Damien: Powerhouse in progress or mired in mediocrity? … Call me crazy, I say powerhouse …

“We have game breakers this year … more guys who can stretch the field,” Gano said.

Just had my preview issue conversation with Damien coach Greg Gano this morning and I hung up feeling even more confident than I was when ranking Sparty No. 8 in the latest All-Encompassing SGV(N) Top 25.

How good will the Spartans be this year? 10-0? 9-1? 8-2? Anything’s possible …

Before we look at the schedule as the glass half full, let’s look at what happened in the offseason.

— Paraclete transfers Uriah Trailer and Travion Boykins come in and bolster the offensive weaponry as all-purpose guys.

— Defensive linemen Alex Hernandez transfers from Charter Oak, giving the Spartans something they really need — a high-motor player up front.

— Former Los Altos studs Keith and Travis Brown join the coaching staff. And believe me when I tell you, kids really listen to these guys. I think the Browns will be very effective at instilling a nastiness factor that’s often been missing at Damien.

— A.B. Miller corner back Jonathan Lyles transfers in, giving Damien the speedy cover guy it badly needs on the outside.

— Glendora QB Gage Pucci transfers in giving the Spartans a now three-way battle at QB.

— Receiver Josh Savage gets a year better and stronger, and is now 202 pounds

All of those factors will DEFINITELY make the Spartans a much, much better team talent-wise. But let’s look at the schedule … and you will see this team could have one heckuva record.

Sept. 9 DIAMOND RANCH (I’m calling this a W. Spartans better, D-Ranch maybe not as good as last year right away)
Sept. 15 at Chaffey (Win)
Sept. 23 BISHOP AMAT (Here’s where it gets interesting: Amat with no Nine at QB. If the Lancers are one dimensional, that could open the door for an ambush)
Sept. 30 at Temescal Canyon (Should be a decent game, but I’ll call it a W)
Oct. 7 JSerra @Saddleback Coll. (This will be rough. OK, I call it a loss)
Oct. 14 at Claremont (Win)
Oct. 21 SOUTH HILLS (Good game, but again, we’re glass half full. W.)
Oct. 28 CHINO HILLS (Hard to gauge Chino Hills, but I think Damien wins this)
Nov. 4 at Charter Oak (By this point of the year, this may very well be a toss up)
Nov. 10 AYALA (Win)

And lastly, as good as the Spartans look this year, think about next year with Boykins, Trailer, Savage, Alex Hernandez and Pucci all back. And some pretty good lower levels joining them.

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Post-Passing Circuit All-Encompassing SGV(N) Top 25

The Summer of Santiago may turn into the Fall of Travis (but that’s not a bad thing)

READ FIRST: All the major tournaments are over and I’ve collected plenty of data … as many of you should have also. I’ve become VERY OPINIONATED because of this. It’s not just about passing games for me. They’re mostly worthless other than to do some athlete checking. It’s more about seeing the weight-room improvements and just overall growth of certain players. It’s also about HEARING most of the developments from the programs in the area. That’s where the key lies … THE DEVELOPMENTS (transfers, back from injury, weight room transformations). Here’s the latest Top 25 post-passing circuit and pre-Hell Week.

