By Yovany Moreno
Many weeks before the summer break ended and the fall semester began, Coach Phil Ferigno at Abraham Lincoln High School in the Sunset District had the players preparing for the 2022-23 season; the student-athletes had already set up the barbells in the parking lot to get the weight training of football camp underway.
The Lincoln Mustangs have had notable success in recent years. For the 2018-19 season, the Mustangs went undefeated and won the CIF State Championship Bowl game for Division 7A. The following year was not as flawless as the previous one, but Lincoln still prevailed and became back-to-back state champs. Despite the season being canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mustangs regained momentum and were right back in the city championship in 2021 against the Balboa Buccaneers.
Even though the Bucs bested the Mustangs and ended their hopes of winning another championship, it is important to note that it was the only defeat in the league for Lincoln within the last three playable seasons. From 2018 to 2021, the Mustangs earned an impressive 19-1 record in league play and an overall record of 33-6.
Yet, there is something records do not show. Ferigno explained what it took to accomplish this feat: He simplified it into three letters, “The Three Ds – Dedication, Discipline and Desire.”
Once a self-described “city kid” himself, Ferigno grew up in the Sunset District on 43rd Avenue and Ulloa Street. Sharing the same community as his players allows him to connect with players on a deeper level.
“I love dealing with imperfections because nobody is perfect,” he said. “All these other high-level things that when you look at them you think they look so good and they have all this talent, but that’s not what it’s about. Our kids have challenges at home. They have challenges in this environment, and I love that we are able to give them stability and show them the way.”
Bringing his 20 years of experience and a team of coaches who support the adolescents, Ferigno said the Mustangs are coming into the 2022-23 season with a strong foundation.
“It’s all about brotherhood,” he said. “What one can do for another. Play as a team and remember, it’s a process. Don’t worry too much about results right away. Because, if we just worry about what we do every day, the results will be fine.”
Ferigno also sheds light on the underlying principle of dedication.
“The back-to-back seasons happened because of players that committed to the program,” he said. “There were returning players that were there as freshmen and bought into the system and learned the system.”
Two returning players who who are well versed in those systems are senior Ricky Underwood (cornerback/running back), and sophomore Gabriel Tato (nose guard/left guard). With their experience, Lincoln started the season with a positive outlook.
As practice begins, the impact the two student-athletes have had on their team is evident. Tato – standing at 6 feet 2 inches and weighing 290 pounds – distracts the quarterback with size and stance. Meanwhile, Underwood locks in on the wide receiver and almost intercepts the pass. With his sharp play-reading ability and athleticism, it is no wonder how he got a pick-six (an interception returned for a touchdown) versus El Camino last year. Together they are a force to be reckoned with.
Underwood, at 5-feet, 11-inches tall and weighing 180 pounds, also demonstrates the leadership skills he has developed.
“I am looking forward to putting in the work,” he said. “I can’t wait to get back on the field and back to where we were.”
Standing next to Underwood is Tato, whose size is paired with a resilient mindset.
“Our goal is to play harder than last year,” Tato said.
Tato said he wants the team to, “practice every day, get better every day.”
Underwood then commented on the vision for the varsity squad.
“We need to get stronger as a team,” he said “The plan is to win a championship, and in order for that to happen, we need to make every day count.”
Having fully adopted the coach’s philosophy, it is clear the sport helps shape character, and that the Mustangs are ready this season with a strong foundation.
Lincoln kicked off the 2022-23 season in a non-league battle at home versus the Jefferson Grizzlies on Friday, Aug. 26. Lincoln beat Jefferson 43-14. Highlights for Ricky Underwood include scoring three of the six Mustang touchdowns. He had 12 carries for 99 yards, and a punt return for 55.
The next home game will be on Saturday, Sept. 10 at 2 p.m. versus El Camino Colts.
For schedule information, go to maxpreps.com.