Even though Eisenhower has only won two games in Patrick Lord’s first two years as coach, the Eagles are hardly gunshy entering the 2011 season. In fact, Eisenhower thinks that it is in position to turn some heads.
“The number one thing we are thinking about right now is playoffs,” Lord said. “We’ve spent the last two years building up the program and its numbers and we feel that we have a good shot of making a move this year. There’s no reason that we can’t play at a playoff level.”
The genesis of Lord’s confidence is based on a couple of factors. The Eagles have 14 starters returning from last year’s team that got valuable experience in Citrus Belt League play. But the real ace in the hole for Ike is senior offensive lineman/defensive lineman Lalotoa Laumea, who transferred from Compton High School over the summer.
Laumea (6-4, 246) is being recruited by Colorado, Washington, Fresno State and Colorado State, among others and already has been named a team captain, as his hard work has rubbed off on his new teammates.
Gavin Pachot didn’t get the Rialto job under ideal circumstances last year, as he was named the interim coach of the Knights last June after Don Markham resigned under allegations of player misconduct. But after a 5-5 record and a full offseason, things at Rialto not only are normal, but feeling pretty good.
“Spirits are pretty high,” Pachot said. “Having an entire offseason to work with these kids makes a huge difference. I’ve had them since January and we’ve gotten a lot of good work done. We made some strides last year but we have a way to go.”
The biggest thing the Knights are working toward in a quest for their first playoff berth since 2001 is closing the deal at home. While the Knights made tremendous strides in going from three wins combined from 2007-2009 to five last year, Pachot believes that squandering their home-field advantage was a big reason why their playoff drought continues.
“For whatever reason we didn’t play well in front of our home fans,” Pachot said. “I’m not sure if we were nervous or trying to hard, but we went 1-4 on our own field. That’s something we need to fix because it’s important to take advantage of being at home.”
If there was a competitive-eating competition involving high school football teams in San Bernardino County, Sultana would be one of the favorites. While many local coaches have commented on their lack of size, Sultans coach Blake Robbins has a plethora of big guys to lead the way.
“I’m really not sure what it is, but we have a lot of big guys in the program,” Robbins said. “I’m not complaining. If they can play up to their potential, we have a chance to be pretty good.”
Sultana comes into 2011 with a monkey off its back, as it broke a 23-game losing streak with a win at Pacific last September and prevailed over Hesperia for the first time since 2006 in the “Key Game.” While Robbins is happy that those streaks are over, he feels that his team squandered an opportunity to do even more a year ago.
“We went 2-8, but we really felt that we should have won three or four more games,” Robbins said. “We played tough in most of our games but we weren’t able to make the big play. A lot of times we’d move the ball down the field and then commit a turnover or get a penalty that would ruin it.”
The opening of Oak Hills High School in 2009 threw Hesperia High School for a bit of a loop. Going into the third season of coexistence, the schools still haven’t found a way to balance each other out.
“We are basically a team full of sophomores and seniors,” Hesperia coach Jeremy Topete said. “A lot of the 8th graders that were going to be freshmen two years ago went to Oak Hills and are juniors there right now. Hopefully soon both schools will stabilize a bit.”
The Scorpions hope that the stabilization will help the Scorpions get back to where they were pre-Oak Hills, as Hesperia won a combined 21 games in 2007-08, winning the Mojave River League title in 2008. Hesperia has struggled mightily in its first two seasons under Topete, winning only four games, only one of which came last year. And the Scorpions will go to ball-control to try to improve.
“We are going to try to shorten the game and avoid turnovers, especially early,” Topete said. “Too many times last year we committed the early turnover, got down real quickly and weren’t able to come back. We are going to try to prevent that from happening again.”
John Beck’s first year at Arrowhead Christian was a harrowing one, as a rash of injuries had him with an 8-man-team sized available roster that was filled with wet-behind-the-ear freshmen who were more suited to playing at the junior varsity level.
“Last year, we had 26-28 guys and I’d guess that 15 of them were freshmen,” Beck said. “It was definitely a hard situation and a lot of these kids had to learn on the fly against a really tough schedule. They were a gutsy group last year.”
The Eagles are hoping that the desperation of 2010 will speed up the building process in 2011. ACA is still low on numbers in the junior and senior classes, as there are only 13 kids in the oldest two classes on the roster. But a group of precocious sophomores with varsity experience and a large freshman class has Beck pretty excited about the future.
“I think the future looks really bright and I think the guys that had to play last year are really going to benefit from it,” Beck said. “If they stick with it, we’ll have some fourth-year varsity players in a couple years and that will help us out a lot.”
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.