Redlands football has been pretty darn good over the past couple of years, finishing second in the Citrus Belt League. But with crosstown rival Redlands East Valley finishing ahead of them both years and owning a four-game winning streak over the Terriers, Redlands’ good has been good enough for them.
“There’s no question that REV has had our number and that we have to beat them to get to where we want to go,” Redlands coach Jim Walker said. “We’ve played them well and tough, but it hasn’t quite been good enough. This year we are hoping that we can stay healthy, that our junior can mature and that we can have a good season.”
While Walker is bullish on his junior class, it’s senior Mike Stallone who makes the Terriers go. Stallone (5-11, 180) did everything but sell concessions for Redlands last year, passing for 646 yards and five touchdowns, running for another 614 yards and five scores, catching nine passes on offense and an interception on defense while also recording 20 tackles.
“Mike is probably the best player in the CBL,” Walker said. “He’s a two-way guy that can do pretty much anything. We’ll play him in the secondary, throw him passes, use him as a Wildcat QB – whatever we can do.”
Despite having only a handful starters and a small senior class last year, the Apple Valley High School football team was able to qualify for the playoffs for the second consecutive season and for the fourth time in five years. Now that they have 14 starters back, confidence is high for the Sun Devils.
“I’m loving the competitiveness that we have going right now,” Apple Valley coach Frank Pulice said. “We have a good senior nucleus offensively and we have some juniors and sophomores that are getting after it. We have some depth issues on the line we have to work around, but all in all I’m pleased.”
The Sun Devils will also be getting a shot in the arm defensively with a more aggressive, attacking philosophy. They’ll be moving away from a 4-3 to a 3-5 defense to take advantage of the speed they have coming back and to try to improve a unit that gave up 25.5 points per game in 2010.
“We need to get better on that side of the ball and I think we will,” Pulice said. “Offensively we racked up a lot of yards and scored a lot of points, but we weren’t good enough defensively.”
It’s been a hard road for Bloomington coach Tom Conner in his three years since taking the reins from legendary coach Don Markham, as the Bruins have yet to make the playoffs or finish with a winning record. Year four might not be very easy either, as graduation ravaged the Bloomington lines.
Add in the transfer of hulking 360-pound junior Napoleon Taufahema, who started at center as a sophomore for the Bruins, to Colton in the offseason and Conner is faced with the uneviable task of being young and untested on the line.
“We are small in general,” Conner said. “We were going to have five underclassmen starting on the line even with Napoleon coming back but now we’ll really have some young guys figuring it out as they go. We’ll see how it goes.”
It’s not all gloom and doom at Bloomington though. They have good numbers combined between the varsity and JV teams and have a stocked cupboard of position players with the potential to break out and do some things.
In the first five years of the Summit football program, every year has been an improvement over the previous years. Considering that year five resulted in the SkyHawks going to the Eastern Division championship game before falling to Wildomar Elsinore, there’s only one thing that Summit can do to continue that trend. Summit coach Tony Barile, for one, enjoys the increased expectations.
“Our kids who are in the program now expect to win in the playoffs, expect to go far,” Barile said. “We’ve won playoff games two years in a row now, so it’s what they are used to achieving. These kids now believe that they are supposed to win.”
Summit does lose some oomph from last year’s division runner-up, namely wide receiver Devon Blackmon – the top recruit in the county and now an Oregon Duck – and running back Montigo Alford. Losing their big-play ability is a blow, but it will force the SkyHawks to beat their opponents in different ways.
“You can’t replace a Devon or a ‘Tigo, but what you can do is work with what you got,” Barile said. “We’ll lose some big plays, but we are going to take yards in 10 and 15-yard chunks and be successful that way.”
If Twentynine Palms coach Ernie Martinez looked at the number of players he has over their skill, he’d be a bit discouraged, as the Wildcats are in the low-30s – about 10 less than what they normally have. But when he looks at his acutal personnel, the excitement starts to come out.
“I think we have a really good, talented group of kids,” Martinez said. “If we can stay healthy, I think we have the chance to compete with anyone. But health is important to us, because we really don’t have many guys we can fall back on.”
The Wildcats, who won a share of De Anza League title last year for their fourth consecutive league crown, have 12 starters returning from last season. Leading the pack out of those 12 is senior running back Chris Fuifui.
At 6-2 and 235 pounds, Fuifui is a load at both running back and middle linebacker for Twentynine Palms, running for 1,136 yards and 14 touchdowns and adding another five touchdowns receiving en route to second-team all-Sun honors.
It only took one day of working in pads for Rim of the World coach Bob Gradillas to remember how nice it was to have a team full of seniors.
