Yucaipa readies for Price era

Yucaipa has been in a bit of a purgatory the last four years, as it has seemed to cluster around the fourth and final playoff spot in the Citrus Belt League. It worked fine from 2006-08, as the Thunderbirds made the playoffs, but Yucaipa finally found itself on the outside looking in last year, missing the postseason for the first time since 2005.

The Thunderbirds have made some changes since then, removing John Hallenbeck as head coach and bringing over Justin Price from Granite Hills. Price comes to Yucaipa after leading Granite Hills to its first winning season in its 11 seasons of existence, as the Cougars went 6-4 last year to beat their previous high-water win mark by two games.

“I’m getting settled in, but I really think this is a school and a community that can thrive,” Price said. “I really like the attitude of the kids in the program and really appreciate the community for embracing us. I think there’s quite a bit of potential here.”
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Jurupa Hills trying to keep it simple in inaugural season

Jurupa Hills coach Edward McMillon spent most of the summer trying to find some sort of stability with his brand-new Jurupa Hills program. Considering that he was dealing with a group of inexperienced freshmen and sophomores and practicing at a junior high, that wasn’t an easy thing to find.

“There’s a lot of stuff you just don’t anticipate that you have to take care of as a new program,” McMillon said. “We were practicing at Southridge Middle School on a field without hashmarks, which was a challenge. You are constantly unwrapping stuff in plastic. It’s different.”

McMillon is invigorated by the task, which is to get a Spartan team that barely has any personnel that can drive legally to compete in a Mountain Valley League schedule with the likes of Rim of the World and Riverside Notre Dame right away. The enormity of that task has the Spartans looking to accomplish simplistic goals.
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Sun Preseason Top 10

Here is my attempt in the wonderfully inexact science of making a preseason poll. We’ll see how it ends up.

1. UPLAND (12-2 last year)
The defending Central Division champions are at the top until they prove otherwise, as the Highlanders return QB Justin Nunes and a array of RBs from last season. Upland loses eight starters on their smothering defense, but Alta Loma transfer Christian Powell should help overcome that.

The Wildcats lose some headliners from last year’s Citrus Belt League championship squad, but REV tends to reload in high numbers. All-CIF CB Josh Armstrong and DT Devon Lewis lead a stingy defense while the Wildcats have the size on the offensive line to help break in the new skill-position players.

3. CHINO HILLS (10-3)
The Huskies return 15 starters, led by all-everything senior DB/WR/RB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, from their Central Division semifinalist team of a year ago. The only real question will be at QB, where Chino Hills will have to replace the steady Ryan Verdugo, but there’s plenty of talent around to help out the new guy.

4. COLTON (10-2)
A banner season for the Yellowjackets was disrupted early by Rancho Cucamonga in the Central quarterfinals last year. The Yellowjackets have plenty of talent, led by LBs Rodney Hardrick and Devan Hussey, to help new coach Rick Bray succeed at his new job. Colton is a prime contender for the Central crown.

5. SERRANO (11-3)
The Diamondbacks lose DE Everett Beed and RB Dionza Bradford from last year’s Eastern Division runner-up, but return loads of experience from last year, including four of their five starters on the offensive line. How well Bradford’s replacements fill his shoes will be key.

6. REDLANDS (9-3)
The Terriers are hungry to get back atop the Citrus Belt League and this club gives them a chance to do that. They return QB Jojo Hernandez and a bevy of wide receivers on offense and have studs on each line in OL Jordan Smith and DT John Siliga, which could be enough to get them past REV.

7. KAISER (9-4)
Like Serrano, the Cats lose their two Division I studs in LB Josh Shirley and RB/DB Anthony Brown but return almost everyone else from their run to the Eastern semifinals. Kaiser has athletes everywhere on defense, with safety Desman Carter and linebacker Dennis Taylor leading the way.

8. CAJON (7-4)
The last time the Cowboys were this loaded, they won the San Andreas League in 2008 and advanced to the Central Division semifinals. Senior QB Thomas Carter, a third-year starter, will be key if the Cowboys hope to repeat the 2008 performance, as will cornerback Demontae Kazee.

A lot of the key cogs that have contributed to the Cougars’ 23-3-1 record over the last two seasons have departed, namely TE Randall Telfer and QB Greg Watson. But Rancho Cucamonga seems to reload with talent, with do-everything senior Sateki Finau providing a key leadership role.

10. SUMMIT (6-6)
The SkyHawks showed a glimpse of their potential in the first round of the playoffs last year, shocking No. 1 seeded Citrus Hill. Summit would like to see that output on a more consistent basis and if they can get elite dual-threat quarterback Devon Blackmon loose, they will.

Just missed the cut: Arroyo Valley (7-4), Rim of the World (10-2), Chaffey (7-5).

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San Gorgonio feeling good about chances

The first year as head coach at San Gorgonio didn’t go swimmingly for Ron Gueringer. The former Corona Centennial head man was given a young team and changed a lot of the philosophies that were in place before, a combination that led to a lackluster 2-8 record. But Gueringer thinks the Spartans will be better off because of their struggles.

“Last year was tough,” Gueringer said. “We had quite a few kids who were reluctant to change, which is something you’ll find sometimes. But I’ve noticed a different attitude. Kids aren’t nearly as reluctant and are buying in.”

With the San Andreas League picking up another playoff spot with the inclusion of Carter and Rialto into the league, Gueringer sees a golden opportunity for the Spartans to sneak in and nab its third playoff spot in five years.
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Preseason Top 25

I know I have a few more high school teams to preview and I’ll finish that up this week, but here is my college top 25.

