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Success can be measured by improvement


Something new Petaluma High School coach John Behrs said when I met with him a couple of weeks ago has been rattling around inside my barren skull. What the coach said was that he wants his team to improve with every practice.

To be honest, that might not be possible. Kids, like adults, have good days and bad days. Some practices will be more productive than others. Still, the coach's point is well made.

We tend to measure our teams' success on the basis of won-loss records, but not all teams start from the same point. Some are more talented, more experienced, bigger and plain better than others. A better measuring stick might be how much better they are from the start to the finish. The same could be said for individual players. Numbers — rushing yards, points scored, hits — don't tell how much a player has improved, both athletically and as a person over the course of a season.

We need look no further than to our local football teams to see perfect examples of what might be called the theory of improvement.

When I saw Petaluma High's Trojans play Santa Rosa in their opening game, I wondered if they would be able to beat anyone except Elsie Allen and El Molino. Two weeks later, when I next saw the Trojans against Novato, I began to wonder about the El Molino game.

Then Petaluma played Rancho Cotate, and they didn't look like the same team. Oh, the Trojans lost all right, to the tune of 39-0, but Rancho Cotate is a superb team that is still alive in the playoffs. Petaluma actually shut the Cougars down for a half.

Then came league and the Trojans just got better and better. An offensive line that looked like six invisible men against Santa Rosa, began to push people around. The difficult triple-option reads began to become automatic for quarterback Patrick Bailey and Sam Spurling began to look like the second coming of Ricky Sims.

The Petaluma defense that had been torched for 147 points in four pre-league games, recorded two shutouts and won four of six Sonoma County League games.

The last time I saw the Trojans play, they lost to undefeated Analy, 40-13, but they game was much closer than the score. Petaluma made mistakes, but it was a far, far better team than the one that lost on opening night to Santa Rosa.

St. Vincent has taken a similar and even more successful journey from opening kickoff to a season that is still continuing in the North Coast Section playoffs.

I didn't see the Mustangs play until the third game of the season. By then, they had already beaten St. Bernard's, 34-21, and lost to St. Helena, 44-14. I saw them in a close 21-14 win over Cloverdale. They played well, but I could see problems. The offensive line couldn't sustain blocks and the tackling was more arm than hit.

Those weaknesses were exploited two weeks later when they were pretty well whipped by California School for the Deaf, 44-17.

But, after that game, the Mustangs have gotten better and better and better.

Quarterback Mitch Sheppard started on a high level, coming off a 2,000-yard passing season the year before, but he, like the rest of the Mustangs, has improved with each game. His receiver selection has evolved to the point where he can spot an open teammate and deliver an on-target pass in an eyeblink.

When I saw the Mustangs against Cloverdale, their running game was more potential than real. The only thing about Derek Murphy today that is unreal is the way he eludes or runs through would-be tacklers in the open field.

On the first day of practice, St. Vincent had three potential — not three — but three potential linemen. The team that plays a rematch against CSD Saturday, will rotate six or seven tough and technically sound linemen on a unit that is proficient at both pass protection and hole opening.

When you talk about a starting point, it really doesn't apply to the St. Vincent offensive line. There simply was no starting point.

With Michael Carroll, Murphy and a solid front, St. Vincent has always been strong defensively at the initial point of attack. However, early on, if a runner was able to get to the second level against the Mustangs, stopping became an iffy proposition.

Not so any longer. Today's Mustangs don't just tackle, they hit and hit hard.

Watching Petaluma and St. Vincent play from start to finish was watching progress. One had more wins than the other, but to my way of thinking, both were successful.

Than you, coach Behrs for reminding me. May your team do the same.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com)