By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
SAN GABRIEL – A few years ago, San Gabriel High School football coach Jude Oliva started a number of sophomores, not out of necessity but because of athletic ability.
Among that group who now are three-year starters are Hunter Garcia, Carlos Purser, Brian Lopez and Alex Villalobos.
Villalobos has stood out the most while earning first-team Star-News All-Area honors as a wide receiver, but Oliva feels the rest of the group can hold their own, too.
That much was clear on Wednesday afternoon at San Gabriel, where the Matadors wrapped up their final day of two-a-day workouts before today’s walk-through and scrimmage at Maranatha at
7 p.m. San Gabriel opens the season at home Sept. 2 against Muir.
Garcia, a 6-foot, 225-pound defensive end, had a strong presence at practice. He muscled his way into the backfield with a strong upper body that allowed him to record eight sacks last year as a junior.
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“He will be one of the better defensive linemen in the (Almont) league,” Oliva said.
Purser is a defensive tackle and Lopez will start on the offensive line at right guard for the third consecutive season. Villalobos is no stranger to the area after an impressive junior year in which he caught 41 passes for 802 yards and eight touchdowns despite alternating quarterbacks.
“We’re hoping that that experience as young players will transition into something great this season,” Oliva said.
San Gabriel will see another group of sophomores begin their paths to perhaps also becoming three-year starters.
Making the biggest impact thus far is Joseph Mayorga, who will start at running back. The 5-5 sophomore has been impressive since the start of camp and has moved to the top of the depth chart. Sophomore Stephen Garcia, Hunter’s brother, will serve as Mayorga’s backup.
Also making an impact during the tail end of fall camp is Maurice Le, who already was on varsity during camp but quickly moved up the depth chart at wide receiver. He’s expected to start opposite Villalobos.
Le also will see time at cornerback.
“This is a team that is super experienced at some positions and super young at others,” Oliva said.
Oliva said he has not decided who will start at quarterback between senior Andy Guerrero and junior Eric Alvarez, both of whom started a handful of games last year.
Oliva, however, informed Guerrero and Alvarez he will name a starter based on how each one performs against Maranatha and will inform them of the decision the following morning during film session.
Regardless of what happens, Oliva said he plans on utilizing each of their talents, such as Guerrero’s speed and Alvarez’s knowledge of the offense and tenacity on defense.
Maranatha and San Gabriel will play its first two quarters live, including full contact minus the quarterbacks. After the two quarters are over, the freshmen and junior varsity will play a quarter, followed by varsity to conclude the night.
It’s unclear, though, if special teams will be full speed or controlled sessions.