Alta Loma’s Isac Velasquez scores a touchdown last season in non-league game against Fontana.
Alta Loma was one of those schools that experienced some growing pains under a new coach last season. Mark Pasquarella wasn’t pleased with the Braves 4-6 showing but says his team is light years ahead of where it was at this time last year.
“We were really young last year,” Pasquarella said. “With so many kids coming back we’re really looking for a better finish. We believe in what we’re doing. It’s just a matter of changing the culture and getting the kids to believe they can win.”
Of course defending champion Colony looms as the Mt. Baldy League favorite but there should be quite the battle for the other two playoff spots with the Braves in the mix.
Among the players returning are quarterbacks James Josiah and Garrett Kettle, junior and senior respectively. Josiah saw considerable playing time last year with Kettle slowed by an elbow injury that never quite healed. Pasquarella said the job is up for grabs.
The strength of the team is likely to be the offensive line which boasts several returning starters. Pasquarella hopes that factor results in a more consistent showing by the offense which struggled at times last year.
Among the veterans up front are senior center Nick Gannuscio, senior tackle Angel Castellanos, junior guards Dylan Vanderkallen and Alex Bermudez and senior tight end Ryan Twist.
The Braves have always favored a balanced offense with multiple receivers and ball carriers and that will again be the case. Junior Isac Velasquez is a threat from a running and receiving.
Others coming out of the backfield include junior Christian Palmer, senior Jeremiah Goss.
“We need to move the ball more consistently,” Pasquarella said. “There were some times last year when we asked way too much of the defense. They were on the field a lot and that always gets you in trouble.”
Many of the same faces that will contribute on offense will do so on defense as well – Twist at defensive end and Velasquez playing some defensive back. Others will include junior nose tackle Kingston Toki, senior linebacker Michael Sanchez and junior linebacker David Bustamonte. Standouts in the secondary should include junior Jerry Valencia and seniors Ryan Pun and Kaedo Baynham.
The cast of promising newcomers is led by junior Joe Castillo, who will play in a lot of spots and senior receiver-corner Kenyon Johnson who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Pasquerella is also counting on junior defensive lineman Ira Thomas and senior defensive end Joshua Abrams.
There has been a major coaching change as Jeff Kettle, father of the quarterback, is in as defensive coordinator. He is a graduate of the school.
The Braves open the new season at home on Aug. 26 against Diamond Bar. It will mark the first home game for Alta Loma, which like many other schools in the Chaffey Joint Unified School District, will be breaking in new stadiums.
Alta Loma had primarily used Chaffey as a home field and was relegated to a lot of Thursday night games.
“Our guys are very excited to be able to play a home game,” Pasquarella said. “I felt sorry for our seniors having to watch it get built and not being able to play on it. But this is great for our kids and the community.”