Video: Rancho Verde vs. Cajon 2017
See the Mustangs in their CIF regional bowl appearance.
I spent a few hours with Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley, Calif.)
coach Jeff Steinberg before their California Regional Bowl game on Dec. 8, 2017. (Every section champion earns a berth for the right to advance to a state title game. The two regional winners, Northern California and Southern California, play for the state crown.) This was Rancho Verde's first chance at a state championship.
Coach Steinberg gave me full access to their meetings, and it's always fun to go "behind the curtain" to see how other programs operate. I appreciate his willingness to give our readers insight to how he manages things. Coach Steinberg just wrapped up his 20th season as a head coach here in Southern California. He also passed a big landmark: 150 wins. He sits at 155 now and won his second CIF championship. His team was young this year, and nobody outside of the Mustang family believed they even had a chance to win a playoff game, much less a section title.
Here's Rancho Verde's Pregame Routine
4 p.m. — NFL stretch
The kids were on the field, all doing their own thing, stretching, listening to music, playing catch, getting loose. Steinberg calls this period "NFL stretch." The philosophy is just to let kids get loose on their own, to start to get focused on the game. Right before this, they had a meal together.
After this, they went through their special team. Steinberg called out each team, with the kids on that squad coming off the sidelines on to the field. He would give them each a little pointer, something to remember for the game.
Steinberg pulled the kids all together, told them "You have earned this, the right to play for a State Championship; we are so, so proud of each and every one of you." He then explained it's the same schedule they've followed all year. He told them to go back to the locker room, that the weight room (attached to locker room) is now a quiet zone. Those players who wanted a quiet place to relax and focus could go here. If you didn't want to be quiet yet, hang out in the locker room or right outside. The trainers would start taping. Coaches would be available if players had any questions.5:45 p.m. — Staff meeting
An alumni brought a big box of burritos for the coaching staff. Coaches all hung out in the coach's office. Some came dressed from their off-campus jobs, some got changed there. They were all excited about this opportunity. Some spoke about their day, some spoke about weekend plans, some about Christmas plans. There was talk about certain plays, about certain game situations that would come up. One coach organized four freshmen to sell game programs. Another coach went over the field pass list .
Coach Steinberg then led the coach's meeting with his staff. They talked about who would be a captain for the night, they rotate one spot among the team, whoever has had a great week of practice or is working hard. Then Steinberg said that they would be deferring if they won the toss. There was laughter in the room. It seems as if they've been deferring the last 6-8 weeks, and things were going well for them.
The next thing he covered was sideline management. They were expecting about 30 guests on the sidelines, many coaches from around the area, some college coaches for scouting, some personal friends. He reminded the get-back coaches to do their job well and to keep everyone with a sideline pass out of the "team box."
He told the staff to remain positive and upbeat in the position and unit meetings. "Convey positive energy only. The only thing to get on the kids about tonight are discipline issues. We need to be positive. The kids got us here, let's remember that. Don't over coach."
Next, Steinberg addressed the water boys. Four freshmen football players would serve the varsity team as water boys, something they did all season. He reminded the lower level coaches to make sure they were on it, every timeout, every break.
Next, there was discussion about sideline technology. A few coaches are in charge of setting up their Hudl system with an iPad and television for in-game adjustments. Steinberg reminded them what to do if it isn't working right away, and then gave them the customer service phone number if there are any problems.
"Keep it simple," Coach Steinberg told his defensive coaches. "Give them the big stuff, talk about tackling and takeovers, we've got to be solid there tonight, those things go hand-in-hand. Remind them of our running back keys, remind out backside linebackers about staying home for that boot they do."
For the offensive coaches, "Watch the defensive end tendencies; let's remind them of their two favorite blitzes. We must maintain great ball security." (The Mustangs would turn the ball over four times in the first half.)
"Special teams wise, watch their range during pregame, let's get a good range on that. We need to try to steal yards and points with specials tonight. Kickoff return, watch that ball alignment. Punt, watch their corners and ends. Punt return, we need to remember to play defense first," Steinberg said.
"Anyone have anything else to add?" Steinberg is a big believer in allowing the staff to have input. It makes them all stronger. Some coaches give input on what to speak with the officials about. Steinberg takes a few notes on his play sheet, tells the staff he will bring up a few of these things, but not all of them. "Some of these are in game discussions."5:55 p.m. — Position Meetings
All of this happened in just about 10 minutes. The next thing on the pregame agenda was position meetings. These were scattered all over the locker room, coach's offices and weight room. It was a well-oiled machine. Players and coaches found their regular spots around the facility, and met for about 10 minutes in these small groups. Steinberg met with the quarterbacks in his office.6:05 p.m. — Offensive and Defensive Meetings
Next up were offensive and defensive unit meetings. Defense met in the coach's office, and offense met in the weight room. Steinberg reminded the offensive players of the tempo he expected, the major keys to remember and their top play ideas coming in to the game. He encouraged them to just keep playing as hard as they have the last 14 weeks. 6:25 p.m. — Team comes together
The defense joined the offense in the weight room. "What more is there to say? I thought earlier about what to tell a team who has done incredibly more than anybody thought we could do this year. What do I tell a team who just won a CIF Championship? What do I tell a team who just won four games in a row against very tough opponents? What more do I tell a team still playing for a state championship? I love you. That's what I have to tell you tonight. I love this team, I love you players. This staff loves you. We are always here for you guys. Now, just go out and play Mustang football."
The equipment manager then leads them in a word of prayer.
Kickers, long snappers, kick returners leave the weight room for the field. The rest of the team waits, and waits and waits . . . . . . .
For the seniors, it's the last time they will wait.
They don't know it yet, but it is.