Above: Rio Hondo Prep’s Jake Holguin, left, and Colby Rivera have helped the Kares reach Saturday night’s CIF-SS Northeast Division title game.
By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
ARCADIA – The last time Rio Hondo Prep produced a Division I college football player was in 2004 when Landon Goodwell signed with UTEP.
Who’s to say the Kares can’t do it again, maybe even twice in the same year.
It’s a common misperception that Rio Hondo Prep, with its small school size (99), doesn’t have the athletes, size, speed and athleticism to produce players at the next level.
Meet Colby Rivera and Jake Holguin, the next tandem who could put Rio Hondo Prep on the map. They’ve done their part so far, leading the supposedly rebuilding Kares (12-1) to the CIF-Southern Section Northeast Division championship game against visiting Desert Christian (11-2) of Lancaster on Saturday at 7 p.m.
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Rivera is a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior quarterback who has added more offensive responsibility this season with the departure of two 1,000-yard running backs.
Good vision, a strong arm and confidence is how Rivera’s posted an impressive season. He’s passed for 1,246 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He’s also rushed for eight TDs.
Holguin is a 6-3, 196-pound junior wide receiver who commands attention from defensive backs because of his size, speed and agility. He’s proven that even with double coverage he can wreak havoc, and linebackers trying to deliver bruising tackles don’t stand a chance. Holguin is the epitome of toughness. He knows from experience having, for the second time, taken a bone-crushing line drive to the face while playing baseball. The first time came when he was 9.
Holguin was pitching for the Kares’ baseball team this past season when during the fifth inning against Webb was struck on the right side of his jaw. The game was stopped while Holguin gathered himself. He drank some water, took a breather and proceeded to finish the inning.
In the middle of the inning, Holguin’s jaw began to swell. A hospital visit later revealed a broken jaw that required 12 stitches. He was confined to liquids for eight weeks, and he lost 18 pounds the first week alone and a total of 35 pounds in an eight-week span. Holguin spent the summer working himself back into shape.
Rio Hondo Prep coach Ken Drain has seen his share of special players in his 11 years as head coach and 22 years on staff. But Landon Goodwell, a 6-2, 230-pounder who ran a 4.6 40-yard dash, ranks high after setting the school’s all-time career rushing mark of 4,514 yards. He rushed for 2,163 yards as a senior, leading the Kares to their first CIF-SS title game in 2004, one year after moving up to 11-man football.
Rivera and Holguin are just a few of the handful of players at Rio Hondo Prep who are the prototypical fit. Ryan Wiley is a 6-foot-6 junior cornerback with a team-leading six interceptions. Senior lineman Javier Rodriguez is a massive 6-4, 280 pounds and Dave Drain, a junior, is 6-3, 235 pounds.
The talent and size isn’t limited to Rio Hondo Prep. In that four-year span, Flintridge Prep’s Ramses Barden was a man among children. The 6-6, 220-pounder led the Rebels to a Division XIII title in 2003. After a stellar career at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Barden in 2009 was drafted in the third round by the New York Giants.
Drain is the first to be honest when a scouting service calls asking about potential players.
“If we have players with potential, we do, and if we don’t then we don’t,” Drain says. “I think they have potential. At the very least they’re Division II athletes, for sure.”
Does Rivera have the quick release colleges look for, and does Holguin have the speed to hang at the Division I level?
That’s left to be answered, but the upside is Rivera and Holguin are juniors with a year left to hone their skills. Holguin is drawing interest from Oregon, Iowa State and Northern Arizona. Rivera hopes to join Holguin at combine workouts next year when their college decision gains momentum.
For now, they’re focused on Saturday.
Rivera credits his success to time in the pocket that has allowed him to go through his progressions, and while the Kares revamped their offense to make way for a new group filling vacant positions with starting roles, it was an established group that has made the biggest difference this season.
“We didn’t have to rebuild our offensive line,” Rivera points out. “They’ve done a great job of holding things up front, giving me time to find Jake open.”
Juniors Rico Perez and Sebby Rosales and sophomore Zack Stiver round out the productive offensive line.
Rivera and Holguin were freshmen when Rio Hondo Prep was in the finals two years ago, losing to Linfield Christian on a cold and rain-soaked night at Covina District Field. Holguin saw limited time while Rivera was sidelined because of a broken wrist.
With a return to the finals, it’s time for redemption. Holguin is quick to point out that the Kares must remain mentally focused if they are to bring their first title since 2008.
Desert Christian is led by running backs Kiel Alcaraz (1,286 yards and 18 touchdowns) and Chance Gusbeth (1,261 yards and 13 touchdowns), the tandem considered the fastest players in the division.
Rio Hondo Prep’s strength has always been game preparedness, and it shows.
“They’re a run-based team,” Rivera said. “Our discipline will make up for their team speed. I know they’re the first team we’re facing that runs a zone, but we have plays for a Cover 3 and I can call audibles for Cover 2.