By Pete Marshall Staff Writer
Redlands East Valley High School has won three consecutive Citrus Belt League football titles. Coach Kurt Bruich wants to win a fourth in a row, but he doesn’t want it to be easy.
“It’s exciting (this year), because there’s no easy games,” he said. “You’re going to have to prepare every week in the CBL. In the past, sometimes we’d have to go ones versus ones (in practice) to get some competition.”
The league has a new look in 2012, with Fontana, which hadn’t won more than one league game since 2003, leaving for the Sunkist League.
In its place is a Cajon program that was a perennial league title contender in the San Andreas League. Cajon finished in the top two in league each of the last four seasons.
It should make for a more competitive league from top to bottom.
But coach Kim Battin feels the change in leagues puts his squad at a disadvantage.
“There’s no familiarity at all (with the other teams),” Battin said. “You hear about Redlands East Valley, but until you see them on film, you don’t really know. Most of the CBL has to get ready for only one new team, and we have to get ready for five. Every week for us is new ground.”
Despite the change, Redlands East Valley is considered the front-runner in the league again.
“REV is definitely the favorite,” Miller coach Marcus Soward said. “No one’s knocked them off.”
The Wildcats return six starters on defense and five on offense, including four players who were first-team all-area selections last year led by USC-bound defensive lineman Kylie Fitts.
“I’d say our strength is the experience our returning players have,” Bruich said. “Our team in general understands football. They have a great knowledge of the game.”
Redlands East Valley has inexperience on the offensive line but averages 294 pounds, has an experienced ball carrier in Taylor Thompson and a stout defense.
If REV is the favorite, the rest of the league is wide open.
“There’s a lot of parity and that’s what you want. I was watching an SEC game, watching LSU play against Alabama,” Soward said. “And I thought, ‘How do these guys do it? Every week it’s a dogfight.’ Then I thought, ‘That’s like our league.’ It’s like the SEC. You don’t have a break.”
Soward lost linebacker Reshawn Hooker (now at University of Utah), but he thinks his defense will be better.
“Last year, we relied on Reshawn,” Soward said. “This year, we’re all in this together.”
He believes Tre’von Jones, like Hooker, is a dynamic player on defense and Simione Aleusi will help anchor the defensive line.
On offense, quarterback Michael Watkins will start for the first time, and he’ll be helped by wide receiver Martee Witt, who caught eight touchdown passes last year.
Cajon quarterback DeJuan Brooks wasn’t supposed to start last year. But he was pressed into action after an injury to Edwin Martinez and threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Carter that earned Cajon a share of the league title.
“I think that experience really helped him a lot,” Battin said.
Cajon hasn’t had a problem finding playmakers in the past, including Damontae Kazee last year, but may be short in that department this season.
“I think we’re a talented team, maybe we’re short just one playmaker,” Battin said.
Part of the league’s expected improvement revolves around new Eisenhower coach Vinny Fazio.
It is the first head coaching position for Fazio, a Fontana High alum who was an assistant at Carter the last two seasons.
“I think we’re fast and run really well,” Fazio said. “Part of that has to do with the basketball program. Coach (Steve) Johnson does a really good job with them.”
Basketball players such as quarterback Marquane Harris (brother of Marvelle), Terry Clarendon and Trevin “Keyshawn” Island are expected to be a big part of the Eagles’ football team this season.
Fazio thinks his team is superior athletically to the Carter teams of the last two years, but his team isn’t at Carter’s level in another area.
“Our kids (at Carter) did play 1,000 miles an hour all the time,” Fazio said.
At Redlands, which made the playoffs last year, coach Jim Walker has plenty to like this season. It starts with UCLA-bound running back Craig Lee, but it doesn’t end there.
“I think a strength is our kicking game, with Diego Marquez,” Walker said. “I think we’re going to be fighting for a playoff spot.
“We’ve just got some inexperienced seniors. They’re gaining experience and, hopefully, they become veterans.”
The goal for Yucaipa is to show last year’s 9-2 season was not a fluke.
“One thing that is kind of the unknown is, are we going to have the same senior leadership (as last year)?” Yucaipa coach Justin Price said.
One expected leader, returning senior quarterback Clayton Leach-Mead, will have to lead from the sidelines. He tore an anterior cruciate ligament in passing league and will miss the season. Junior Billy Gustason will take his place.
“I know a quarterback is tough to replace, but there’s a reason why I’m very confident in his abilities,” Price said.
The defense again should be solid. The Thunderbirds, led by safety Steven Best, return seven starters on defense.
Coach: Kim Battin
Year, record at school: 10th year, 58-42
2011 record: 9-2 (6-1 in the San Andreas League)
Last playoff berth: 2011, lost to Moreno Valley, 43-16, in CIF-SS Central Division first round.
