Almont League predictions … CAST YOUR VOTE!


QB Josh Mendoza has Alhambra on the rise in the Almont.

NOTE: This is the sixth in a series of previews that look at local leagues that consist of local teams only. I’m making an exception here because although Bell Gardens isn’t local, the rest of the league is.

1. San Gabriel — I give the Mats the slight nod, but this has to be the most wide-open league in the area. Remember when other coaches in the Mid-Valley were sour last offseason when the Almont was added to the division? One year in and nobody is panicking anymore. Somebody in the league needs to start changing that THIS YEAR and it might be San Gabriel. As you all know, I like what San Gabriel did in its final two games last year, beating Schurr and Alhambra. They also beat Rosemead last year during the nonleague and some people feel they gave Muir a good show for a while before that game got away. The Mats need to build on all that, but this is Year 2 of the Jude Oliva era and you know how I feel about teams in Year 2 of a new coach. SG has a nice weapon in QB Andy Guerrero and he has arguably the league’s top WR to throw in Alex Villalobos. I wasn’t impressed by what I saw of the Mats at the SGV Shootout, but I’m willing to forgive that. The Mats have been a traditionally weak defensive team, but maybe that will change this year with some coaching changes. Remember, SG was THREE POINTS away from being league champs last year. While I have no clue what SG is thinking putting Mid-Valley teams like San Dimas and Baldwin Park on the schedule, I think they build on last year ….and it helps that most of the league enters the season relatively untested/weak in the skill spots.
Predicted record: 6-4 overall, 5-0 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

2. Alhambra — The Moors took their lumps last year in a new system under longtime assistant and now head coach Lou Torres. But a young team has hopefully blossomed into a veteran group that gets the luxury of being in a league that saw several teams lose some very nice players. The Moors have arguably the league’s top QB in Josh Mendoza. He put on display a nice arm this summer and he has a couple of very nice receivers to work with in Essien Frank and Demtrius Russell. SEVEN Alhambra players finished with 100 yards or more rushing last year, but nobody had more than 258. There’s talk that junior-to-be Ezra Broadus could be a special player and he should get a lot more touches this season. I expect Alhambra’s offense to do much better than the 18.2 points per game it averaged last year. The defense will also have to get better and that’s going to be a tall order with top-two tacklers from last year gone. You have to love Alhambra’s nonleague schedule with FIVE Mid-Valley Division opponents. The Moors had better take care of business right away because if they don’t finish in the Almont top two, CIF will be taking a LONG LOOK at those nonleague games.
Predicted record: 6-4 overall, 3-2 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

3. Schurr
— No team was hit harder by graduation than the Spartans. QBs like Aaron Cantu don’t come along often in the Almont … and the top-FIVE receivers from last year are also gone. But, as anybody who’s live in the Valley long enough knows, Schurr is a perennial in the Almont and they have reloaded on a consistent basis. My big worry is that Schurr has so much production to replace and before they even get into league, they have to face a nonleague schedule of Cantwell, Downey, El Toro, Cal and St. Paul. I’m no expert on most of those teams, but I have a hard time seeing Schurr win any of those games. There will be some growing pains, but running back Bradley Powell is a nice talent to build the offense around. The defense also has to be rebuilt. But I do think that if Schurr can put a good defense on the field … one that can come close to matching last year’s 14 points per game allowed in league, then that may be enough to have Sparty right in the hunt yet again.
Predicted record: 3-7 overall, 3-2 in league.
Playoffs: No.

4. Montebello — Yet another team with a lot to replace. The Oilers will have new faces at QB and RB this year. In fact, both leading rushers are gone. WR George Romo led the team in receiving last year and is back. The reason I think Montebello may be right in the thick of the league race is A. because it’s so wide open and B. I think head coach Pete Gonzalez knows his stuff and has the program on the upswing. Montebello actually led the league in points allowed last year, giving up an average of 13.8 a game. If they can do that again, they’ll be in the mix.
Predicted record: 3-7 overall, 2-3 in league.
Playoffs: No.

5. Bell Gardens
— Am I repeating myself with whole purged by graduation angle? Well, add BG to that group. The Lancers have to replace their leading passer, rusher and receiver. Hurts, man. Last year’s team got its fair share of hype and did well to finish 6-4 in the regular season before being spanked by Mid-Valley finalist Whittier Christian in the first round of the playoffs. BG used to be a good bet to simply reload, but those days have passed. I guess BG’s best hope is the fact that NOBODY in the league is what I would consider dominant.
Predicted record: 3-7 overall, 1-5 in league.
Playoffs: No.

