With football season around the corner, the excitement in the air was palpable at Canyon High School at practice on Monday afternoon.
For the first time in almost a decade, there is a new head coach at Canyon, and Joe Maiale has quickly made his presence felt as he works to change the culture of a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2013.
Players are coming in early and staying late. Practices move at a faster pace, with less downtime and more conditioning. Players on both sides of the ball are supporting one another and pushing each other to be the best versions of themselves.
“You can see the drive in everyone, we’re trying to take a bigger step to make the Canyon Cowboys look better and make us look like we used to,” said slot receiver James Mendibles. “Right now we’re trying to step our game up and just keep on working.”
“I really feel like our tempo is different, we’re way faster as a team,” said quarterback Aydyn Litz. “We might not have as many people, but we’re getting a lot more reps.”
Maiale is well aware of Canyon football’s rich history and is beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to coach in the Foothill League, which he called a “powerhouse” league.
He wants to retain the values that made Canyon one of the most dominant programs in the area — a program that has a state championship, five section championships and 10 league titles in its trophy case — while also bringing in a new fast-paced and thrilling system.
Maiale has retained most of the coaching staff from last season and has leaned on those with close ties to the Cowboys, like his brother George Maiale, the defensive coordinator last season who will also coach the defense this season.
However, having played in the CIF Los Angeles City Section when he was a lineman at Cleveland High School and having coached at Calabasas, St. Genevieve, Harvard-Westlake and Oxnard among others, Maiale brings a fresh face to Canyon and to the Foothill League.
“I think a strength is that I’m an outsider in many ways. My brother was the defensive coordinator here last year and will be this year, but we’re changing what we do defensively. It’s new terminology all over the place, changing the way we do things, the tempo,” Maiale said.
“We still hang on to those Canyon traditions, but it’s a new way of doing things, new expectations, new way of going about everything we do. It’s a learning experience but the shake up I think is exciting for the kids. A fast-paced, fun, get-after-it environment, that’s what we’re looking for.”
According to Maiale, Litz will be the engine that makes the Cowboys go on offense, as the soon-to-be senior steps into his second year as the starting signal-caller.
One of the most naturally gifted athletes on the team, Litz has also been leading by example, hitting the weight room early, watching film constantly and passing on his knowledge to the younger players.
“He’s a clear-cut leader, the team rallies around him, we go as he goes. He’s tough, he motivates his teammates, he helps the younger guys and really sets the bar,” Maiale said of Litz. “It’s been a pleasure to coach him and I’m excited to see how this goes. He’s here early, stays late, watches a ton of film, he’s really getting after it. When the other players see that this is what he does, it brings the level up of everyone else, which is what you’re looking for in a captain and a quarterback.”
“He’s great, he’s one of the best leaders we have out here,” said junior to-be Angel Vasquez, a starting linebacker and backup quarterback to Litz. “He coaches players on both sides of the ball. His play calls are amazing, they are always on time. Sometimes he calls the play before coach even calls the plays. He knows how to lead the team and I’m glad I’m backing him up, I’m learning a lot.”
Last season, Litz found himself on the move early and often, using his feet to escape opposing defenses as they broke through the offensive line.
With a revamped offensive line this year, Litz believes he’ll be able to showcase his skills, both with his arm and his feet, to help lead Canyon to wins.
“I want to be a dual threat athlete,” Litz said. “Especially with this line they could open up some holes so I can get out and also hold them back so I can throw.”
While the start of the season is still a few weeks away, the Cowboys are eager to get going and excited about bringing Canyon football back to prominence.
With Maiale leading a new brand of football, one thing is clear, the Cowboys are going to play hard, fast and have fun while supporting each other on and off the field.
“It’s more about your teammates, the guys you play with. Are they a part of this community, did they get better every week on the field, off the field, are they keeping up with their grades,” Maiale said. “Football is the greatest game because it teaches you how to work through adversity and the importance of working together. And if we can bring that, we’re successful.”