Football Team Faces Changes in Roster, Coach, and League Position

Micah Temple, Social Media Editor

Packed bleachers, a full and flourishing team; that’s what PHS football games looked like just three years ago. On game day, Piedmonters were confident that they had a solid chance at taking a victory home, and all 59 varsity players made sure to get an especially restful night’s sleep before their battle for the school’s honor on Witter turf. Today, 16 varsity players line up the day before with the knowledge that many of their classmates are anticipating a loss before the game even begins.

This year, the football team is seeing a large decrease in players compared to previous years, the Highlanders have left the league they’ve been in since 2013, and so far the 22/23 season hasn’t seen a victory. Piedmont has seen drastic changes in the program recently, but Sophomore Tommy Ashton is confident that it can return to it’s normal state.

“Our number of players has definitely gone down in the last couple of years, but I think slowly as we keep gaining momentum with our season and getting better, more kids are going to realize that it’s a sport they like to play,” Ashton said.

The football team currently has 36 active players, with 16 varsity players and 20 junior varsity players. These numbers pale in comparison to a combined 81 players in 2019, with 59 on varsity and 22 on junior varsity.

“[The team is] small, but we have a lot of heart and passion when we play,” junior Cairo Osman said.

In recent years, not only has the  football program’s playership seen a large decline, but so has its win record and the expectations of Piedmont students. The team lost its home opener of the 22-23 season to the Seaside Spartans with a final score of 27-20. 

“This year we lost the home opener, but I think people are still gonna come out to the games. I think it’s fun. It’s not just the football, the game itself. It’s just being in that environment,” sophomore Markos Lagios said.

The Highlanders’ second game of the season resulted in a landslide loss to the Del Norte Warriors, with Del Norte scoring 42 points while Piedmont scored zero.

“Honestly I think a lot of kids go into our games thinking we’re gonna lose, because we haven’t seen a crazy win streak in a long time,” Osman said.

Due to the decrease in team size, the Highlanders have left the West Alameda County Conference or WACC league of schools, and become independent, Highlander football coach Jordan Seiden said.

“We’re not in the traditional league that we have had in the past due to the numbers and being of the smallest schools in that league. It would be hard for us to be able to match up with a lot of the schools just on a numbers basis, not based on talent or anything along those lines,” Seiden said.

Becoming independent means that Piedmont will be playing a different set of schools that also aren’t currently in a league. This means the Highlanders will travel farther for many away games as they face off against schools such as Seaside, Del Norte, Saint Mary’s, De Anza, Eureka, St. Patrick-St. Vincent, Saint Mary’s, and Kennedy.

“Teams like Seaside and Del Norte who came down to play recently, those are different opportunities. You get to play against different teams when you’re not necessarily tied to a league like we were,” Seiden said.

The lack of players has forced the Highlanders to “play both sides”, meaning they must put their players on both offense and defense in order to cover all positions. 

“Football’s a very tiring and exhausting sport and it’s hard to play both ways, especially if you’re a lineman having to battle in the trenches for up to two and a half hours,” Seiden said.

With football constituting such an important part of Piedmont culture in previous years, there are many different theories about why it has seen such a steep decline in participation recently. Seiden has several hypotheses.

“In recent history, Piedmont has really become more of a lacrosse, baseball, and soccer type community and gotten kind of away from football being a priority,” Seiden said.

Another contributing factor to the shrinking of the football team is that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many kids found other interests besides sports, such as video games or hobbies, Seiden said. An alternative reason may be parents fearing for their kids’ safety.

“I think part of it goes back to some of the fears of violence and concussions. We’re kind of rebuilding the reputation of football as a whole, not just here at Piedmont high school, but just in general,” Seiden said.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in football by teens and younger children has fallen by over 620,000 in the U.S. in recent years.

Despite their 22-23 season opening with two consecutive losses, the Highlanders are remaining optimistic that these losses aren’t predictive of an unsuccessful season to come, but instead an opportunity for an awe-inspiring comeback.

“I think we can still definitely come back and have a great season,” Lagios said.

Many of the Highlanders are insistent that being on the team means far more than simply playing the sport of football and attempting to win. They believe being a member of the team carries a great intrinsic value.

“The team is a fun place to meet new people and create a bond that you’ll remember forever through your whole life, putting in the work with everyone around you,” Ashton said.

Although the Piedmont Highlanders haven’t seen a win yet this season and their team this year is on the smaller side, Lagios is confident that the bond the players share is robust as it’s ever been.

“You should know that we’re just like a family. We’re not all just playing for ourselves. We’re playing for each other too,” Lagos said.