6. Keppel — What do you want me to say? No, the Aztecs aren’t going to compete for the league title. But I do give credit to the players who continue to suit up and play with the aspiration of being the group to turn around the program. Keppel was shut out SEVEN times last year, so obviously they’re a long ways away from contending in the Almont.
Predicted record: 0-10 overall, 0-5 in league.
Playoffs: No.

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Valle Vista League predictions …. CAST YOUR VOTE!


Vinny Venegas is looking like the odd-on favorite to be league MVP.

NOTE: This is the fIfth in a series of previews that look at local leagues that consist of local teams only.

1. Covina — The Colts used close wins over Baldwin Park and San Dimas to win the league last year and the majority of the key contributor’s from that return. QB Billy Livingston is the top QB in the league. WR Vinny Venegas is the top WR in the league. If RB Gevontray Ainsworth isn’t the top returning RB in the league, then he’s in the conversation. Get the point? This team is loaded on offense. But offense wasn’t only what sent Covina to 10 wins and a trip to the semifinals. Covina’s defense allowed just 17 points per game for the season last year. That’s outstanding. Johnny Padilla, the team’s leading tackler is back. D-lineman Nick Hynes, who had 10.5 sacks last year is also back. As I look around the Valle Vista League, I really don’t see any teams that I would call considerably better than they were last year. I think Covina is. This was the class that two years ago the Covina coaches gave plenty of playing time to while they were sophomores with the hopes of it paying off big-time in 2011. Beside Monrovia, I don’t see a threat to the Colts in the Mid-Valley Division. This year could be special.
Predicted record: 9-1 overall, 6-0 in league.
Playoffs: Yes, top-four seed.

2. San Dimas
— Usually I would call what San Dimas went through last season a transition year after the CIF title, but I can’t do that. I don’t think this year’s team is better. There isn’t a beast on the line like Allen Brown. There isn’t a scary receiver like Kevin Kolbeck. The running backs lost a lot of production, too. But, the Saints are to a place where the systems and the coaching keep the program afloat even in years when the talent isn’t lofty. That would be this season. San Dimas should give plenty of defense problems with its offense. Having an experience QB in Shawn Kennedy helps quite a bit. All-purpose threat Dillon Corona should have his best season yet. The defense, at least looks-wise this summer, still figures to be formidable.
Predicted record: 6-4 overall, 5-1 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

3. Pomona — Yeah yeah, I know. Pomona has 30 transfers and they were all-CIF at their former schools and they’re all eligible and they’re all at Pomona for the education. Great. The chatter on the blog has prompted a lot of people to contact me in the past week. People who have been at Pomona for a while and people who are new to Pomona. Basically people from every walk of life from Pomona have contacted me to either complain or inquire about who it is that keeps talking up their team and playing up all the new faces. I did not see Pomona this summer. And before our oft-traveling friend calls me a lazy reporter, I will ask him to find me ANY reporter who went more places this summer. Not to mention, Coach Rice mustn’t feel like talking because we can’t get a call back. So, I have to go off the trusted opinions of people who contacted me. The one person I trust the most said this “They don’t have anybody as good as Jamal (Overton) or Demetrius (Counts) this year.” He also said he counted about eight transfers and that the statements of them being all-league at their prior schools was just not accurate. He also said that while the LBs look good weight room-wise, they’re also a little stiff and not very tall. Another person told me they are no better or different than a typical Pomona team. This person said the school is trying to go back to the Eugene Germany days, but they aren’t their yet. He also said that Pomona has transfers EVERY year because that’s the nature of the beast. The one thing these people who have contacted me all have in common is that they didn’t want their Devils getting a bad rep on the blog because of one person. And they wanted to set the record straight in terms of the talent being over-hyped by that same person. At the end of the day, I think third is a good place to put Pomona in any predictions. And the main reason for that is because Wilson, Northview and Baldwin Park both look down to me when compared to last year.
Predicted record: 6-4 overall, 4-2 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

4. Baldwin Park — This is a transition year for the Braves, who lose studs like WC3, Demetrius Jackson and Mario Rodriguez from last year’s team. BP cannot simply reload with players like that, but I do expect the typical, tough brand of BP football player to make it so that the Braves don’t collapse. Coach James Heggins has done a great job turning this program around and turning it into a consistent winner. Adding Jim Arellanes to his coaching staff certainly helps, but losing Wardell Crutchfield hurts. Running back Anthony Moran is a load and I expect the offense will be built around his tough running. Receiver Bruno Haro is a solid outside threat. So the makings of a decent offense are there if Arellanes can develop a QB. The defense should hit hard but has so many key players to replace that it’s hard not to see them taking a bit step back.
Predicted record: 5-5 overall, 3-3 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