“We are so much farther ahead right now than we were at this point last year,” Gradillas said. “Everyone is on the same page and working well together and I think our experience from last year is a big reason for that. Even with the first practice the difference was startling.”
The Fighting Scots did lose some players from their 4-6 team of a year ago – a team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005 – namely running back Dillon Pretzinger, who ran for 1,267 yards and 18 touchdowns a year ago. But Pretzinger missed four games due to injury, something that was a bit of a theme for Rim a year ago.
“We got hit hard by injuries last year and for a while, it was hard for us to do much of anything,” Gradillas said. “We lost Dillon, we lost some offensive linemen and it was a struggle. But if anything, the experience those kids got will help us this year.”
Silverado coach Carl Posey feels like a bit of a lone wolf in the Desert Sky League. After an offseason in which the other four schools in the league changed coaches, Posey returns for an eighth season in charge of the Hawks.
“It’s been a pretty strange offseason up here,” Posey said. “Usually you hear things about what other teams are doing and have a general expectation based on who is returning at coach, but you can’t do that when everyone else in the league is changing coaches. It’s tough to really know what to expect.”
Posey also isn’t sure what to expect from his team. Graduation decimated his 5-5-1 team from a year ago, as only four starters return, and a small senior class leaves the Hawks dependent on juniors and sophomores to mature quickly.
“The thing of it is that when the current senior class was freshmen, it was an extremely big class,” Posey said. “We’ve had a lot of kids either move away or just not continue on with the program. For whatever reason, a lot of kids weren’t able to stick it out and make it to this point.”
After three weeks of practice, Big Bear coach Dave Griffiths has a very good feeling about the chemistry of his team. It’s such a good feeling that Griffiths isn’t shying away from comparisons from the great teams of seasons past.
“This senior class is about as close and as good as any that we have had since I’ve been here,” Griffiths said. “They are right there with the (CIF championship) 2006 team. That’s how good I feel about this group. Of course injuries will always be a factor on a team with our numbers, but if we stay healthy, I think we could do some things this year.”
A lot of Griffiths’ confidence comes from the return of senior Zakk Planz at quarterback. A starter since midway through his sophomore year, Planz (6-1, 193) runs Big Bear’s option offense deftly, rushing for 745 yards and 11 touchdowns while throwing for another three touchdowns. He may not necessarily be the threat that Kriss Proctor used to be on the mountain, but he’s plenty capable of taking over a game.
“Having a three-year starting like Zakk coming back at quarterback means a lot, especially with the type of offense we run,” Griffiths said. “Timing means everything and have a talented veteran like Zakk back there helps everything go.”
With his first class of seniors finally taking the field in year three of Citrus Valley football, Blackhawks coach Peter Smolin is starting to see his vision for the Blackhawks program take shape. But he realizes that Citrus Valley isn’t quite at the “normal” stage yet.
“We are still going to be young,” Smolin said. “We’ll be pretty junior dominated – I think we only have six seniors that will start this year. But these guys are starting to look like men. Physically the difference between now and two years ago, even now and last year, is significant.”
One of the “men” Smolin is referencing is junior tight end Luke Taylor. Taylor (6-5, 240) has already started to create some buzz on the recruiting trail, as he was invited to USC’s Invite-only summer camp this year. Starting quarterback Dalton Douglas (6-4, 210) and offensive lineman Nick Hospodar (6-4, 255), also juniors, also pass the looks test with flying colors.
Hospodar is a rarity on the Blackhawks though, as Citrus Valley is low on size and high on smaller skill-position players, something that Smolin hopes his team will be able to work around.
The 2010 season ended about as awkwardly as it could have for Miller, as the Rebels had a senior hazing incident spiral out of control and cost coach Jeff Strycula his job the night before they were going to play for a league title against Redlands East Valley. Predictably, the dysfunctional Rebels lost and were eliminated from postseason consideration despite finishing in a second-place tie in the Citrus Belt League.
But new coach Marcus Soward, who was hired to replace Strycula in the offseason after spending the past three years as Arroyo Valley’s head man, hasn’t encountered any of the awkwardness and chaos that spelled the end of the 2010 season.
“It’s a great atmosphere out here,” said Soward, who has also coached at San Bernardino High School. “It’s a very family-oriented program and everyone is working well together. There are a lot of high-character kids, which makes it easy to coach.”
The Rebels don’t have a lot coming back from last year, as the Rebels were full of seniors in 2010. But Miller does receive perhaps the biggest impact transfer in the county in senior linebacker Reshawn Hooker (6-2, 210), who has 14 scholarship offers already after a first-team all-San Andreas League season at Arroyo Valley last year as a junior.