Rim of the World equipped itself nicely in the Mojave River League, making the playoffs seven of the last eight seasons and winning a league title in 2006. Despite that success, Fighting Scots coach Bob Gradillas wasn’t upset about the school leaving the MRL for the Mountain Valley League.
“To be honest, we are too small of a school for that league,” said Gradillas of the MRL. “Especially with the way our enrollment has slipped, we needed to go to a league with schools that were more our size. I enjoyed the MRL and enjoyed the schools and coaches we competed against, but I think this is the best move for us.”
Whether the rest of the Mountain Valley League agrees with Gradillas is up for debate. The Scots thrived in the MRL and the Eastern Division last year, taking second in the league and advancing to the quarterfinals with a 10-2 record. In a lower division with a talented team that is led by star running back Dillon Pretzinger, aspirations of Rim’s first CIF title since 1976 seem perfectly reasonable.
The best part of Citrus Valley’s inaugural season, in which the Blackhawks went 2-8 with a team of freshman and sophomores, is the fact that it its over according to Peter Smolin. As the Blackhawks head into year two, Smolin is confident that the worst of the building process is behind them.
“We feel that the gray clouds are behind us,” Smolin said. “It was a lot of work establishing a program and a culture in a tough year on the field and we really think that’s going to pay off this year. Everyone is back and there’s a lot of excitement right now.”
Citrus Valley is also excited about its new league, as it goes from a freelance schedule to the Mountain Valley League. The MVL is a hodge-podge of different sorts of schools, with Rim of the World, Riverside Notre Dame, Banning, Rubidoux and brand-new Jurupa Hills High School in Fontana forming a peculiar combination. But its a combination that the Blackhawks feel they can take advantage of right away.
If there’s one thing that you’ve been able to count on Apple Valley High School for the last few years, its smashmouth football. With physical running attack behind a mammoth offensive line, the Sun Devils have looked to punch people in the mouth. And they were effective doing that last season, defeating Silverado 48-27 in the first round of the Eastern Division playoffs for the school’s first postseason win in over two decades.
But the bulk of that offensive line is gone, with its expected replacements expected to be much smaller that the guys who left. Apple Valley also loses its thumper at running back, Daryon Mosley, who ran for 1,628 yards and 21 touchdowns. So look for a much leaner Sun Devils team than what has been seen in the recent past.
“We aren’t very big,” Apple Valley coach Frank Pulice said. “We are thin in numbers and in size up front. Instead of trotting out 6-3, 250-pound guys like we have been doing, we are going to be throwing out 5-10, 205-pound guys. We can be effective with that type of player, but we’ll have to be a bit different.”
Summit quarterback/wide receiver Devon Blackmon has been a household name for college coaches for a couple of years now, holding offers from the entire Pac-10 and several other national name program. After a dynamic performance at the Gridiron Kings 7-on-7 tournament in late July in Orlando, Blackmon has shot up the recruiting rankings, moving from a lofty No. 41 position to No. 20 in the latest Rivals100 released today.
The No. 20 ranking has Blackmon on the cusp of being a 5-star player and makes him one of the highest-ranked players ever to come from the county.
“I’ve just been working out all summer and looking to perform everywhere I’ve gone,” Blackmon said. “I’ve been working out with NFL guys, whatever I can to get better. I loved the Gridiron Kings because I got the chance to go up against the best guys out there and I felt I did pretty well. I actually caught a couple touchdowns against the No. 1 cornerback (Akron, Ohio senior Doran Grant).
Blackmon also clarified his recruiting status Tuesday. After coming out with a top 6 a month ago that included USC, UCLA, California, Oregon, Alabama and Florida, Blackmon said that the top 6 wasn’t set in stone by any means.
“I was just saying that to get people to stop asking the question,” Blackmon said. “It was getting annoying, so I just gave a top 6. I’m open to everybody right now. I like all those schools (the top 6) and Miami, but I’m open to whoever.”
For the first time in the 11-year history of Granite Hills High School, the Cougars had a winning record. Granite Hills’ 6-4 record bested the school’s previous high-water mark by two games, seemingly leaving a building block for the future. But the Cougars lost up-and-coming coach Justin Price to Yucaipa, leaving the job open in June for Joel Hurtt to accept.
