As the Agoura football team headed towards the mandated three-week dead period, during which teams can't have any practice sessions, three of the team's seniors spoke with Agoura Hills Patch about what the Chargers wanted to accomplish during the summer, their expectations for the 2012 season, and what it means to them to be in positions of leadership.
"It's a pretty big responsibility," said quarterback Richard Poutier, who gained valuable experience as a starter last year. "We don't have as many seniors this year. I think we have 12 as compared to 18 last year. And only four or five are returning starters. Every senior has a lot more responsibility. We've got to lead by example."
Sean Kagan, a returning starting wide receiver/defensive back, agreed with his quarterback.
"It's a very big responsibility," he said. "I want to do great my senior year and I've got to get these younger guys into it. Doing the drills 100 percent. Not taking plays off. And just doing their best. So it's tough because I don't want to feel like that mean guy that just yells at them. But I'm trying to encourage them to do their best so that we can win."
Cody Banks, a starter at running back and defensive back, echoed those sentiments. He doesn't always enjoy being the guy who has to motivate the younger players, but he knows it's simply necessary.
"You have to get on them at all times," he said. "It's tough, because you don't want to be the guy that's hated. But in order for guys to listen, you have to be the guy that yells and makes them do what they have to do. Sometimes you have to be forceful."
With regards to having relatively few seniors, Banks said it causes the leadership responsibilities to be more concentrated.
"We have [to display] more leadership per individual," he said. "That can be a good thing, though. It forces the juniors to realize they have to listen. So it teaches discipline, in my mind."
During the summer, Agoura, like all teams, had 7-on-7 passing games on Tuesdays and Thursdays and participated in passing tournaments, which tend to be even more competitive, on some Saturdays.
Head coach Charlie Wegher said there were ups and downs for his comparatively young team. But he credited the three seniors for their stewardship.
"Richard [Poutier] is really good, he's very vocal," Wegher said. "[Sean] Kagan, he's earned everybody's respect because he's just so tough and plays hard and he just goes at one speed - full speed.
"Cody [Banks], the younger guys respect him, too, because he's never absent, he's never late, he works as hard as he can all the time. He's a smart kid, too."
The Chargers know that the goal is to improve upon last year's disappointing 1-9 record and this spring and summer, practices and passing league games and tournaments were a vehicle to help achieve that goal.
"I'd like to win more 7-on-7 games, but we've been practicing very hard," Kagan said. "We've been doing everything hard; working out hard, conditioning hard. We're trying to do the best that we can and improve on what we did last year."
How many wins does Kagan think is a realistic goal? "Four or five," he said.
Poutier said that the Chargers utilized the passing games to improve all the players on the team, not just the best players.
"Our mindset was that everybody plays," he said. "We wanted to get everybody better, because you're only as good as your weakest link. Tuesdays and Thursdays [passing league games] are like an extended practice. You compete against another team, but you also try to get everyone to improve."
Banks concurred with his teammate.
"The main goal is just to get better," he said. "And we've gotten a lot better compared to what we were. The leadership, at the start, was not all there because we weren't used to it. But now, all of the seniors have way better leadership skills. And the juniors have come a long way, too. We've all gotten better."
All summer, the Chargers have set their sights on Oak Park, as the two teams will square off at Agoura High on Friday, August 24, in the incredibly early season opener for both teams.
"We're focusing on Oak Park," Poutier said. "And then we're going to go one game at a time. It's been hard work, but it will pay off in the end."
There is little doubt what legacy the Chargers seniors want to leave.
"I want to be the senior class that turned around Agoura [football] from losing seasons back to winning, because it wasn't long ago when we were winning," said Banks. "So to change it would be awesome."