Hesperia looking to find balance

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.”
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Arrowhead Christian hopes crash course pays benefits

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.”
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Redlands depending on junior help in quest for CBL title

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.”
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Apple Valley hopes experience will move it upward

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.”
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Bloomington looking for some beef

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.
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One more step for Summit

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.”
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Low numbers, high talent at Twentynine Palms

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.
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Big senior class has Rim of the World feeling good

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.”
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Air of familiarity at Silverado

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.”
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Big Bear getting that old championship feeling

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.”
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