5. Wilson — Robledo and I were very impressed when we got to meet new Wildcats coach Bob Burt. He seems to have the right kind of style for what’s needed as the program transitions from last year’s disastrous outcome. Burt is no-nonsense, so that should help. But I’m starting to get skeptical whether today’s kids respond to old-school guys. I know all of you are going to point to Lou Farrar and Jack Mahlstede and Harry Welch and say I’m lost. But those guys are all entrenched. Burt is a guy no Wilson player had even heard of last year. Nonetheless, disciplined football usually leads to good things. The Wildcats aren’t the most talented bunch around, but you can bet they will be in good condition and make teams beat them.
Predicted record: 4-6 overall, 2-4 in league.
Playoffs: No.

6. Nogales — Year 2 of the Sebastian Hernandez Era should produce some improvement. I had heard rumblings that Nogales had a nice collection of athletes this year. And when I saw that Keith Bolden from QB to RB/WR, I started thinking they were on to something. I saw the Nobles at the SGV Shootout and they do have some nice athletes, but it didn’t see like they’ve put it all together. If that happens, this team could surprise.
Predicted record: 5-5 overall, 1-5 in league.
Playoffs: No.

7. Northview — I was worried by what I saw from the Vikings this summer. Unless their lines have some nice talent, this could be a very long year for Northview. Last year’s team was somewhat dangerous, as evidenced by their 14-11 loss to Covina. But there was a lot of talent lost from that team. The good news is beside Covina, the rest of the league isn’t as strong as last year. Northview’s nonleague schedule isn’t so scary that the Vikes couldn’t get some confidence-boosting wins. But if they don’t, the snowball will be rolling by the time league begins.
Predicted record: 1-9 overall, 0-6 in league.
Playoffs: No.

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Del Rio League predictions … CAST YOUR VOTE!


Is Cal-Hi on the verge of a bounce-back season?

NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of previews that look at local leagues that consist of local teams only. Please keep in mind that I do not have much experience covering the Del Rio League. I have seen some teams this summer and talked to coaches. Anybody’s input into these predictions are much appreciated.

1. Santa Fe — Several people I’ve spoken to this summer have been impressed by the Chiefs. I joined the club when I saw them at the Claremont Tournament. It figures Santa Fe would be in line for a big year after last season’s transition year. The Chiefs entered last year having to replace some nice talent. This year, it’s a veteran group with several of the league’s, if not division’s, top players. QB/WR/S Christian Mahlstede is one of the better players around. If you believe, like I do, that soph QB Justin Restizo is the real, then SF will get the luxury of using Mahlstede at WR. Santa Fe wasn’t up to its usual standards last year on defense. Yes, the Chiefs held Bonita and Charter Oak to 12 and 17, respectively, but both teams were without their starting QBs. Both La Serna and West Covina lit up the Chiefs, improvement is needed. I like what I saw athlete-wise this summer, and given that La Serna will come back to earth, I like SF to win it all.
Predicted record: 7-3 overall, 5-0 in league.
Playoffs: Yes, top-four seed.

2. La Serna — Like Bonita, the Lancers lose a dynamite senior class. Last year’s team was a juggernaut, especially defensively and in the run game. This year’s team will hang its hat on those same two things, but won’t be nearly as good at either. O.J. Medina gives the offense the kind of running back it can build around. But QB is a big question and the top-two receivers need to be replaced. Defensively, Faris Neshiewat and Craig Jones are two of the league’s top players at their positions. Because of them, I expect LS to produce a defense that will keep it in every league and thus squarely in the championship hunt.
Predicted record: 5-5 overall, 4-1 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

3. California — I remember former Whittier Preps maven Andrew Campa telling me Cal-Hi was a good, but young team last year. QB Drew Castro would be a good example of that. He got plenty of seasoning last year as a sophomore, so you can expect better things out of the offense. I spoke to Condors coach Jim Arnold and he relayed that his team had a solid summer and expects them to take a step forward this year. Like Santa Fe, Cal was in a transition year last season after winning the league in 2009. I like teams in the season following a transition year. The Condors won just three games last year, but they were the right three; all in league. I expect even better this year.
Predicted record: 7-3 overall, 3-2 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