“It’s a bit of a bittersweet thing because Justin was a really good coach and really had the kids believing,” Hurtt said. “It’s a tough thing to lose a coach as late as we did and have to get refocused in the middle. Getting a new coach in June is a tough thing. The kids were a little in the dark at first but seem to have bought in.”
Hurtt’s familiarity with the program will help, as he was the Cougars’ head coach in 2006 and 2007 and stayed around the program in Price’s two seasons, coaching the freshman team to an 8-2 record in 2008. He certainly knows enough about what’s going on to know that senior running back Antawaun Jones is a guy he can depend on.
Typically new schools get the luxury of flying under the radar in their first few years of existence, getting to build their new program slowly from scratch as they watch a mishmash of younger players eventually grow into veterans. Oak Hills screwed up that plan last year, busting out to a 9-3 record as a freelance team and winning its first-round playoff game in the East Valley Division. So any anonymity the Bulldogs might have had entering their first season of Mojave River League play this season is gone.
“I think we have a little bit of a target on our backs,” Oak Hills coach Robert Kistner said. “We were able to win some games early and get some confidence and I think that’s made everyone else take notice. No one wants to lose to the new guy, so I think we are going to get everyone’s best shot.”
Having only sophomores and juniors last season, the Bulldogs return their 2009 squad intact. That rare luxury is made even nicer by the fact that one of those returners, senior RB Jeremiah Armstead, ran for 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns a year ago.
The first part of last year was a painful one for the Big Bear football team. The Bears – consistently one of the best smaller schools in the county – were breaking in a mostly-new offensive line and lost senior, Craig Hall, to a season-ending injury during a 1-5 start. But a 3-1 finish, plus a load of returning experience, has coach Dave Griffiths feeling pretty good about 2010.
“It’s a very positive outlook right now,” Griffiths said. “With the way we ended the season and the players we have coming back, we feel pretty good about where we are at. Last season didn’t start out too well, but we kept battling and fighting and we were really starting to put some things together. That’s what has us excited right now.”
The positions that were in question last year – quarterback and offensive line – seem to be on point as the Bears enter this season. Junior Zakk Planz, who was thrown into the mix after Hall was hurt, won three games down the stretch – including two in De Anza League play – and has the correct mix of mobility and headiness to join Hall and current Navy quarterback Kriss Proctor as quality Big Bear triggermen.
I just got off the phone with Aquinas director of marketing Gina Roquet, who told me that Aquinas has hired Gabriel Padilla as its new boys basketball coach. Padilla, an assistant at Aquinas, will replace David Johnson, who has taken an assistant coach job with the Pepperdine women’s basketball team.
Also, Aquinas promoted assistant volleyball coach Sarah Rice to head coach to replace Jessica Granados. Granados, who played with Rice at Cal State San Bernardino, left after a season to pursue professional volleyball opportunities in Europe.
In 16 years as an assistant coach – 14 at La Quinta and the last two seasons under Leland Eudy at Victor Valley – Eric Perry had always had his eye on being a head coach. With Eudy’s retirement last season, Perry finally got his wish. And so far, it’s as fun as he thought it would be.
“We are having a great time out here,” Perry said. “There are definitely more demands when it comes to off-the-field stuff like parents and especially fundraising, but it’s great to build a program and work with these kids and see where we can take this thing.”
Eudy’s last two years at Victor Valley saw the Jackrabbits make considerable process. Victor Valley had a 20-game winless streak coming into the 2008 season but mustered a 3-6-1 record in 2008 and a 7-3 record a year ago. The next step in Perry’s mind is a playoff berth, something he thinks is possible despite having a relatively inexperienced team.
Many years, the overall roster for the Yucca Valley High School football team barely sports more than 23 players. Needless to say, the Trojans are pumped up by a 2010 roster that has 23 seniors on the roster – something that is unheard of for smaller schools.
“We are really excited about this group of kids,” Yucca Valley coach Tim Cannavo said. “The last few years we’ve really made an effort to get numbers up and get kids excited about this program and this is the result of it. Any time you have experience like this coming back, it’s a great thing.”
A third of those seniors have been starting since their sophomore year and have seen their share of success at Yucca Valley, as the Trojans have finished second in the De Anza League the past two seasons, qualifying for the playoffs both times. Yucca Valley won its first round playoff game in 2008 before losing a close quarterfinal matchup with eventual champion St. Margaret’s.