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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Skill-position threats buoy Aquinas

Things were going swimmingly for Aquinas heading into the playoffs a year ago, as a fourth consecutive league title and a 9-1 record had the Falcons ranked No. 2 in the East Valley Division going into the playoffs. But maybe they were going a bit too well.

“I’m not going to say that we overlooked Yucca Valley, but I think we got a little too proud of ourselves,” Aquinas coach Nick Matheny said. “Yucca came and knocked us in the mouth and shocked us a bit.”

The Trojans scored 21 unanswered points in the first half and pulled off the 21-14 upset, as the Falcons ended their season before Thanksgiving for the first time since 2003, when they didn’t make the playoffs at all. That’s disappointment has served as fuel for Aquinas in the offseason.

Aquinas will also get fuel from its array of skill-position players it has returning, namely senior running back Burrell Handy (5-8, 165). Handy led the county in scoring as a junior, rushing for 1,377 yards and 22 touchdowns while serving as the workhorse of the offense.
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Carter to rely on suffocating defense

Carter’s run to its first winning season since 2006 and its second straight playoff berth last year was predicating on a stifling defense that held opponents to a scant 11.9 points per game. So the Lions’ opponents should be a little worried about Carter coach Alex Pierce’s thoughts on that unit heading into his fourth season at the helm.

“We were one of the best defenses in the division last year, if not the best,” Pierce said. “And we’re going to be better this year.”

The reason for that confidence is eight returning starters to a swarming, relentless unit that almost held Arroyo Valley to negative yards in a win-or-go-home regular-season finale last year. Leading the way is junior defensive tackle Kenny Clark (6-2, 278), a national-champion heavyweight wrestler and a starter on the offensive line as well.

“If there’s a better defensive tackle in the county than Kenny, I really hope we don’t have to face them,” Pierce said. “Kenny is quick, strong, relentless, never gets tired. He’s got very good grades and is going to be a big-time recruit.”
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Harper commits to Washington

Colony athlete Bryan Harper committed to the University of Washington Tuesday according to a Rivals.com article. Harper, a 6-foot, 180-pound athlete who transferred to Colony after playing quarterback at Carter the last two seasons, chose the Huskies after a recent trip to the school with teammate Robert Wagner. The three-star prospect also had offers from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Colorado State, Montana and New Mexico State.

Harper is the second county player to pledge to the Huskies this month, joining Cajon defensive back Damontae Kazee. Kazee, a first-team all-Sun selection last year, formally introduced his commitment to Washington June 13 after being a silent commitment for a while according to Scout.com.

CIF-State to add regional football round

I meant to comment on this last week, but the CIF-State offices have added a regional round of playoffs to be played between the CIF-SS championship round and the state championship bowls. And as far as I’m concerned, this should have happened years ago.

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the BCS-type selection process for the championship bowls. It’s a bit too political for my blood and it excluded quite a few teams – read San Bernardino County teams – that could have had a shot for greater things. How cool would it have been last year to see Colton attempt to continue its Cinderella run against a team like La Habra, which won the Southwest Division? I bet the Colony teams of 2006 and 2007 would have loved to have march on against another section champion, along with 2006 Big Bear, 2008 Rancho Cucamonga and 2009 Upland teams. More football is always fine by me and the term “state champion” means more when there are more teams given the opportunity to play for these championships.

As far as the new format of the state playoffs is concerned, there will be five regional title games that feed into the five state championship bowls (Division 1-4 and open). The bowls will be played December 14-15, meaning that the regionals will take place Dec. 7-8 and the CIF championships will take place Nov. 30-Dec. 1. That’ll bump the start of the regular season up a week, so Week 0 will take place the last weekend of August instead of the first weekend of September.

Bray reconsiders, will reapply for position

Colton football coach Rick Bray will reapply for his position as Colton football coach after an upwelling of support on his behalf from the community according to a text I received from Bray and the Colton football Facebook page.

The Facebook entry, written by “Colton Football Coaching Staff” says the following:

Coach Bray would like to thank the community for the endless support he’s received since he made his decision friday afternoon. It’s because of this support that he has decided, he will not let one mans ego decide the fate of a program he’s… help build over these last 25 plus years.

That being said, Coach Bray will be reapplying for the Head Coaching position, as the Colton Joint Unified School District Board of Education is requiring him to do.

Coach Bray has never walked away from a challenge, and will not be labeled a quitter. This was evident last year, when he was not named Head Coach until June 1st, after having to apply 3 times, but ran the program as his own from December to that time.

Coach Bray, and his staff, will continue to work with thier Student Athletes best interests in mind, in preparation for the 2011 Football Season.

We will still need every community members support.

The Colton Joint Unified School District will be accepting applications for the job until Friday and from there they’ll make the decision. And quite frankly, if they decide on anyone but Bray, it will be one of the most stupefying decisions that I’ve encountered in my years as a sports journalist.