The resumes in the new Sunkist League include a 2011 CIF championship, a 2010 CIF championship, 11 consecutive league titles and even a mythical national championship. There is no shortage of winning pedigree, but there are only so many wins to go around now that Colton, Fontana and Grand Terrace have joined Summit, Kaiser and Bloomington this year.
Entering just its seventh season of existence, Summit has been to consecutive CIF-SS Eastern Division championship games, winning the first title in school history last season. But the SkyHawks didn’t win their first Sunkist League championship until last season courtesy of an unprecedented 11-year run of league titles by stalwart Kaiser.
Added to the mix is a Colton program that won a CIF-SS Central Division championship just two years ago. There is, however, a disproportionate amount of uncertainty surrounding these programs despite their winning traditions.
Colton enters the league coming off a three-win season in its first under head coach Chris Mailo. Fontana, a program that once achieved legendary status – including a mythical national championship in 1987 – has been on the decline for more than a decade but enters this season under the leadership of promising new coach Nick Matheny. After eight successful years at Aquinas, the Fontana graduate returns to the program from which he graduated in 2002 with hopes of restoring its former glory.
Grand Terrace, which was still waiting for its weight room to be constructed when practice began, is coached by the man who led Colton to much of its success, Harold Strauss. While the brand new program is a few years away by all accounts, it could be a factor sooner than expected. Bloomington also enters this season with a new coach after freshman coach Marcos Fino was promoted in the offseason.
Even Summit will employ a new coach after Tony Barile departed for Eastvale Roosevelt following the CIF championship. Cesar Villalobos, an assistant under Barile since the inception of the program, takes over this season.
“I look at the people leading these teams,” Kaiser coach Phil Zelaya said, “and they have all been around the block more than once.”
While most have converted to the pass-happy spread offense, the Sunkist League remains old school in its philosophy. Smash-mouth defense is the league’s calling card and the offensive philosophies aren’t much less physical.
Summit, which does have spread packages, will rely on the double-wing ground attack that Colton successfully employed for years. The SkyHawks return eight starters from a defense that had a school-record six shutouts in 2011. Summit is replacing its quarterback, leading receiver and two leading rushers, but uncertainty surrounds an offensive line that graduated four starters.
“The offensive line is most definitely the question mark for us,” Villalobos said. “We’ll go as far as they take us.”
Conversely, Kaiser returns most of its skill position players, including running backs Taleeb Isom and Marqette Washington. Defense has never been much of a concern for the Cats, who allowed just eight points per game in league play last year. The linebacking corps of Anthony Saenz, Kevin Trujillo and Washington hope to lead Kaiser back to the top of the league after finishing an unfamiliar second place last season.
Colton returns four starters on each side of the ball in an effort to regroup after last season’s disappointment attributed in part to Mailo taking over during the season.
“We’re the new kids on the block in this league,” Mailo said. “But I think we could finish anywhere from first to third.”
Fontana is coming off a two-year stretch that produced a 1-19 record, leaving much rebuilding to be done. Matheny isn’t using the recent history to create a timetable for the Steelers, rather, he is instituting a simple run-first, hard-nosed defensive formula for Fontana that resembles the one when he played there.
“We’re not saying we’re shooting for next year or three years from now,” Matheny said. “We want to make good things happen right now.”
With a total of 50 players out for football, Bloomington has a ways to go, but Fino is hoping to build with five returning starters.
Grand Terrace doesn’t have any returning starters — or seniors, for that matter — but it launches its program with some talent in the fold.
“This is a great football league,” Strauss said. “It’s got a lot of programs that know how to win.”
Coach: Marcos Fino
Year, record at school: First year
2011 record: 4-6 (0-5)
Key returnees: Francisco Vega, OL, 6-0, 240, Sr.; Justin Allan, OL, 6-0, 255, Sr.; Ernesto Rivas, RB/LB, 5-11, 205, Jr.; Nicholas Coleman, WR/DB, 5-8, 165, Sr.; Raymond Franco, TE/DL, 6-4, 265, Jr.; Charles Castro, WR/DB, 6-1, 170, Jr.
