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College Park turns the page on revered Head Coach Kepler

After a successful tenure at Encinal-Alameda, Joe Tenorio is looking to follow up program staple Bill Kepler, who was at the program for 35 years before stepping down

Senior Waris Azizi (16) will return to the Falcons to play under center for coach Joe Tenorio, who believes the senior is poised for a big season with the Falcons. (NEVILLE GUARD /  Martinez Tribune)
Senior Waris Azizi (16) will return to the Falcons to play under center for coach Joe Tenorio, who believes the senior is poised for a big season with the Falcons. (NEVILLE GUARD / Martinez Tribune)

By GERARDO RECINOS
Martinez Tribune

It would be easy for the Falcons to hang their heads on last season. They finished at 3-7, said goodbye to longtime head coach Bill Kepler, who spent 35 years with the program, and they didn’t qualify for North Coast Section.

But just a year removed from their last playoff appearance, and three wins in their final four games of 2014 say otherwise. College Park is on the upswing in a major way, and it all starts with one man: new head coach Joe Tenorio.

“There’s pressure to get these kids to exceed their potential. I enjoy pressure – that isn’t something that bothers me, and I think it pushes me to try harder and keep working. I think that’s a good thing,” said Tenorio. “Coach Kepler did an outstanding job during his time here, and they’re (Kepler’s) big shoes to fill.”

Tenorio takes the helm of the College Park program after guiding Encinal-Alameda to an NCS Division III title in 2008, and finals appearances in the following two seasons.

Over the course of three years, his Jets program didn’t lose a single game in Bay Shore Athletic League play, and won four league titles during his eight-year tenure.

However, the coach said there was a very big difference between the community support at his former job and community support at College Park.

“There is a lot more parent involvement, and a lot more sense of community,” he said, citing it as a major factor in choosing College Park amongst the offers he received after leaving his post at Encinal in December 2014.

Last season College Park seemed to just drown in a top-heavy schedule that not only included six teams that qualified for a section playoff, but also five who won their first-round playoff game.

To add even further context to the difficulty of the Falcons’ schedule, they were one of only two teams in the DVAL to have played against teams who only qualified for a section playoff. The other was Division II champion and state finalist Clayton Valley Charter.

Heritage-Brentwood’s loss to California-San Ramon marked the only time a College Park first half opponent was dropped from the playoffs in the first round.

The Falcons will have a lot of work to do this season if they want to catch up to the Diablo Valley Athletic League’s top two teams in Concord and Clayton Valley Charter-Concord, both of whom are ranked in the state’s top 200 teams. The Clayton Ugly Eagles are ranked as the 38th best team in the state going into the 2015 season.

“In this area everyone is judged by how many wins you have. And I think at this school, having a lot of kids that have played together will help,” said Tenorio. “Changing the culture has been a challenge, but the kids are buying in.”

With a strong core of returning players like quarterback Waris Azizi, running back tandem David Jones and Michael Trisby, Tenorio feels that the Falcons have a strong set of players poised to have big years.

“They’ve had good summers for us,” the coach said. “What we did this summer is a lot different than what College Park has done before, but they’ve bought in.”

The squad is still looking for a set of team leaders, and Tenorio also mentioned two-way star Adam Basker and Thomas Garcia in the linebacker corps as players he expects a lot from due to solid summer showings.

After a summer of work, the Falcons are ready to be thrown into the Lion’s den, or perhaps the Bulldog house, as the season kicks off with a big rivalry game on Aug. 28.

“I’ve been looking forward to playing them in a game for a long time,” Tenorio said. “I’m sure Alan (Hern) will have his kids ready to go, and we’re going to have our guys ready to go.”

“For a struggling team, which our record reflected, this is a game that’s going to start your season off, or end your season,” the Falcon coach said, describing it as a North Coast Section type game.

Making the comparison to the Encinal-Alameda High School rivalry, Tenorio said the team is eager to “protect their area,” against the Bulldogs.

“I’m ready to be a part of this rivalry and see where the chips fall,” Tenorio said.

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