Yucaipa looks to get out of rut

Yucaipa has made the Inland Division playoffs the last three seasons, the second-longest streak in the Citrus Belt League behind Redlands East Valley. But despite that, the Thunderbirds have yet to make any real in-roads toward a CBL title or a playoff run.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the Thunderbirds finished fourth in 2006, third in 2007 and fourth again last year, forcing them to go head-to-head with Vista Murrieta twice and Corona Centennial last year. As you would think, there isn’t much upside to playing teams of that quality in the first round.

But if Yucaipa hopes to avoid the Centennials of the world, it will have to emerge from the third/fourth-place position that it has cemented itself in. But with teams like Redlands East Valley, Miller and Redlands around, along with a returning team that is inexperienced in key positions, this might not be the year for John Hallenbeck’s squad to accomplish that.

Yucaipa’s strength lies in its backfield. Although quarterback Harrison Stewart, who would have competed with returning starter Wyatt Padgett for snaps, transferred to Upland, Padgett has definitely the experience and moxie necessary to produce for the Thunderbirds. He also will have a nice 1-2 punch at running back to complement him in juniors Dyllan Malone and Tyler Swinford.

Yucaipa has also been strong along the lines the past few years, with guys like Nik Embernate (offensive line) and Rex Meikel (defensive line) serving as anchors the last two years. The Thunderbirds are batting .500 at those positions, as they have quite a few offensive linemen coming back but find themselves having to rely on untested sophomores in the defensive front.

The entire defense will be a work in progress and probably the biggest reason why Yucaipa isn’t likely to emerge into the top two this year. Only two starters remain from last year – middle linebacker Curtis Clennon and defensive back Brian Derryberry.- and youth will be counted on to fill the remaining gaps. Quick learning may help, but Yucaipa will likely be in that fourth-place position again.

Yucaipa’s schedule (Home games in CAPS, league games with *)

Sept. 18 – at San Bernardino
Sept. 25 – at San Gorgonio
Oct. 2 – at Rialto*
Oct. 16 – MILLER*
Oct. 23 – at Redlands*
Oct. 30 – FONTANA*
Nov. 6 – at Eisenhower*
Nov. 13 – CARTER*

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