1. Alabama – Defending national champs are loaded in repeat bid.
2. Ohio State – Buckeyes hope to ride Rose Bowl breakthrough.
3. Florida – No Tebow, but Gators will still have plenty of talent
4. TCU – Horned Frogs loaded for run at national title.
5. Texas – Longhorns lose Colt McCoy, but talent is never an issue
6. Oklahoma – Sooners look to recover from injury-riddled 2009 season
7. Boise State – If Broncos beat Virginia Tech Labor Day night, look out
8. Iowa – Hawkeyes will rely on hard-nosed defense
9. USC – The talent is there, but will the motivation be after being ruled bowl-ineligible?
10. Nebraska – Huskers lose Suh, but will still be stingy.
11. Virginia Tech – Will the Hokies get over the hump and be true national-title contenders?
12. Oregon – Ducks would be a top 5 team if QB Jeremiah Masoli wasn’t kicked off team.
13. Wisconsin – Badgers will rely on physical running game.
14. Miami – Hurricanes will be tested early with Ohio State and Pittsburgh
15. Arkansas – Should be exciting on offense with QB Ryan Mallett
16. Utah – Utes will get one more crack at the Mountain West before going to the Pac-12
17. Pittsburgh – Panthers play big early-season game at Utah Thursday
18. Auburn – Tigers looking to make big step under second-year coach Gene Chizik
19. Georgia – Can Bulldogs get out of rut and challenge for the SEC East?
20. Florida State – Seminoles need to improve defensively to contend in ACC
21. West Virginia – Mountaineers will rely on exciting RB Noel Devine
22. Houston – If Cougars can stop anyone, their offense could take them to the BCS
23. Georgia Tech – Defending ACC champs tough matchup with triple-option offense
24. Washington – REV graduate Polk, QB Locker lead this Pac-10 sleeper.
25. North Carolina – Tough choice between Heels and LSU. Luckily they play Saturday.

Under consideration: LSU, Arizona, Penn State

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Late addition gives Arroyo Valley momentum

Arroyo Valley football coach Marcus Soward was feeling pretty high on his team’s chances a couple of weeks now. After star quarterback Michael Yearwood returned earlier this week, he’s ecstatic.

“We are really excited to have Michael back,” Soward said. “I thought we had a good team without him but when you can bring a guy like him back, it just opens up a lot of doors.”

It’s hard to blame Soward for being giddy. Yearwood was a force for Arroyo Valley last year as a junior transfer from Los Angeles University High School, passing for 2,306 yards and 20 touchdowns while running for another 1,127 yards and 16 scores. He transferred back to University in the spring to help attend to an ailing grandmother in Los Angeles before coming back.
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Redlands eager to win back the Smudge Pot

Redlands High School football coach Jim Walker, entering his 20th year at the school, has never been once to mince words. So his bluntness when asked about what his team needed to do to win its first Citrus Belt League title since 2006 was hardly surprising.

“REV is the champion and everyone in the league has to go through them,” Redlands coach Jim Walker said. “We know that to get where we want to be, we have to beat REV. We stress that all the time.”

Redlands hasn’t beaten its crosstown rival since that CBL championship season of 2006, losing a showdown of league undefeateds 37-7 last year. But with several key starters returning from last year’s team, the Terriers are confident in their ability to bring the Smudge Pot back to Redlands High School.
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Miller on the same page

Jeff Strycula’s first year at Miller was what you would call awkward. Hired in late May after spring football practice after Jeff Steinberg took the job at Corona Santiago, Strycula never felt comfortable with his veteran team, a team that had come off a Citrus Belt League title the year before.

“I never really felt that it was my team last year,” Strycula said. “I came in late and I don’t think there was much unity last year. I feel a lot comfortable right now – I feel like the program is completely in my control. I feel like there’s more of a team concept this year, that everyone is on the same page.”

Miller was up and down last year, losing its first three non-league games before running through four straight wins in Citrus Belt League and taking a 27-7 halftime lead over Rebels. The Rebels then ran out of gas, blowing the 20-point lead to the Terriers and two of their final three games.
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Bray leading the way for Colton

On the surface, it won’t seem like much has changed as far as Colton High School football is concerned. The Yellowjackets will still run their double-wing offense, using a physical running game and an assortment of athletic playmakers on defense to great success. But they’ll have a new guy overseeing that.

Longtime assistant Rick Bray, who has served as an assistant at Colton 21 of the last 25 season – the last 11 with Harold Strauss, is the new guy in charge of the Yellowjackets, taking the place of the legendary coach in the spring. And while Strauss – who is now concentrating full-time on his role as Colton’s athletic director – will not be on the sideline, his influence will remain.

“I’m not going to change much, because there’s really not much to be changed,” Bray said. “Things worked pretty well here. We’ll do some tinkering here and there, but Harold had this running pretty well.”
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San Bernardino ready to make noise

Nick Monica has had some athletes in his three years at San Bernardino High School in the likes of San Diego State signee Aarein Booker and All-Sun first-team wide receiver Vanzell Richardson. But he feels that Khleem Perkins might be the best of the bunch, as the 6-foot-4, 180-pound sophomore quarterback made the MaxPreps.com 2013 players to watch and is already receiving recruiting interest.

“We have schools around here that we’ve never seen before,” Monica said. “Penn State, Michigan State, UConn, they’ve all been by to see this kid and he’s only going to be a sophomore. We are excited about his potential and can’t wait to see what he’s capable of doing.”

Monica’s enthusiasm goes beyond just Perkins though. The Cardinals are coming off a fourth-place finish in the San Andreas League last season – their best showing under Monica – and have increased numbers of players out. Plus Monica believes that being in the fourth year of the system is paying off as well.
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