In his first year as head football coach at his alma mater, Bakersfield High’s Michael Stewart inherited more than his share of things from his predecessor Paul Golla, who took the same position at Garces after 14 years leading the Drillers.
Several talented players for starters. Then there is a winning tradition, that included a state championship and five Central Section Division I titles.
But perhaps most importantly, Golla passed down a difficult preseason schedule that opened with a road game at state-ranked Calabasas and continues Friday night against a talented Paramount squad at Griffith Field.
“The great thing about it is, if you could setup your own schedule, it would have been ideal in the sense of it’s kind of like building blocks,” said Stewart, who guided his team to a 49-20 victory over Tehachapi last week — his first win as a varsity head coach. “Obviously, you play a great team coming out the gate, you get a chance right away to see where you are, and what you do and then you follow up with Tehachapi … it’s almost like every game is progressively into more of a challenge.
“You’re hoping that from week-to-week, you just continue to improve, and that way, by the time you get to the end, you have more wins in the bank than losses.”
This week’s contest marks Stewart’s first game as varsity head coach at Griffith Field, where he starred for the Drillers in the 1980s before doing the same at Fresno State and the NFL as a defensive back.
“The first game at the Big House as we say,” said Stewart, whose team will travel to state-ranked Chatsworth-Sierra Canyon on Sept. 27. “I’m sure it will be a very exciting time. We scrimmaged here, but an actual game … and coming out of the tunnel, and just being back home, so it will be great. But all those situations have pluses and minuses.
“Sometimes when you’re playing on the road, it’s you against the world, so you're just a little bit more in tune to what’s in hand. Sometimes when you’re at home you get a little distracted … and the kids aren’t getting on the bus leaving early, they’ll have a chance to probably go home after school and those types of things. Hopefully we’ll be focused enough that everyone is excited about being home and it shows out on the field on Friday.”
The Drillers (1-1), who lost to Calabasas 29-14 in Week 1, will have their hands full with Paramount (1-1).
That’s particularly true in the BHS secondary. The Pirates like to throw the ball and are averaging 352 passing yards in their first two games, which includes a 27-26 overtime loss to state-power La Puente-Bishop Amat last week.
“The main thing for us as coaches is to get our guys prepared to go out and effectively execute on a gameplan that we have offensively, defensively and on special teams,” Stewart said. “We feel good that if we do those things effectively, we should be in pretty good shape. So the main thing is just making sure our guys are paying attention to the little things.”
Senior quarterback Kingston Hala, listed at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds, has thrown for 702 yards and seven touchdowns and also leads Paramount with 94 yards rushing. He has completed passes to nine different players, with seniors Anthony Williams, Tyron Bates and Justin Livingston combining for 576 yards and six scores on 33 catches.
“They have some skill guys and they play solid on defense,” Stewart said. “They have some depth on offense, they’ve got some great speed at running back, and even their quarterback is a big guy. There’s been some times when he scrambles, either on purpose or by accident, and he’s come away with some pretty big runs. So we definitely have to be prepared to do the little things, stay in our gaps and go tackle the guys when we’re supposed to.”