WALNUT CREEK -- Berean Christian High's James Hodgins didn't have the luxury of easing his way into his first head coaching job.
First, Hodgins, a former NFL running back hired in January, needed to put together an offseason weight-training regimen -- a first for the Eagles' program. Then he had to reinvigorate a team that lost its last five games of the 2012 campaign.
Now, roughly a week before its season opener, Berean Christian has less than two dozen players on the varsity roster and faces a schedule that features six teams that made the playoffs last season.
Still, Hodgins and his players are optimistic that the program is headed in the right direction after a 3-8 season. Although participation numbers are relatively low, the players that are in uniform have a team-first mentality and are ready to turn the doubters into believers.
"It's been a great experience," said Hodgins, who played for the New York Jets, the Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams in an eight-year pro career. "The guys work hard and do everything you ask. From that standpoint, it's been one of the best teams I've been a part of, which is saying a lot."
Hodgins is installing a scaled-down version of the offense used by the Rams team that won the Super Bowl in 1999, with quarterbacks Nick Umali and Jax Cuddihy playing the role of Kurt Warner, running back Ethan Anderson as Marshall Faulk and Cole Temple and Hunter Lockhart as Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.
Hodgins said the scheme seems complicated but that "there's a lot of things about it that make it good for high school. It's easy to learn, easy to understand. And as they grasp the concepts and put it together, we'll be able to play faster and faster."
It might be a while before anyone calls the Eagles the "Greatest Show on Turf," but the players are excited about the new direction.
"It's a lot more intense, a lot more like a real football program now," Temple said. "Before it was kind of laid back, but with the new coaches, everyone has a new mindset that we're not going to be that team that we were last year. We're going to have a winning record."
Umali, a junior, was the backup quarterback last season and took some snaps when started Garrett Anderson was injured. He'll be the starter but Cuddihy, a senior, will also see time behind center as Hodgins wants to employ the talents of both players.
"They both do different things well," Hodgins said. "We have a pistol package that Nick does well, and we have a spread offense coming out of the shotgun. Jax has a really good arm and he's able to stretch the field. He adds that senior presence."
Ethan Anderson, an all-Tri-County Athletic League-Rock Division honorable mention selection last season, will likely get the bulk of the carries this year and provides a stabilizing force for two quarterbacks with limited varsity experience.
"He has great vision, a natural instinct for the game," Hodgins said of Anderson, who will also play defensive end. "He's a load to bring down."
Chad Whaley, who played offensive and defensive line last season, has been converted to a tight end. Temple is a wide receiver but may also be one of the best placekickers in the East Bay, with a range of 45-50 yards.
Temple will also be a middle linebacker for the Eagles and their cover-two defense, but is also athletic enough to act as a third safety.
Because of the roster size, just about everyone on the team will have to play both sides of the ball.
"It's tough number-wise," Hodgins said. "It's a unoque challenge for a unique school. But our guys know that we have to be in better shape than everyone we play."
Aug. 31 LIVERMORE V. P. 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 at Le Grand 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Cloverdale 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 MT. DIABLO 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 27 at St. Pat.-St. Vin.* 7 p.m.
Oct. 5 at St. Mary's* 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 EL CERRITO 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 at Pinole Valley* 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 VALLEY CHRISTIAN 1 p.m.
Nov. 2 SALESIAN 2 p.m.
* TCAL-Rock Division game
More football coverage
Look for more high school football preview stories in next week's Walnut Creek Journal, and online at www.contracostatimes.com/high-school-sports