Last year the Upland High School football team boasted 10 or so Division I recruits, many of whom went on the high profile college programs.
The Highlanders don’t have quite the star power this season but veteran head coach Tim Salter thinks his team is capable of adding to a streak of four straight Baseline League titles.
“We had guys most people didn’t know but they had to play at a high speed to keep with those guys in practice,” he said. “We had very competitive practices and we’re counting on those to have gotten these guys ready to play.”
Among the departed is quarterback Tyler Hilinski, now at Washington State.
Junior Andrew Harrison has inherited the job after being relegated to backup duty last year. The biggest difference is that he is much smaller in stature than his predecessor.
Of course your chances are always pretty good when one of your returning players is Nathan Tilford. The versatile junior focused on playing running back last year because the Highlanders didn’t need him on defense with so many other players. But Salter said he will see time there this season.
The are in which there are the most returners is in the wide receiving core with Joseph Jones, Joseph Ayala and Grant Porter all returning. Porter recently committed to Washington State. Jones and Ayala can also see time in the secondary.
Upland has never had a lot of players going both ways but Salter said that with 20 players having graduated, he’ll be experimenting with players at multiple positions, at least through non-league play.
Other key players on offense are senior Raymond Matelau, the team’s most experience lineman, as well as Tavoi Hoching, perhaps the most versatile player on the squad. Salter also singled out junior wide receiver Gary Theard, who the coach says had a good spring.
On the defensive side, senior lineman Kelon Ferdinand is the top returner. Other key players are linebackers Cole McCarty, Semisi Pahulu and Sione Piutau.
Senior Isikeli Otuafo may see time in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
A couple of siblings who could be contributors. Corners Jacob Tilford, younger brother of Nathan, and Jordan Porter, brother of Grant will push for playing time. Both are juniors.
Upland opens the season on Aug. 28 at Palmdale Knight, an opponent it pummeled pretty good last season. But the Highlanders do boast top notch foes in non-league play such as Mater Dei, Venice and Tesoso.
“I don’t think you can be ready to play in our league unless you see teams of this caliber first,” he said. “You have to play those games at a high speed. You don’t want a high speed game for the first time when’ you’re just getting to league play.”