Mario Millan knew five years ago that this senior class for Kennedy was special.
They were a high-end middle school program and then six of those players were called up to varsity as freshmen when Millan was an assistant coach for Dennis Moody in 2015. Coincidentally, that was the last time the Thunderbirds won a Central Section title.
Until this year.
Those seniors paved the way for Kennedy's best season in school history. The Thunderbirds went 13-2, won the D-V section championship and advanced to the CIF Southern California regional playoffs for the second time.
Millan, now the head coach at Kennedy, is the 2018 BVarsity All-Area Football Coach of the Year following that historic showing.
“For sure. They had high expectations,” Millan said. “They played as freshmen on the Valley championship team. They knew what it takes. I thought we had the potential. Especially with the senior leadership. We knew this was a great group.”
Tyreak Walker led the section with 2,219 rushing yards and scored 32 touchdowns, including 30 on the ground. Yocanni Sandoval added another 1,288 rushing yards and 20 scores behind an offensive line led by Ivan Garza.
“It all worked out great. The seniors were great,” Millan said. “Losing their head coach (from the last four years) and had great character and grit. They did what they were supposed to do and got it done.”
Millan had an idea this was going to be a special season when Kennedy beat Highland on the road, 41-19, on Aug. 31. He was reaffirmed of that belief the following week, when his team beat small-school power Liberty-Madera Ranchos, 32-14, despite having two starters out.
"That put us on the right trajectory," Millan said.
After Shafter beat Kennedy, 47-14, in the regular season finale, the Thunderbirds made good on the rematch with a 30-28 road win over the Generals in the D-V finals.
“The biggest thing about that was I wasn’t sure how our guys were going to go into that game. But during that week of practice, our kids had a chip on the shoulder. We were pleased with their attitude. They had a great attitude and were on a different level. They were loose,” Millan said.
Kennedy fell 42-10 to Los Angeles-Garfield in the SoCal D-4A regional playoffs, but walked away from that game knowing how special the players and coaching staff really were.
“It was how close we got to the kids. It was different,” Millan said. “My son even grew a bond with the kids. Wins and losses come and go, but we all really got along. We all joked together. We would just sit and talk in the locker room. It was hard to say goodbye. That was the most special part of the year, was the relationships.”