Joe Davidson

‘OK, who’s next?’: How a decimated Monterey Trail team is on brink of a big moment

T.J. Ewing is the only coach Monterey Trail has had, and the big thinker likes his team but not where it is headed with realignment moving the school out of the Delta League.
T.J. Ewing is the only coach Monterey Trail has had, and the big thinker likes his team but not where it is headed with realignment moving the school out of the Delta League. Sacramento Bee file

Victories and defeats do not have to define a program or its players.

This is the belief of T.J. Ewing, the only head football coach Monterey Trail High School has known, and this thinking comes from a man who speaks of a wide spectrum of experience. His first two seasons in 2005 and 2006 produced a 1-19 record and a lot of anguish and grief. And then the Mustangs settled in and settled scores, advancing to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game in 2009 and 2010 and reaching the postseason the last three seasons.

And here they come again, small in roster numbers but seeking another season-defining moment. Monterey Trail is 5-3 on the strength of punishing line play and a run-heavy veer attack that features Jehiel Budgett (747 yards, six touchdowns), Zach Larrier (504, nine) and Aztlan Lopez (345, eight).

After downing Grant 26-14 for the first time and Elk Grove 48-7 in the past two weeks, No. 12 Monterey Trail faces another storied program on Friday at home in No. 6 Jesuit.

“Winning is hard,” Ewing said. “It’s football. It takes a lot of people to make it all work, players, coaches, administrators. You’re just trying to compete and succeed. We were down to 22 guys with eight or nine guys injured, and we beat two great teams to get here. It’s, ‘OK, who’s next?’

“The chemistry here is amazing. Everything that was possible to break this team – young team, injuries, good teams – and we didn’t break. It galvanized us.”

Ewing added, “We’re not afraid of any teams, or coaches, or athletes. We want to play. We get smashed sometimes, and that happens. We enjoy the process of getting better. We don’t feel bad winning or losing because we don’t teach that. It’s a bigger conversation. Our guys don’t feel like a loser if they lose a game, and we don’t feel like we’re better than anyone else if we win. It’s not what we teach here.”

What frustrates Ewing is his program is playing its final two Delta League games after 12 seasons in a conference consisting mostly of Elk Grove Unified School District schools.

Monterey Trail will be realigned to the Metropolitan Conference in the fall for at least a four-year cycle. And the Mustangs figure to dominate the football landscape there as the Metro’s most established program and the longest tenured coaching staff with Sacramento High moving out.

“We don’t agree with the move,” Ewing said. “I agree Monterey Trail may fit in the Metro in other sports, but football is what I’m talking about. But we can make anything a good experience. We’ll turn around our face and smile.”

Section assistant commissioner and media director Will DeBoard said, outside of football, Monterey Trail generally finished below .500 in Delta action.

The Mustangs are being realigned “because they don’t really belong in the Delta,” DeBoard said. “They made many emotional arguments to stay in the Delta, but really, all they had was the emotional argument.”

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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