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March 5, 2007Mater Dei is making changes, but the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Having reached the CIF D-I Finals eight times in the last 15-years, head coach Bruce Rollinson likes to keep things simple. When you have players like Khaled Holmes, Cameron Meredith and Matt Barkley to work with, going back to basics is easy.
Last season, Mater Dei went 8-3 in the inaugural year of the Trinity League. Eventually losing in the first round of the CIF playoffs to Long Beach Poly, the Monarchs ended the 2007 season earlier than normal.
When expectations aren't met at Mater Dei, changes are made.
"We're definitely trying to take the program in a different direction," said Holmes. "Most of the changes are minor, but we had some changes on the staff - with a new offensive line coach coming in.
"Our training this offseason has changed too. We're doing things differently both in the weight room and on the field.
"I think the coaches are trying to make us more explosive and faster this year. We were doing a lot of new-age lifts for the last couple of years, but now our weight training is old school.
"I think we're going back to what we did when we were more successful."
Returning more than 40 lettermen from a year ago, the expectations won't fade fast at a program that's won two national championships. The Monarchs not only return experience, they return experience at several key positions.
In 2005, Matt Barkely turned heads when he was named the starting quarterback as a freshman. Although he eventually threw for 1,700 yards and 10 touchdowns, Barkley wasn't immediately accepted as a team leader.
"The underclassmen knew him, but the seniors weren't buying into having a freshman start," said Cameron Meredith. "He has to earn people's trust. Each week he got better, and I think by the third game, he started getting that trust."
With a year of experience under his belt, Barkley threw for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. But Barkley isn't the only returning starter at Mater Dei with multiple years of experience.
Both Meredith and Holmes started as sophomores, which may give this year's team more than just senior leadership.
"It's funny because I look at Matt and say, 'dude, I've been blocking for you for two years already'," laughed Holmes. "I've never been worried about him. I knew Matt before high school through basketball, and he was a good kid then. He's intelligent, mature and has very strong religious beliefs.
"He's just continued to develop from his freshman year on. I think it adds to the cohesiveness of the team. Cameron and I have a really good bond because he's a defensive end and I'm a tackle.
"We go against each other every day in practice, and that's why we've gotten better as players. To me, Cameron is up there with guys like Michael Reardon. He's just awesome at the end spot, and he pushes me to get better."
Last weekend, Holmes, Meredith and 40 of their teammates headed to Chino for paintball warfare. Designed to bring the team closer together, paintball is just one activity that is motivated by improvement.
"It's part of the leadership program coach Rollinson has started for us," said Meredith. "He's not big on changes, but we're doing some different things this year.
"The leadership program is one change and the Velocity Training program is the other. In certain games, like the game against Poly, we were getting beat off the ball a lot. We're training so that doesn't happen this year."
Mater Dei's success in 2007 will depend on the Monarch's ability to win football games in the trenches.
In part two of our report, we'll take a closer look at the two main pieces to their championship puzzle; Khaled Holmes and Cameron Meredith.