the board in each position. That is what led us to having good competition in the play for spots."

A goal for the Pintos is to come together as a team and to improve week by week.

"Just trying to maximize our potential," Scroggins said. "Like I said before, this summer we have been doing everything we are supposed to in the weight room and through camps and mini-camps. The kids have been aggressive and we (have) a lot of excitement. The kids are hungry to play some games, and we are looking forward to the fall."

The Pintos will start the season tonight at Clinton, a new foe on their schedule. The Cardinals finished last season with a record of 0-10. Scroggins said he expects Clinton to be well-coached, thanks to its new head coach, Kevin LaFavor.

"(LaFavor) was at Lincoln High School last year, where they went to the state championship and ending up losing to Valle Catholic and he made the move over to Clinton this year," Scroggins said. "Clinton is a program that has been down in recent years and they play a very tough conference schedule, they played Odessa twice last year, who was the Class 3 state champion.

"They've got some good-sized kids, but they have played some pretty tough games so it is kind of hard to tell what really their talent level is. But we expect them to be well-coached and we expect them to be fired up and ready to go."

The Pintos will have to travel two hours to get to Clinton but Scroggins said the team should be focused on what it has to do and the long drive should not have an impact.

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On offense Scroggins said the Pintos have a few mismatches they can take advantage of if they execute.

"We've got some good height in our receiver position where their corners are not quite as tall and that can be an area we can exploit a little bit," Scroggins said. "Really I feel that athletically we are the more talented team and I feel that we can use our athleticism and give ourselves an advantage there. But really it is going to come down to execution, and if we take care of the things we can take care of I feel like we should have a good game."

Execution will be the key for the Pintos on defense, and the Pintos should be ready to hit someone.

"Not being able to have a Jamboree, not being able to play anyone all summer in a team camp, I think our kids are chomping at the bit to hit someone who is not ourselves and I expect them to fly around and play aggressive and physical," Scroggins said. "So far what we have shown in practice is that is our mentality. As long as we keep building on those principles I feel like we should have a good night defensively as well."

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