Bloomington looks to take the next step

It was a tumultuous offseason for Bloomington head coach Tom Conner, who suffered a heart attack in March while playing pickup basketball. The 35-year old Conner has spent the offseason recovering and changing his diet and is feeling a lot better as he embarks on his third season in charge of the Bruins.

“Life is great right now,” Conner said. “The doctor has cleared me to resume working out and physical activities and I’ve been working real hard to stay healthy. I’m just excited to be back out there and get this season going.”

Along with his improving health, Conner is getting excitement from a Bruins team that returns 10 starters and several other contributors from last year’s team. After painful 2-8 and 3-7 seasons in adjusting from Don Markham’s double-wing offense and 30-man roster to a spread offense and a roster that is roughly 20 players bigger, Conner thinks that this year will be the one where Bloomington makes a leap.

“You can tell that we are in year three and everyone is completely comfortable,” Conner said. “I feel a really good vibe coming from this team. The guys are familiar with what we want to do and we feel that we are ready to step up to the next level.”

Conner’s confidence comes from a grab bag of skill-position players and offensive linemen who received a great deal of playing time a year ago. The Bruins return both their starting running back in senior Ed Randolph (5-8, 185) and their quarterback in Josh Gutierrez (5-10, 175). Randolph ran for 752 yards and five touchdowns last year on only 71 carries while Gutierrez threw 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns, completing 53.7 percent of his passes.

Gutierrez will have plenty of guys to throw to, with juniors Ezekiel Herndon (6-0, 170) and Demetrius Moore (6-3, 215) leading the way. The Bruins also return four players with varsity experience on the offensive line in seniors Daniel Arguelles (6-5, 275), Chris Lavender (6-1, 260) and Freddy Flores (5-11, 260) and sophomore Napoleon Taufema (6-2, 270).

Bloomington returns six starters on defense, with guys like Lavender, Taufema and Moore pulling double duty. Conner is high on a linebacking corp that returns senior Josh Allmond (5-9, 215) – whose older brother Jayson is a fullback at UCLA – and juniors Dontae Woods (5-10, 190) and Johnta Carter (5-7, 200). Senior Alex Cruz (5-10, 165) will get time at cornerback.

Bloomington schedule (Home games in CAPS, * indicates league game)

Sept. 10 – BANNING
Sept. 17 – at Eisenhower
Sept. 24 – at Colton
Oct. 1 – at Fontana
Oct. 8 – MENIFEE PALOMA VALLEY
Oct. 14 – at Norte Vista*
Oct. 22 – SUMMIT*
Oct. 29 – PATRIOT*
Nov. 5 – at Jurupa Valley*
Nov. 11 – KAISER*