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ANAHEIM — Building a successful football program at Magnolia presented a unique set of obstacles for Desmond Hernandez, especially at a school that has experienced recent struggles on the field.
Continuing that rebuilding after the Sentinels lost a lot of their football equipment in a fire, is on another level.
Magnolia coach Desmond Hernandez has met those challenges with a sense of ferocity, and now he has his football team in position to succeed in just his third season at the helm.
In 2017, Hernandez’s first season, Magnolia went 1-9. The Sentinels improved their record to 2-8 last year, and the now 30-year old coach could see a change begin to brew.
“We didn’t get going until June,” Hernandez said of his first year as head coach. “We really didn’t have summer football, and then last year we built on everything, but we just knew everybody was sophomores. So no matter what we did, we were boys playing amongst men, and now as juniors we finally feel prepared and ready to go.”
There was one more major obstacle to overcome: In July, a fire ripped through the team’s storage shed and destroyed a lot of the program’s equipment. But donations of equipment and money helped Magnolia go into the season focused on winning, and that’s what it has done.
The Sentinels are 4-2 overall and won their Orange League opener last week. They face Katella, a team that has outscored Magnolia 95-0 in the teams’ past two meetings, on Thursday at Orange Coast College. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m.
The Knights have won the Orange League title for the past five years, and Hernandez is excited at the prospect of getting on the field this season and competing for a league championship.
“The motto for this week is ‘Playing for a patch,’ ” Hernandez said. “So I busted out my old lettermen’s jacket to show them what a league championship patch looks like because we haven’t had one since 2010.”
Hernandez played at Pacifica and his defensive coordinator was Wes Choate, the current Esperanza coach. Choate gave Hernandez his first coaching job at La Quinta before taking the job at Orange, and Choate brought Hernandez with him to be the Panthers’ defensive coordinator.
Hernandez is quick to remind everyone that his team is 5-1 on the field this season. The Sentinels forfeited their Week 1 victory over Godinez for using an ineligible player, a violation, the school says, that happened because of a paperwork error.
A pair of junior running backs — Joseph Lariz and Lloyd Marshbanks — have played a big part in Magnolia’s success.
Lariz leads the team with 833 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, while Marshbanks has rushed for 647 yards and scored seven touchdowns.
“It’s easy when it’s third-and-9 and you don’t have to call a pass play,” Hernandez said of his backfield duo. “They make it easy for me, and the best part about them is they’re just both great boys.”
Lariz says he enjoys playing for Hernandez, calling him “a friend off the field.” He also likes the dynamic that he and Marshbanks make up.
“I feel we’re really hard to contain, and I feel that’s there no one else in our league like this,” Lariz said. “We really changed this league up and we’re a threat to everybody.”
Marshbanks, a 210-pound bruiser who transferred from Katella, believes that Magnolia’s time to overtake Katella is coming soon thanks to all of the time spent in the weight room.
“Most definitely, I could see it (happening) this week. It’s way more physical here,” Marshbanks said. “I could see my body change, I’m more physical and light on my feet. It’s just well-formed over here.”
Hernandez is aware of the new confidence his players are showing, and he’s proud of the culture shift that has transpired at Magnolia. He looks for his players to continue that progression on and off the field.
“The biggest culture change is just the boys’ belief in themselves and the confidence they have,” Hernandez said.
“When we first took over, they had zero (confidence). ‘We’re just Magnolia’ — that was the thing that was said a lot, and now it’s ‘No, we’re Magnolia. We can do whatever we put our minds to.’ ”
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