Another relatively mediocre campaign left a sour taste in Hare’s mouth and he went right back to work in the offseason, planning ways to make the Cougars better.
“It’s my ninth year and I’m a better coach now than I was in Year 8 and definitely better than in Year 2,” Hare said. “I work hard to get better. I know I don’t have all the answers. I try to seek out knowledgeable people. I read a ton from people who have done it better than I have. If you seek out people who are good at the profession, it can’t do anything but help you. Whatever you do in life, it should always be a process.”
Hare and his Cougars coaching staff are hoping they’re in the process of continuing to improve the SSHS gridiron program. In 2006, Hare’s first season at the helm, Spanish Springs was 0-10. A year later, they improved to 4-5 and last year it was 6-4. Another jump in the win total would leave most around the Spanish Springs valley elated.
So how does Hare feel about his team’s effort and performance in preseason camp over the last two weeks?
“I feel really good,” he said. “The kids have responded well. It’s gone really fast. Any time double days go fast, that’s a good thing. It usually drags on and it’s like pulling teeth. I’m worried the season will feel like it’s flown by in the blink of an eye. But I’d rather have it feel fast than slow.”
Hare said the evolution of high school football — implementing offseason conditioning programs and going to a full-contact summer camp — has improved the quality of play in the prep ranks and changed the dynamic of preseason camp.
“In double days, you used to figure out who wants to be physical. But now that we go to camp, we get a full week to find out who wants to be physical,” Hare said. “Double days just used to be a lot of hitting. Now, it’s a lot about technique. We are still hitting, but we don’t have to kill ourselves now because we already have an idea who is physical. There’s not a lot of surprises out there.
“It gives us more coaching time. There is less trying to get guys to hit each other. Now we can ask the questions ‘who, why where’ ... who are we blocking, why and where’s the hole?”
Spanish Springs earned a postseason berth in 2002, its first year of varsity football. However, it has struggled to get back into the High Desert League’s upper echelon since. Hare believes it’s because the SSHS gridders have never had a balanced offense. The Cougars have consistently put together a respectable ground game, but have always been stymied by a lackluster aerial attack.
Until that changes, Hare knows it will be tough to be considered an elite program.
“We haven’t thrown the ball in Spanish Springs’ history,” Hare said. “We just throw and hope. I don’t think you can be in the bottom half of any category and be highly successful in this environment (Northern 4A football). The teams are too good. They are going to find your weakness. Eventually, you’ll find a team that says, ‘You can run the ball, but you’re not going to beat us doing it.’”
Hare pointed out that, in the past, quality opponents have loaded up against the Cougars’ potent rushing attack and covered the Spanish Springs receivers one-on-one with no safety help. The Cougars have failed to burn teams with a big play through the air and more often than not been saddled with losses in key league affairs.
“If we’re going to get better, we have to change that. And it’s a three-pronged deal,” the Cougars coach said. “We have to pass protect on the offensive line. We have to make a good pass and we have to catch it. You can’t be 38 percent passing (the Cougars’ 2008 completion percentage) and be anything better than 6-4.”
Three players are still vying to handle the Cougars’ signal caller duties: seniors Nick Lemons and Ian Allaire and junior Tanner Oates. Hare has been pleased with the work the trio has put in during the offseason. He admitted all three would have started a year ago, but said all three will not play this fall. Hare plans to make a decision on a starter soon and he expects to give no more than two players game repetitions once the season begins.
“It’s going to be a tough call,” Hare said. “We’ll go with one guy for sure that will get at least 70 percent of the reps and maybe one other guy that will get 30 percent early in the season. But I don’t want a split quarterback situation. We’re not going to do anything more than 70-30. You can’t play three quarterbacks.
“We really feel good about the guy we’ll be putting out there. It has been a fierce, fierce battle over the past few months. And the fact that it has been makes all three of them better. ... Whoever we put out there, gives us a better shot to succeed than in the past.”
Hare still listed the passing game as his biggest area of concern. He said that won’t change until he sees the Cougars pass effectively against good teams. On the flip side, Hare said his team’s run game and rush defense should be areas of strength.
“I think both our run game and run defense are going to be areas we should still excel in. Those are two areas that we’ve been successful the last couple years and I think should continue to be strengths,” he said. “At this point, I’d think special teams will be a strength, as well. Those are three areas I really feel comfortable with right now.”
Hare singled out middle linebacker Luke Arciniega, on defense, and running back Dom Smith and lineman Zane Lawrence, on offense, as seniors who need to be leaders for the Cougars club.
Spanish Springs kicks off its season Friday night at 7 p.m. at home against Carson.