Key returnees: Quinton Doswell, WR/DB, 6-2, 175, Sr.; DeJuan Brooks QB, 6-0, 165, Sr.; Miguel Betancourt, LB, 6-0, 190, Sr.; Desjon Burroughs, OL, 6-4, 305, Sr.; Gonzalo Bojorquez, OL, 6-2, 265, Sr.; Chris Garcia, WR/FS, 5-9, 160, Sr.; Michael Sandoval, LB, 6-0, 165, Sr.
Key to success: With few breaks in the CBL, the Cowboys will have to hit the ground running in their new league. Cajon plays former San Andreas League rivals San Gorgonio and Colton in the preseason, then the Cowboys have to prepare for five unfamiliar teams. Developing another playmaker during the preseason would help immensely.
Coach: Vinny Fazio
Year, record at school: First year
2011 record: 3-7 (1-4)
Last playoff berth: 2004, lost to Long Beach Poly, 41-8, in CIF first round.
Key returnees: Jerrion Burton, WR/DB, 6-0, 175, Sr.; Trevin “Keyshawn” Island, RB/DB, 5-9, 165, Sr.; Micah St. Andrew, OL/DL, 6-4, 350, Jr.; Terry Clarendon, RB/DB, 6-0, 175, Jr.; Marquane Harris, QB, 6-4, 190, Jr.; Michael Neil, LB/TE, 6-0, 230, Sr.
Coach: Marcus Soward
Year, record at school: Second year, 5-5
2011 record: 5-5 (2-3)
Last playoff berth: 2009, lost to Corona Centennial, 53-20, in CIF-SS Inland Division first round.
Key returnees: Tre’von Jones, RB/FS, 5-10, 180, Sr.; Calvin Ransom, RB/OLB, 5-8, 175, Jr.; Martee Witt, WR, 6-2, 175, Sr.; Jermaine Robertson, OLB/WR, 6-3, 190, Sr.; Adam Stanford, FS/WR, 6-4, 180, Sr.; Simione Aleusi, DT, 6-2, 270, Jr.
Coach: Jim Walker
Year, record at school: 21st year, n/a
(202 career wins)
2011 record: 4-7 (3-2)
Last playoff berth: 2011, lost to Corona Centennial 49-35, in CIF-SS Inland Division first round.
Key returnees: Craig Lee, RB, 6-0, 188, Sr.; Sabastine Peterson, OL, 6-2, 223, Sr.; D.J. Biggers, LB, 6-0, 195, Sr.; Jordan Ory, WR, 6-0, 178, Sr.; Zack Lindsey, TE, 5-11, 219, Jr.; Brett Landon, OL, 6-2, 245, Jr.
Key to success: A top-notch running back, like the UCLA-bound Lee, can take a team a long way in the playoffs. But in order for the Terriers to have a successful season, they need to have a group of inexperienced seniors play like seniors
REDLANDS EAST VALLEY
Coach: Kurt Bruich
Year, record at school: 11th year, 92-22-4
2011 record: 11-1 (5-0)
Last playoff berth: 2011, def. Norco, 20-15; lost to Rancho Cucamonga, 9-6, in CIF-SS Inland Division quarterfinals.
Key returnees: Kylie Fitts, DL/TE, 6-5, 263, Sr.; Blake Braun, TE/DB, 6-2, 220, Sr.; Taylor Thompson, RB, 5-10, 188, Sr.; Ritisoni Fata, DL, 6-2, 240, Sr.; Daniel Gonzales, DB/WR, 5-9, 177, Sr.; Alex Lowes, LB, 6-0, 202, Sr.; Mekeli Fata, OL, 6-0, 338, Sr.; Tanner Shreve, DB, 6-0, 190, Sr.
Key to success: Even though they are one of the deeper teams around, the Wildcats were hammered by injuries last year, especially among running backs. Not knowing who was going to play in a given week, their offense struggled to find its rhythm. A healthy regular season can make a big difference for the Wildcats come playoff time.
Coach: Justin Price
Year, record at school: Third year, 15-7
2011 record: 9-2 (4-1)
Last playoff berth: 2011, lost to Riverside North, 27-13, in CIF-SS Inland Division first round.
Key returnees: Steven Best, S, 5-11, 172, Sr.; Wyatt Houso, ILB, 6-1, 195, Sr.; Ryan Calbreath, ILB, 6-2, 198, Jr.; Kyryl Ledesma, DL, 5-11, 237, Sr.; Brandon Scott, WR, 6-4, 197, Jr.; Cesar Quiroga, OL, 5-11, 240, Sr.
Key to success:The Thunderbirds have to play without Clayton Leach-Mead, a senior who rushed for 1,300 yards and passed for 1,000 last year as a quarterback. Leach-Mead tore his ACL in the summer and is out for the season. Junior Billy Gustason, more of a passer than Leach-Mead, will take over at QB and he’ll have a standout target in Scott. With the defense again expected to be good, the ability to change styles on offense is vital to Yucaipa’s success.
Pete Marshall’s CBL prediction:
1. Redlands East Valley