In his fourth season with the Costa Mesa High boys' soccer team, Franco Ramirez is playing for his third coach. That much turnover can make it hard for an experienced player to connect with someone new in charge.
For Ramirez and his latest coach, Amos Hernandez, that hasn't been the case at all.
The two relate to each other, respect each other and are fond of each other, on and off the field. They know what's necessary to succeed in a sport the Mustangs haven't achieved much in the past 10 seasons.
Without a strong work ethic, both agree the team stands no chance. Ramirez didn't learn how to work hard by playing soccer. Hernandez didn't learn by coaching soccer.
They thank their mothers for setting the right example.
While Ramirez and Hernandez are on the field on a daily basis with their team, their mothers clean houses. Carmen Ramirez and Mercedes Flores clean houses for a living and they're the moms who push their sons to strive.
"It inspires me because that's [hard work, cleaning houses]," said Ramirez, adding that his mother immigrated to this country from Mexico to give her son a better opportunity.
The vision is the same one Flores had for Hernandez.
The player and coach's family stories are similar. They use what their mothers have instilled in them to fuel Costa Mesa in practice and in matches. It's working so far, as the Mustangs are unbeaten in Orange Coast League play at 1-0-2.
They are competing unlike any other team Ramirez said he has been a part of at the school. The potential to do well, Ramirez said, has been there in his previous three seasons.
The new coach figured out what was missing.
"I just thought that they lacked organization, that they lacked a little bit of leadership, somebody to really bring the program together," said Hernandez, whose coaching background is mostly on the club level, with the Newport Mesa Soccer Club. "One of the things that I wanted to do was, where I played high school, [at Lakewood from 1996-99], the program that I came from, it was an organized program, it had a proper booster club, the parents were involved, and that's what I want to bring to the table here."
Signs of the program heading in the right direction are evident. The Mustangs have a senior to lead in the field of play and someone to lead from the sideline.
The start to Hernandez's debut as a varsity head coach wasn't ideal. The team lost its first three matches, never scoring a goal. Then after Costa Mesa won for the first time, it lost four allowable contests because it was on probation.
Four nonleague matches is all the Mustangs played before last week's Orange Coast League opener.
Through it all, Hernandez has stayed positive. He knew what he was getting into after the Mustangs were placed on probation for piling up too many red cards last season, violating a CIF Southern Section rule.
Last season was one Ramirez would like to forget because there was no discipline, but he cannot, he said. He worked hard to get ready for that junior season after he suffered a serious ankle injury as a sophomore.
All the work Ramirez did to get back, the 5 a.m. workout sessions to strengthen his left ankle and the physical therapy, didn't result in many wins in league for the Mustangs. They finished 3-6-1, good for fifth place, and missed the playoffs.
"My junior year was pretty bad [under Coach Juan Becerra], because I was coached [by Alex] Cordoba [my first] two years [at Costa Mesa]," said Ramirez, who was sidelined for much of Cordoba's final season with the Mustangs in 2010-11, when they reached the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
"I had to get used to new coaching. Becerra, as a person, he's a great guy. But as a coach, he was really young, 22 years old. During practices, it was pretty much players coaching players."