Keys to success: The Bruins are replacing virtually every one of its skill players after graduating a large group of seniors last season. With only 50 total players between varsity and junior varsity, Bloomington will have to make the most of a small group this season.
Coach: Chris Mailo
Year, record at school: Second year, 3-7
2011 record: 3-7 (3-4)
Last playoff berth: 2010, def. Colony 54-13; def. Palm Springs 35-14; def. Cajon, 42-41 (OT); def. Moreno Valley Rancho Verde 17-7 in the CIF-SS Central Division championship game.
Key returnees: Jordan Ah’honi, RB, 5-10, 185, Sr.; Jordan Huesca, TE/LB, 6-3, 230, Jr.; Napoleon Taufahema, OL, 6-3, 320, Sr.; Emmanuel Cardenas, DB, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Jason Taylor, WR/DB, 6-1, 180, Jr.; Daniel Pugh, WR, 6-3, 205, Sr.
Key to success: Colton will have to be road warriors this season as it retains games with the top three teams from last year’s San Andreas League, all of which are on the road. It’s games against both defending CIF champ Summit and Kaiser, the team that won the Sunkist League the previous 11 years, are also on the road.
Coach: Nick Matheny
Year, record at school: First year
2011 record: 1-9 (0-5)
Last playoff berth: 2003, lost to Fountain Valley in the CIF first round.
Key returnees: Robert Leonhardt, OL/LB, 6-0, 195, Jr.; Joseph Luna, QB, 5-8, 170, Sr.; Paul Nuniz, RB/DB, 5-8, 175, Sr.; Garrett Lino, LB/TE, 5-11, 205, Jr.; J.P. MacClarney, RB/DB, 5-7, 170, Jr.; Eric Swink, RB/LB, 5-11, 180, Sr.
Key to success: Fontana is hoping successful Aquinas coach Nick Matheny, a Fontana graduate who took over the program this summer, is what a program that has produced one win in the last two years combined, needs to change the culture. Matheny hopes to instill the values that made Fontana a great program when he played there.
Coach: Phil Zelaya
Year, record at school: Fourth year, 28-9
2011 record: 8-4 (4-1)
Last playoff berth: 2011, def. San Jacinto 37-19; lost 42-14 to to Menifee Heritage in CIF-SS Eastern quarterfinals.
Key returnees: Anthony Saenz, TE/LB, 6-1, 230, Sr.; Kevin Trujillo, OL/LB, 5-11, 230, Sr.; Taleeb Isom, RB, 6-0, 195, Sr.; Marqette Washington, RB/LB, 5-11, 210, Sr.; Desmond Ferrara, WR/DB, 5-9, 200, Sr.; Stephen Restrpo, OL, 6-1, 245, Sr.
Key to success: Defense has never been a problem for Kaiser and most all of the skill players return, but how well the Cats replacing three offensive linemen on a unit that is the driving force for its ground-oriented offense may be the key to this season.
Coach: Cesar Villalobos
Year, record at school: First year
2011 record: 13-1 (5-0)
Last playoff berth: 2011, def. Menifee Paloma Valley 26-18, def. Silverado 42-10; def. Serrano 35-0, def. Menifee Heritage 24-17 in CIF-SS Eastern Division championship game.
Key returnees: Justin Strong, RB/DB, 5-10, 185, Sr.; Tarik Myles, RB, 5-8, 165, Sr.; Keenan Sykes, TE/DL, 6-2, 270, Sr.; Charles Okonkwo, DB, 6-1, 170, Sr.; Cody Pantages, LB, 5-10, 230, Sr.; Daris Goss, DL, 6-4, 200, Sr.; Erik Brown, WR, 6-2, 180, Jr.
Key to success: Defense doesn’t figure to be a concern with eight starters returning from a CIF-championship unit that had six shutouts last season. Putting points on the board will be the test for a Summit team replacing its quarterback, two leading rushers and leading receiver.