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New Spartans Coach James Sims hopes for fresh start

Football: After missing out on 2011 postseason, La Canãda looks to secure a home playoff game in 2012.

August 21, 2012|By Andrew Shortall, andrew.shortall@latimes.com
  • The Spartans are hoping to make the playoffs with a good seed in 2012 after missing out on the postseason in 2011.
The Spartans are hoping to make the playoffs with a good… (Tim Berger/Staff…)

Culture change has been the theme of the La Cañada High football team's summer.

One of the first steps for the Spartans was spending part of their offseason under new coach James Sims not only working hard on the field and in the weight room, but also sprucing up the team's facilities by cleaning and repainting the locker room, weight room and coaches office.

"We really wanted them to feel a sense of pride," Sims said. "The kids are buying in, they love it. … That builds a culture, a way of life."

Sims knows the main way his team can show there's been a drastic change at La Cañada will be on the field this season, which begins Aug. 30 when it hosts Alhambra at 7 p.m.

La Cañada is coming off a disappointing 3-7, 2-3 in Rio Hondo League season in which it missed out on the postseason after taking fourth in league. This season the Spartans are set on making the playoffs, but not just barely edging in with a wild-card berth as they have in recent years.

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"I want to get that No. 1 or No. 2 seed in Rio Hondo and have a home playoff game, something La Cañada hasn't had a in a long time, and I think it's doable," said senior wide receiver and defensive back Mario Del Cueto.

Returning quarterback Matt Jones, who finished 2011 on a high note, said La Cañada is set to finish the year with a winning record with a 26-man varsity squad loaded with experience — 14 seniors — and a new offense teams will have to adjust to.

"We have a lot of advantages over last year, one being a new program," Jones said. "A lot of the other teams have not seen us play at all. They don't know what we're going to do, especially since we pretty much run everything pretty well."

Sims' offense carries a lot of different looks, depending on the matchup, with the base formations being a split pro-set backfield and three-back wishbone formation.

"We run everything from fly offenses to spread offenses," Jones said. "We're going to throw the ball as much as we run the ball depending on who we play. That's what Sims always says, 'What offense do we run? It depends on who we play.' We are prepared for pretty much anything at this point."

Andy Paynter returns as La Cañada's primary running back, while Jadon Henry and Grant Owen also stand to get carries this season. Del Cueto, Owen and Ryan Martin, who stands at 6-foot-1, give Jones some threats at wide receiver, while Todd Murray gives him another 6-3 target at tight end.

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