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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Citrus Valley looking to take the next step

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.
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Confidence growing in Yucaipa

As first years on the job go, Justin Price’s at Yucaipa ranks pretty high. The former Granite Hills coach led a senior-dominated team to its best finish in the Citrus Belt League since joining the league in 2006, as the Thunderbirds tied Redlands and Miller for second place in league, making the playoffs after missing the postseason a year before.

“I thought we did some great things last year,” Price said. “We were playing REV in week nine for a chance to win the league title, which is a huge step for this program. We were a coin-flip away from hosting a playoff game for the first time in a long time. We are pretty proud of what we did, especially we didn’t have a full offseason to work together.”

While Yucaipa loses 12 of its 22 starters along with several key contributors, Price is hoping that having a full offseason will compensate for any lack of experience and keep 2010′s momentum going. Having three of those returning starters coming on the offense line helps even more.

Yucaipa is bullish on its three senior returners on the offensive line – Matt Parrish (6-5, 300), Tyrin Loya (5-10, 250) and Andrew Clarey (6-2, 290). Parrish and Loya started every game last year, with Parrish receiving interest from Division I schools.
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Jurupa Hills readying itself for year two

The best part of being in the second year of a new program is that the first year is over. Jurupa Hills coach Edward McMillon definitely agrees with that point of view.

“It’s a lot different this year compared to last year,” McMillon said. “The kids have been in the program for over a year and know what to expect, which allows us to work on some more things and really concentrate on getting better rather than teaching. Having juniors and sophomores gives you more options than having sophomores and freshmen.”

While the Spartans are a year bigger, a year smarter and a year more mature after their 1-7 debut of a year ago, size is still a bit of an issue at Jurupa Hills. The Spartans are pretty deep at the skill positions, but they are lacking for size in the trenches.

“We just don’t have that many big guys,” McMillon said. “We have a lot of athletes, but they all seem to be a little small. Hopefully we’ll get some bigger guys in time, but we are a pretty small team right now.”
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Senior-laden Cajon has unfinished business

Cajon High School has 32 seniors coming back from a team that went through the San Andreas League undefeated for the second time in three years en route to a berth in the Central Division semifinals. But there isn’t much satisfaction among the Cowboys, who still remember the painful 42-41 overtime loss to Colton in the semifinals.

“We hope that having 32 seniors that have played in some big games and have been to the semifinals will pay off for us,” Cajon coach Kim Battin said. “We look at what we have this year position-by-position compared to last year and we feel pretty good about how we stack up.”

Leading the way for the Cowboys is defensive back/wide receiver Damontae Kazee. Kazee (6-0, 175) was an all-CIF performer on defense and the leading receiver for the Cowboys offensively. He verbally committed to the University of Washington over the summer but is still receiving interest from all over the Pac-12, namely Arizona State and UCLA.

Kazee will combine with senior tight end Taylor Moore (6-2, 215) to give new quarterback Edwin Martinez (6-1, 215) some elite targets. Martinez has huge shoes to fill, as the former linebacker replaces All-Sun Player of the Year Thomas Carter.
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