You don’t necessarily have to win a league title to make a run deep into the playoffs. The Rancho Cucamonga Cougars are proof of that. They were only third in the Baseline last year but marched to the West Valley semifinal before losing a 5, yes 5, overtime game to Vista Murrieta.
Rancho looms as the Baseline League favorite this year though, returning a large group of players who were part of that playoff run.
“I like what we have,” Rancho coach Nick Baiz said. “We have some holes to fill, just like everybody else but we could be pretty good.”
Most of the voids though are at the skill positions. Junior Nick Acosta steps in as quarterback,. replacing Angel Matute who had held down that spot for three years. Leading rusher Aaron Manning is gone too. Senior Jaylon Redd, known more for his exploits on defense, will see time in Manning’s spot.
Other key players on offense will include senior center Brandon Watson, senior guard Jordyn Hill and senior wide receivers David Farmer and Tyree Baker.
Newcomers who should factor in up front are junior tackle Isaiah Alejo and senior guard Nick Parson Santiago, both up from the junior varsity.
Senior defensive Thomas Graham, like Redd, will, see time on offense at wide receiver.
It is on the other side of the ball where the Cougars return a scary amount of talent. The secondary of Redd, Graham, Tayari Venable and Darren Hall has combined to land 60 or so Division I offers.
Baiz is also high on Farmer and Aaron Lewis who also star in the secondary. Other key defenders are senior ends Jonah Latu and Donnel Harris, tackles Lavaka Latu and Jonathan Meza and senior lineman-linebacker Dylan Beridon.
The Cougars enter the new season with the target on their back. But Baiz says his squad is up for the challenge. The Cougars will play at Temecula Chaparral tonight. They’ll return home next week against Norco to mark the first game in their new on-campus facility.
“We have a lot of seniors and I think they like the challenge,” Baiz said of being the team with the target. “I think they’ll go out and want to prove their the team to beat.”