Sunkist champ, CIF champ, it’s all the same

Winning the Sunkist League is apparently equivalent to winning a CIF-Southern Section football championship.

Well, at least last year it was.

It was no coincidence that once the Summit High School football team reached the level necessary to win its first league title, its first CIF-SS Eastern Division championship followed a month later. The SkyHawks aren’t carrying 11 years worth of expectations into league play, which begins on Friday. After all, the school has only been around for seven years. But Kaiser coach Phil Zelaya, whose team won 11 consecutive Sunkist League championships prior to last season, doesn’t envy Summit’s position.

“Now everybody probably expects them to win the league again,” Zelaya said. “I know I would. Now we get to be where they were, trying to take down the defending champion.”

Though the Sunkist League has taken on new members this season in Colton, Fontana and Grand Terrace, the league championship will almost certainly be decided when Summit visits Kaiser on Friday.

Kaiser only lost one league game during its run of 11 consecutive league championships until Summit’s 21-7 triumph in the 2011 regular-season finale. The Cats are the only team in the Sunkist League to enter league play with a 5-0 record.

Summit (4-1), which is ranked No. 1 in the CIF-SS Central Division, has suffered only a 21-12 defeat on Aug. 30 to Redlands, the No. 9 team in the Inland Division. The SkyHawks are under new leadership after Tony Barile, coach since the school’s inception, left for Eastvale Roosevelt. Cesar Villalobos, a longtime assistant under Barile, has led the team to 42.8 points per game continuing Summit’s usage of both the double-wing and spread offenses. A defense that returned eight starters from last season has held opponents to just 11.6 points per game.

“I think we’re very similar to last year, especially on defense” Villalobos said. “We’re still trying to get our quarterback into the flow of things, but the offensive line is coming along.”

Kaiser, ranked No. 3 in the Central Division, entered with questions about its offensive line similar to a Summit team that graduated four starters up front. It’s safe to say both offensive fronts have matured quickly. Of course, it’s nice for any offensive line to have a running back duo like Kaiser’s Marquette Washington and Taleeb Isom. The two serve as a perfect compliment to a gritty defense allowing just 11.8 points per game in keeping with Kaiser tradition.

“Did I expect to be at this point? No,” Zelaya said. “At the beginning of preseason I thought this team could have gone in either direction and ended up 4-1 or 1-4. I think our team has grown a lot and I’m happy with where we are.”

Aside from Summit and Kaiser, The rest of the Sunkist League probably isn’t thrilled with where they are. The remaining four teams have a combined record of 1-19.

The lone victory belongs to Fontana, which snapped a 23-game losing streak on the field two weeks ago — the Steelers received one win by forfeit last season. Though new coach Nick Matheny’s record doesn’t reflect an abundance of change, coaches around the Sunkist League insist the Steelers are improved under the former Aquinas coach and Fontana graduate. The Steelers will get a chance to show it as the third automatic playoff berth is clearly up for grabs.

Colton is in a rebuilding phase under coach Chris Mailo, who took over on short notice last season, but the Yellowjackets are just two years removed from a CIF-SS Central Division championship. Colton’s 0-5 record is in part a reflection of what may be the most difficult nonleague schedule of any team in the new Sunkist League.

Bloomington, which also has a new coach in former assistant Marcos Fino, returned just five starters from a team that went winless in league play last season.

Grand Terrace, coached by former Colton coach Harold Strauss, is trying to find its footing in the school’s first year of existence.

PREDICTION
Kaiser 5-0
Summit 4-1
Colton 3-2
Fontana 2-3
Bloomington 1-4
Grand Terrace 0-5