4. Pioneer — I’m going out on a limb here. As most of you should know, I really like Pioneer RB Tony Botello. But this expectation runs deeper than just him. The reports I’ve heard from coaches is that the TITANS passed the eye test this summer. If that’s true and it translates into something once pads come on, then this could be a bit of a surprise team. Pioneer will benefit from La Serna coming back to the pack. The nonleague schedule is nothing daunting and should present Pioneer a good chance at being 5-0 going into league.
Predicted record: 7-3 overall, 2-3 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

5. El Rancho
— It’s hard for me to tell what exactly El Rancho has returning because most of the roster on Maxpreps does not include what grade players are in. I haven’t heard anything out of the ordinary about the Dons this summer. So are we to expect the usual good defense and running game? The Dons allowed a respectable 21 points per game in league last year. More of the same puts them right in the hunt.
Predicted record: 5-5 overall, 2-3 in league.
Playoffs: No.

6. Whittier
— There was some chirping last summer that Whittier would be improved last season. It didn’t happen. The Cards actually weren’t horrible in league beside their 55-point loss to La Serna. The rest of the games were mostly competitive. Whittier will have to find a way to better last season’s average of 9.8 points per game. Running back Javier Ornelas gives Whittier something to build around on offense.
Predicted record: 0-10 overall, 0-5 in league.
Playoffs: No.

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Hacienda League predictions … CAST YOUR VOTE!


The pass attack is the only big concern for West Covina in ’11.

NOTE: This is the third in a series of previews that look at local leagues that consist of local teams only.

1. West Covina — The Bulldogs have the best defense in the league and one of the best defenses in the area. The offense will feature another powerful rush attack led by Chris Solomon, Aaron Salgado and Jimmy Frazier. The QB position is a major issue and I would expect many teams to challenge WestCo in that department by loading the box. If you’re a West Covina opponent, you want the game close going into the 4th when you hope they HAVE TO pass. The run game, defense and sick collection of athletes make the Bulldogs the clear favorite to win the league and repeat as Southeast Division champs.
Predicted record: 9-1 overall, 6-0 in league.
Playoffs: Yes, top-four seed.

2. Diamond Bar — As we near the time when pads come on, I get more and more nervous about my confidence in D-Bar. I put this team in my Top 25 back in spring and took a lot of flack for it. So far, so good. The Brahmas had a strong summer and the program has caught fire under new coach Ryan Maine. But some serious questions remain: Can D-Bar stop class teams and can they be physical enough on offense to stay on the field? There aren’t many teams around with such a nice collection of skill talent, so the onus is on the defense. In terms of the Hacienda, it’s hard to split D-Bar, D-Ranch and Bonita right now.
Predicted record: 8-2 overall, 4-2 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

t-3. Diamond Ranch — My concerns about the Panthers were somewhat calmed when I finally saw them at a passing game at Charter Oak. They still have athletes, although not as many as before. More specifically, in year’s past D-Ranch had more than one home-run hitter on offense. That isn’t the case this year. Beside WR Andrew Fischer, I don’t see any other playmakers. And that’s why I think D-Ranch comes back to the pack. The front seven should be very strong and give a better account of itself against WestCo and Bonita. Unless I’m missing something, this is a good, not great D-Ranch team.
Predicted record: 4-6 overall, 3-3 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

t-3. Bonita — I think we’re going to find out just how good last year’s senior class was. This will be a transition year for the Bearcats. There is still some top-shelf talent around, which means Bo-Hi won’t fall too hard. But the offense won’t be able to stretch the field until new QB Tanner Diebold takes his lumps. The running game may take some pressure off because the running backs are a team strength. However, I don’t see this as a smash-mouth team. I’m also not quite sure what to expect from the defense in terms of overall toughness … when compared to last year. Coaching and some savvy veterans will keep Bonita solid, but nothing near last year.
Predicted record: 5-5 overall, 3-3 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

5. Walnut — Yet another Hacienda team that lost a strong senior class. I would like to think that Walnut’s program is still at a place where it can simply reload without missing a beat after losing a good class of players, but I don’t see it. All the skill positions are a big question mark, as is Walnut’s ability to break as many big plays as last year. While spread offenses are nice for schools lacking linemen, you also need to have some serious threats to keep drives moving. If not, the defense is on the field way too much and that’s what I see happening to the Mustangs this year. Walnut may wear out much the same way Rowland did last season.
Predicted record: 3-7 overall, 2-4 in league.
Playoffs: No.