1. Charter Oak
— By far the most impressive team of the passing circuit. The Chargers put on display athletes galore and a passing game that looks fantastic. No reason to think any of that goes away when the gear comes on. Oh yeah, I’ve been assured the line play is there. The defense is the kicker with this team. The secondary might be the best around given the way Aaren Vaughns and Khari Garcia are covering people this summer.
2. Bishop Amat — If there’s one thing I don’t like it’s uncertainty. “Who was that who just called you?” “Why didn’t you answer your phone last night?” “Why is Crespi, Alemany and our first-round opponent so much bigger than us?” … Uh anyway, Amat’s got plenty of uncertainty. I’m proud of Nine’s baseball endeavors. But in a football sense, it’s a blow. And the defense … it remains a huge question mark. I didn’t see the types of bodies in the back seven that would make me think anything will different this year when Amat plays its biggest games.
3. Monrovia — I saw the Wildcats plenty this offseason and this is the most talented M-Town team I’ve seen (that dates back to the early 90s). I don’t want to hear anything about the division … blah, blah, blah, look at ‘Cats like Ellis McCarthy, George Frazier and De’Shawn Ramirez and tell me they wouldn’t be starting for and kicking ass for your team. Nuff said.
4. West Covina — The Bulldogs are currently like a burger without cheese. They’ve got the ingredients for another stellar run game and the defense will be the Southeast’s best, but the passing game makes them extremely one dimensional. Can they simply run over everyone on the schedule and then the Southeast? Not Loyola, but probably the rest.
5. La Habra — Through the fence observations here. The Highlanders have reloaded. Aaron Porter is simply a beast and the defense should really carry the team this year. The pass attack needs work, but I trust that will come along in time. Not the best La Habra edition by any stretch, but certainly enough to win league and CIF again.
6. Chino Hills — Best offensive line in the area and that’s why it’s hard for me to fight this urge of getting cold on the Huskies. But what I saw at Claremont wasn’t good. True, the Huskies have injuries right now at key spots. True, I’ve had heard CH was down a bit athlete-wise (how could you not be after losing Ifo, Nate and Calles). Given that we know this team will be very good at the line of scrimmage, there’s no reason to be worried.
7. Arcadia — Yeah, I said it. What the Apaches have done this summer cannot be ignored. Think about the Pacific League and the Southeast Division for a second. Find me a better passing game. You can’t do it. The athletes are there for one of Arcadia’s best season’s in a long, long time. Line play remains an issue, but other than West Covina and Santa Fe, who do you really fear in the Southeast in terms of physicality?
8. Damien — By far the most improved team in the area. By far. The Spartans needed upgrades in the skill spots last year and got them. They’re faster and have a legit target in Josh Savage. I like QB Enrique Zaldivar. He’s got an arm, but you probably didn’t see it last year because Damien’s WRs rarely got separation and the run game didn’t scare anyone. Throw in Charter Oak transfer Alex Hernandez bolstering the d-line and you’ve got what I just said: By far the most improved team in the area.
9. St. Paul — The Swordsmen haven’t done anything wrong. They’re a running team and it’s hard to expect much over the summer from them. My problem is that I look at the gap in some of last year’s losses and it’s hard for me to see it closing by a major margin. But still, teams can make wild strides from one year to the next in HS football and with Telles, Cabral and Ortega all back, the offense will be formidable.
10. Santa Fe — Like Damien, the Chiefs are another team that’s going to be VERY IMPROVED. Hell, they were already pretty good last year. Anyway, remember this name: Justin Retiz. He’s only a soph and will likely be the QB this year. He’s had some nice moments (like yesterday’s Claremont Tournament) and should solidify his spot once the pads come on. Both Charter Oak coach Lou Farrar and SF coach Jack Mahlstede agree that he’s going to be “a good one.” Then you throw in that Christian Mahlstede, who could also see time at QB, is going to be one of the better WR/DBs around. Santa Fe looked good to me skill-wise and back seven-wise when I saw them. And you know they’re always physical with a good defensive approach. This year’s La Serna.
11. St. Francis — I’ve backed off on the Knights a tad. The tactics on offense are still very good and QB Jared Leibowitz can get the ball just about anywhere, but the overall athleticism seems down a bit. Travis Talianko is a fantastic target, but beside him I’m concerned about the rest of the WRs and the run game. With the company St. Francis keeps in the second half of the season, you have to have to speed. This team looks a step slower than last year’s.
12. Covina — We’re gonna find out right away against West Covina whether a year older means a year better for the Colts. All the elements are there for an excellent offense, but the defense has to be better in the biggest games. Not sure that’s going to happen this year, which means a lot of pressure on Livingston and Co.
