Antoine Paul looks for running room in game last season against Montclair. He is one of the top returning players for the Jaguars.
The Ontario football program has made progress in the last two years under veteran coach John Kusleika. Well this will be his third year and he thinks it’s finally time to really turn the corner and at least contend for a playoff berth.
The Jaguars, 5-5 overall but just 1-4 in Mt. Baldy League play, head into the season with reason to be optimistic. Their showing in 2015 marked a three-game improvement in the win column over 2014 and they have 12 returning starters.
Then there is the opening of a new on-campus stadium so the varsity will be playing actual home games for the first time in school history.
“You set goals and you have to be realistic,” Kusleika said. “When you look at where we have been it’s tough to go out on a limb and say we want to challenge for a league title. It is more realistic to say if all goes well we have a shot at making the playoffs. We would be happy with that. Not necessarily satisfied – but it would show we’re making progress.”
Among the returning starters on offense is junior Antoine Paul, one of the team’s three backs last year. He improved over the course of last season and was a pivotal factor bu the end of the season. With the departure of the top two ball carriers, he will shoulder more of the load this fall.
Others include guard Abel Estrada, tackle Osvaldo Diaz, running back Gianni Oquendo and running back Sheldon Osborne, all seniors.
The defense will be led by ends Justin Anaya and Omar De La Rosa, tackle Michael Ruiz, middle linebacker Dominick Avendano, linebacker-strong safety Justin Fineberg and free safety Hugo Yerena with Paul and Osborne also likely seeing time on defense.
“We’re farther ahead than we were at this time last year just because of the number of starters we have back,” Kusleika added. “Last year we only had a few.”
Kusleika’s concern is up the middle as he graduate a quarterback, a fullback and a center. The Jaguars won’t change what they do and that means someone will have a tall order in replacing Cameron Poe, who wasn’t a threat throwing the ball but was dangerous as a ball carrier.
There is a battle brewing for that spot with the candidates being Luis Rivera and Aaron Delgado. Both are juniors. Rivera was a linebacker last season while Delgado was Poe’s backup and also started for a freshman team that went 7-3 two years ago.
Other players on whom a lot is expected include junior fullback David Acuna, sophomore wide receiver Ricardo Soto, junior linemen Luis Garcia and Anthony Gil, junior middle linebacker Chris Uribe, senior center Raul Medina and junior defensive lineman Luis Melchor.
The Jaguars make their debut on Aug. 26 on that new home field against Ontario Christian.