6. Rowland
— The Raiders faltered badly on defense last year. Fortunately, they had QB Michael Ball and a few other nice skill players to stay competitive and trade points. I don’t see how the defense gets much better this season and I’m certain the offense will suffer a serious drop off. The good news for Rowland is that the rest of the league is not nearly as explosive as it was last year. But while everyone else takes a step back, so do the Raiders.
Predicted record: 1-9 overall, 1-5 in league.
Playoffs: No.

7. Los Altos — While I believe that new Los Altos coach Dale Ziola has done a solid job of keeping what’s left of the program intact, I still don’t think there’s enough to produce better bottom-line results than last year. Truth be told, the Conqs could use some league relief. Valle Vista, possibly (not that there’s any room)? Los Altos is hoping that a switch to a 40 defense will slow opposing offenses a bit. The Conquerors’ own offense figures to ride running back Scott Tibbs for all he’s worth. Maybe LA will be slightly better this year, but they have a large gap to close.
Predicted record: 0-10 overall, 0-6 in league.
Playoffs: No.

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Sierra League predictions … CAST YOUR VOTE! …


South Hills coach Steve Bogan isn’t telling anyone whether the glass is half full

NOTE: This is the second in a series of league predictions for leagues that consist of local teams only.

1. Charter Oak — Ask yourself who has the best offense in the league? Right now, we should all agree it’s Charter Oak. The Chargers have the league’s top QB in Travis Santiago and a plethora of offensive weapons to go with him. Defense is the big question mark for CO as the entire defensive line must be replaced. The secondary is fantastic and should be extremely stingy. Big Lou plans to rotate a lot of athletes on defense in hopes of keeping a fast and fresh group on the field. I don’t see anyone in the league that can really stretch the Chargers deep.
Predicted record: 8-2 overall, 5-0 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

2. Damien — As I’ve said before, the Spartans are the most improved team in the area. They addressed their needs in terms of speed and should use all those quicks to put more points up on offense and not give up the big play so much on defense. Damien’s defensive line could be the best around, led by Charter Oak transfer Alex Hernandez and Alex Arevalo. As improved as Damien is, you have to ask yourself whether they’re ready to hang with CO’s speed or handle Chino Hills’ brute strength. I will see yes to one of those.
Predicted record: 8-2 overall, 4-1 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

3. Chino Hills — The Huskies have some very big questions and some very areas of confidence. It’s going to take more than a ball-control offense to win the Sierra. It’s going to take QB Andrew Chavez making plays to a group of skill players that look solid, but lack experience and the explosiveness of last year’s group. I know Chino Hills has always done a great job reloading, but this is a different Sierra League now. Programs don’t just replace guys like Ifo, Auston Johnson, Brad Bergen, Nate Harris and Scott Calles. This team will be a work in progress, but fully capable of beating anyone in league.
Predicted record: 5-5 overall, 3-2 in league.
Playoffs: Yes.

4. South Hills — This is probably the toughest team in the area to get a read on. The defense was atrocious last year, but it was underclassmen heavy. Are they better because they’re a year older? The offensive line loses some key players, but there’s talent, albeit inexperienced, to replace it. But you can’t bank on South Hills being at last year’s level. Then there’s Jamie Canada. If he returns to full strength or near it, he’s a legit weapon. But can you bank on that? This is a total mystery team. The parts are there for any kind of season.
Predicted record: 4-6 overall, 2-3 in league
Playoffs: No.

5. Ayala — The Bulldogs had a legit excuse last year with all the injuries they suffered. The dynamic frosh class that is now juniors has remained intact and if they are healthy should help the program give a better account of itself? But is that enough? The Bulldogs are badly outplayed last season and one talented class alone isn’t going to carry a team far in the Sierra. Ayala will be improved, but not enough to threaten the top three.
Predicted record: 3-7 overall, 1-5 in league.
Playoffs: No.

6. Claremont — I really do believe that one QB meant that much to a program. No, I’m not talking about last year’s stud Daniel Kessler. I’m talking about his replacement Matt Simko, who the coaching staff put a lot of time into getting ready. No, the ‘Pack would not have come close to last year’s amazing numbers, but Simko was solid and had some skill guys to work with. Claremont is now scrambling with inexperience and that’s the danger zone when you play this schedule in this league.
Predicted record: 3-7 overall, 0-6 in league.
Playoffs: No.

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