First impressions matter.
Nobody wants to be caught with chunks of buffalo burger between bicuspids on a first date with Rihanna.
Don’t worry, the Coyotes are brushing and flossing twice daily. They want to make a memorable first impression in first-year Calabasas head coach Chris Claiborne’s debut when Trinity League juggernaut JSerra Catholic of San Juan Capistrano cruises down Mulholland Highway.
“ We can’t get pushed around,” said D.J. Peterson, a senior left guard for Calabasas.
JSerra opened with a 49-7 evisceration of Corona del Mar last weekend. The Lions are ranked No. 18 in California by MaxPreps, and ninth in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 poll. Calabasas is No. 14 in the state according to MaxPreps, and fifth in the Division 2 poll.
The Coyotes have yet to play a down of football, but they’re not lacking swagger.
“We’re going into it with confidence,” said Johnny Wilson, a 6-foot-5 junior wide receiver who will play Division I football next fall. “We’re preparing mentally. Physically, we’re good.
“This game sets the tone for the rest of the season. We have to get the win.”
Calabasas’ receiving core has more star power than the Rat Pack.
Wilson, Oregon commit Mycah Pittman, Nolan Smith (a transfer from Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas), Julien Stokes, Keithan Gooden Jr., Larry Turner, Justin White and Lamont Narcisse all stretch the field at receiver. Former USC and Chicago Bears star Curtis Conway is the receivers coach.
And there’s more.
The crew got better with a major addition: Jermaine Burton, an Atlanta native who suited up at IMG Academy last year, is a junior wide receiver expected to play immediately for the Coyotes.
“When we’re all on the field together at the same time, we’re just deadly,” said Wilson, a track sprinter who wants to play basketball for head coach Jon Palarz.
Calabasas is focused on goals bigger than JSerra, the Marmonte League or even the Southern Section.
“State or nothing,” said quarterback Jaden Casey, a Fresno State commit. “That’s everyone’s goal.”
JSerra will challenge Calabasas, however. The Lions run the ball with purpose, and their defense is disciplined and physical.
The Coyotes will need to give Casey time to throw and running back Johnny Williams space to gallop for yards. That means the offensive line will have to play like the 1992 Dallas Cowboys.
“You have to be physical, and you have to love contact,” Peterson said. “You have to go out there and crack heads.”
“This is a huge game,” said Theo Sulunga, a sophomore left tackle. “We have to be more physical up front.”
Sulunga, who also plays for the Los Angeles Rugby Club, said he’s OK with the receivers hogging much of the press.
“I like being the underdog,” he said. “We’re not getting that much credit. I want to prove everyone wrong.”
Sulunga started three games on varsity at right guard during his freshman campaign in 2017.
Peterson is a second-year varsity starter for Calabasas. He spent his freshman year at Centenniel and the following season at Norco, where he also threw the shot put in track and field.
Nick Kinch, a junior who played at Westlake last year, starts at center.
Two sophomores will start on the other side of the line: right guard Noah Lewis and right tackle Campbell McHarg.
“The work you put in is the work you get out,” Peterson said. “Our line is solid. We’ve been training hard, grinding to get in shape and get faster and stronger.”
The spotlight is on the Coyotes. There’s only one chance to make a great first impression. They know what’s at stake.
“This is going to be the biggest game in So Cal,” Wilson said.