13. Diamond Bar — It’s kinda funny, the Brahmas think I’m down on them but if you go back to the prior the Top 25, I’m actually the first one on the bandwagon. Anyway, I’m not gonna throw a parade because DB waxed the Mid-Valley Division in the SGV Shootout, but they did look pretty darn good against Monrovia’s athletes and Monrovia isn’t a run-of-the-mill Mid-Valley team. When you factor in the emergence of receiver Donte Harris as one of the fastest players around, the offense gets even scarier. Not sure about the line play at all and that tempers some enthusiasm for now.
14. Muir — Consistency still isn’t the Mustangs’ thing. They looked shaky at Charter Oak last week and then came back over the weekend to win their pool in the Claremont Tournament … only to look shaky again on Saturday. I have a feeling that passing isn’t really Muir’s thing, so I’m not overly worried. The collection of athletes is scary and once again make it so ANYTHING can happen when the ‘Stangs step on the field.
15. Glendora — I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Tartans this summer. Roger Armijo’s defense looks pretty solid in the back seven. The offense made strides from June to July and they aren’t gonnna be a throwing team anyway. I’ve seen Upland, Etiwanda and Rancho, so I’m not about to say “Baseline League here we come …” but what I thought was easy walkover games for Charter Oak, Monrovia and WestCo against these Tartans may not be that at all.
16. Azusa — Can’t argue with the results this summer. The Aztecs remain very formidable for the company they keep. And that company is going to be getting even better with nonleague affairs against San Dimas and Maranatha. Those are two completely different tests (San Dimas funky Wing-Z offense and Maranatha future D-1 QB) and another savvy move by coach Joe Scherf. Azusa has proven viable in both passing and line competitions this summer. I remain impressed.
17. Diamond Ranch — The Panthers were a mystery team until I finally saw them last week. They’re pretty talented and the d-line might be downright nasty. Anyway, allow me to refresh what I’ve seen and heard from/about D-Ranch this offseason:
“Former USC linebacker is their defensive coordinator Chris Claiborne and he brought four legit players with him.”
“They’re way down athletically this season.”
“Top frosh team receiver Sydney Jones transferred to West Covina.”
“They only brought linemen to a passing/line competition at San Dimas.”
“They WON the L.A. Valley Tournament.”
“They won the CONSOLATION BRACKET of the L.A. Valley Tournament.”
“They backed out of the Ayala Tournament late in the week last week.”
18. South Hills — NEW POLICY: I will believe NOTHING I hear about South Hills and who on the roster is or isn’t a next-level player until I see it first. OK, the Huskies look solid. Jamel Hart has gotten bigger and badder and he looks headed for another big year. QB Vince Hernandez has gotten better and throws just as nice of a ball as anyone. And Jamie Canada is progressing toward being a nice weapon. My only knock is that I’ve seen the rest of the Sierra League, sans Ayala, and South Hills looks a little lite talent-wise on defense.
19. Maranatha — I’ve actually heard mixed reviews from several people on QB Andrew Elffers. Can you believe that? But I think most coaches would love to have a talent like him on their team. When I saw Elffers, he was getting the ball out fast and on target. I didn’t see Maranatha last season, but I have a hard time believing that this year’s team is as explosive in the skill spots. But with Elffers slinging it, he can make just about anybody look better. Anyway, the key for Maranatha to take the next step isn’t offense, it’s defense. Have to trust that Coach K will have that side of the ball improved. But by how much?
20. Arroyo — I’m keeping the Knights right where I had them in the last Top 25. So far this summer I’ve seen further proof that Steven Rivera is a machine. And I’m pleased by the rest of the skill guys, even though I never really caught a great look at future-star Brandon Jauregui. All in all, this is still one of the better teams around.
21. Bonita — I’m really resting all my confidence in the coaching staff here. The passing game looks like it may be more of a struggle than previously anticipated. There is still enough talent on hand to be one of the top teams around, but until everything and everyone gets settled in, expectations should be tempered.
22. San Dimas — You just can’t expect much out of the Saints during summer because of their offensive philosophy. But a running play during a passing tournament? Anyway, I liked the talent I saw when I saw it. The Saints look to have the players needed to do what they do well. If the line play is even better this year, then a season equal to last year is possible.
23. Cantwell — This program doesn’t get enough credit for consistently putting out a good product. This year should be no different as the offense figures to put up more big numbers with a passing game that’s going to embarrass some opposing secondaries. Keep an eye on WR Adam Aguirre.
24. La Serna — I just don’t see this program falling flat on its face despite the heavy graduation losses from last season’s 11-win team. Relying on RB O.J. Medina isn’t a bad thing and there’s enough back on defense to think the Lancers will be able to stop people with some success again.
25. Rosemead — The Panthers looked like a typical Rosemead team this summer. They didn’t wow anybody and they didn’t get a chance to go double tight ends and run the ball. But the defense has the usual talent and the run game looks like it will be OK. QB is a concern, but there’s plenty of time to take care of that before the Arroyo game.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT

