Since Steve Lentz took over the Exeter Jr. Monarchs football team in 2016, his mission has been to change the culture. After setting in motion new philosophies and training, you can say it is working. For the last two seasons the team has made back-to-back Valley Championship appearances.
On Saturday, Dec. 2, an undefeated Exeter team took on an equally undefeated Redwood Jr. Rangers team at Orange Cove High School. Although the Monarchs lost 26-6 their competitive spirit was plain to see to everyone who was in attendance.
“I was proud of the fact that we battled but it was not our night,” Coach Lentz said.
Exeter (12-1) found themselves trailing 6-0 at halftime for the first time this season. The only bright spot for the team of fifth and sixth graders came in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Ruben Ruiz connected with Cadon Hughes for a 55-yard touchdown pass for the team’s only score.
To some not bringing home the championship may seem like a disappointment. However, many do not see what lessons the players are learning off the field.
“We are wanting to teach them life lessons,” Lentz said.
Many teams hand out what are known as “Pride Stickers” for playing well. The Monarchs however, hand out stickers for succeeding in the classroom. Each player gets a progress report. On those reports teachers can say rather or not the player is turning in homework or being a leader. For each positive mark they receive a point and those points turn into stickers. Lentz says that on more than one occasion he’s had teachers come up to him, commenting on how well their students are doing, even saying that some of his players who were not turning in homework are now on the honor role. This, along with Lentz’s 19 years of experience coaching at Tulare Union, has the future of the program looking bright.