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Bonita loses to Glendale in one championship of Ayala Tournament … Paloma Valley beats Santa Margarita in the other championship … D-Ranch backs out …

The Ayala Tournament has a strange set up. They don’t do pool play and then a championship bracket like most tourneys. They do pool play and then two championship games.

Anyway, Bonita went 4-0 in pool play then lost to Glendale in one championship game on Saturday. Paloma Valley beat Santa Margarita in the other championship.

Also, Diamond Ranch was originally supposed to be in this tournament but pulled out late in the week. Haven’t heard why …

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UPDATED: QB Matt Simko leaves Claremont … BUT WHERE DID HE GO? …

UPDATE: The two rumors I’ve heard are Colony or Damien. Just rumors, so don’t any of you trip out. And yes, Simko’s part of Matt Bechtel’s Field Generals quarterbacks program.

I knew something wasn’t right this a.m. when I saw Claremont throw against La Salle. QB Matt Simko, who was thought to be the heir apparent to 3,500-yard passer Daniel Kessler, and BELIEVE ME one of the better passers around, was not with the Wolfpack.

Simko has left the program, according to Wolfpack coach Mike Collins. But where Simko’s headed is not known. Do you know? Do you have a friend who knows? Is it Damien? (It’s not Damien, I called and asked) Is it Rancho? Is it an Inland team? Is it Amat? Is it an Orange County team? Somebody find out and tell me …

At 6-foot-3 with a rocket arm and stud receiver De’Andre Manus to throw to, Claremont’s passing game looked like it may remain one of the best around this season.

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Charter Oak falls to Villa Park in Claremont Tournament semis, West Covina wins Arroyo Linemen Competition

Charter Oak scored the first two touchdowns and added an interception against Villa Park to take a big early lead, but the Chargers lost when a Villa Park stepped in front of a Travis Santiago pass for an interception in the end zone to break a tie with very little time left on the clock.

Etiwanda won the tournament by beating Villa Park in the finals.

Elsewhere, West Covina won BIG at the Arroyo Linemen Competition. Azuza finished second.

Aram’s takes:

West Covina:
Well, they were supposed to beat a cast of mostly Mid-Valley Division teams in the Arroyo line battle. They did that easily. I wasn’t there, but this is a good sign that the Bulldogs will have another good line. I’m still worried about the passing game.

Charter Oak: First, Khari Garcia is going to be one of the top DBs in the area. This kid is fantastic. Second, the Chargers need to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver. With Santiago at QB, Scoby running the rock and Gilchrist impossible for most corners to match up to, it might be getting nit picky to say the Chargers need a consistent No. 2 receiver. But you gotta have it in the Inland. Uh yeah, I know I tweeted that CO was putting it on Villa Park, and they were, but I’m a little disappointed because I watched the VP team all day and they were very, very gritty. That’s what got them past CO. I also think the Chargers may have taken their foot off the gas and then couldn’t get it back. Thinking ahead to a championship against fellow Inland team Etiwanda may have had something to do with it. All in all, a great summer for CO.

St. Francis: The Knights lost to Villa Park and there’s no shame in that. The passing game looks solid with Leibowitz at QB and Talianko a fine target. One that concerns me, though, is the lack of athleticism on the outside.

La Salle: The Lancers definitely got some guys in. The talent is way better than a 0-10 team. However, the defense looks shaky and the QB play needs polish. Also, the way this team carries itself reminds of some guy you see at your class reunion and he’s trying to hard to impress everyone.

Santa Fe: They beat Chino Hills in a conso game and gave Charter Oak a little battle in their first game. This team looks sneaky good. The QB play is solid and the athletes are more than fine. I warned about this team this spring and I stand by it. Yes, it’s only passing league, but I maintain this is the team to beat in the Del Rio.

Chino Hills:
Very, very bad day. They got beat handily by Culver City and then didn’t seem interested against Santa Fe. Thank goodness the line play should be some of the best around.

Claremont: Have no idea where QB Simko was, but the Pack clearly need him. The rest of the talent is very solid. But without Simko, Claremont was done early against La Salle.

Muir: Wasn’t able to see any of Muir.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT

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