Undefeateds offering the feel-good stories of 2011 …

Here’s my column from Friday, in case you missed it.

You don’t have to look too far to find the feel-good stories of the 2011 football season.

Just take a look at the records of Claremont, Duarte, La Puente, Los Altos and South El Monte.

Undefeated. All of them.

In addition to having no losses, all of these teams have something else in common. Each one has overcome adversity in some way, shape or form to be where they are.

For Claremont, the struggle began when a dynamic senior class graduated last summer and took with it just about all of the offensive production from 2010′s 7-4 team.

The Wolfpack coaching staff then spent the entire offseason grooming Matt Simko, likely a college prospect, to be their quarterback, only to have the 6-foot-3 junior leave the team just days before Claremont hosted its own passing tournament and transfer to Colony.

No problem. Claremont has rallied around Gabe Schaper, a 156-pound quarterback, to post a 4-0 record that has the Wolfpack full of confidence as Sierra League play approaches.

Claremont’s story is nice, but it doesn’t come close to what’s taking place at Los Altos. The Conquerors had been in shambles since legendary coach Greg Gano resigned after the 2007 season. Two coaching hires that split the alumni base in terms of allegiance set things back even farther and would-be players couldn’t leave the Hacienda Heights campus fast enough to play elsewhere.

Those who did stick around went through an 0-10 season last year and another coaching change. When Dale Ziola was hired during the offseason, few people knew who he was and just about everybody had one of the area’s storied programs dead and buried. There even was talk of Los Altos moving down in divisions so it could compete again.

Where are the Conquerors now, you ask? They are 4-0 and wondering what’s a better goal, winning the Hacienda League or simply making the playoffs. Los Altos has done it with hard work and a no-quit attitude.

The Conquerors worked extremely hard in the weight room all offseason. Even before Ziola was hired, the players were keeping each other accountable in the weight room and making sure nobody missed.

The sleeping giant has awakened in Hacienda Heights and it’s something that’s still hard to believe.

Down at South El Monte, the Eagles apparently had gone from dormant to good to dormant again. Only a half decade ago, South El Monte was every bit as good, if not better, than Mission Valley League heavyweights Arroyo and Rosemead. Heck, in 2005 the Eagles even hosted the biggest game in school history against area power South Hills in the semifinals of the playoffs.

Things have been in gradual decline since then and it culminated last year with a 1-9 record. That was enough for the school to let Ray Hernandez go and search for another coach.

When South El Monte decided on Ibis Aguilar, most people’s first reaction was “Who?” That’s right, Ibis Aguilar, a 29-year-old, first-year head coach who told this reporter in August, “There’s no question I can turn this program around.”

I didn’t believe him, and South El Monte now is 3-0. Aguilar enlisted the help of Bonita defensive coordinator Ray Medina during the offseason and the Eagles are allowing just 10 points per game.

Some of you may be wondering what adversity La Puente had to face in the offseason. True, the Warriors aren’t coming off several bad seasons. Their success isn’t really a shock to anybody. They’re starting to string together winning seasons under head coach Brandon Rohrer.

But all of that was threatened during the offseason when Rohrer was pursuing the open head coaching job at his alma mater, Glendora. It appeared just when La Puente’s program had found the right man, he was about to leave for home.

The drama of Glendora’s coaching vacancy lasted long into the offseason. Believe me, that wears on kids. They put so much trust into what their coaches are telling them, and if they start to get the vibe that coach may not be around when the pads come on, concentration and belief start to go out the window.

Well, Rohrer stayed and La Puente appears ready to take another step forward after back-to-back 8-3 seasons.

Finally, we come to Duarte, where there was some talk in the summer of 2010 that the Falcons may not be able to field a varsity team. The stampede out of Duarte by several top players was a highly publicized event that caused a crisis in confidence with the program.

The Falcons went 0-9 last season and scored just 13 points all season. They were shut out seven times.

Duarte is 2-0 this season and has scored a combined 82 points. They said this rebuilding project may have been too much, even for Tip Sanders. Not so. Things now are looking up at Duarte at a time nobody expected it.

If you look to our high school football fields for valuable life lessons, you certainly will be impressed by what you see no matter where you go. These five teams have overcome shortcomings and never stopped moving forward, even when life appeared to deal them bum hands.

Will we still be talking about these teams in November? Who knows? And it doesn’t matter, either.

The players on these teams already have shown their mettle. When somebody in the future tells them they’ll never find a job, never will get that girl or never will own that home, how do you think they’ll handle it?

You know the answer.

That’s why whatever good things happen to these teams the rest of the season is just gravy.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT

Billy The Kid update: Grade 2 shoulder separation …


If Aram had to bet, Billy The Kid ain’t playing on Friday.

Covina Colts quarterback Billy Livingston has not practiced or thrown a ball this week and remains a game-time decision for Friday’s Valle Vista League opener against Pomona.

Livingston injured his right shoulder in last Friday’s win over Walnut. An MRI revealed a Grade 2 separation. The senior has stopped taking pain medication and his arm is no longer in a sling.

But whether he’s under center when the Colts visit Pomona on Friday is in serious doubt.

“He’s really looking forward to playing,” Thomas said. “He is a game-time decision. He’s been at practice, but has not practiced. We’re going to still run whatever he’s capable of running.

“If he’s ready to go, he’ll be in. If not, he won’t. That’s the best I can tell you.”

If Livingston misses the game, senior backup Daniel Sifuentes will take his place. Sifuentes was the quarterback of the freshman team when the current Colts seniors were freshman. He also saw action last season when Livingston was injured.

It’s a family affair for La Puente’s Nick Barrientos …

Nick Barrientos knows that when it comes to his football endeavors, he’s got two groups of people he can’t let down.

One is La Puente High School’s football team and the other is his family, which is steeped in a football tradition of its own.

Try to keep up: Nick Barrientos is the youngest son of Jose Barrientos, who played football at Rosemead and graduated in 1984 … and wants it known that he wasn’t as good as his four sons.

Nick has three brothers: Steven (Class of 2009 at La Puente), James (’06 at La Puente) and Jose (’04 at Wilson).

Wilson fans may remember Jose Jr. for the game-saving tackle he made on a trick 2-point conversion at the end of the game to preserve a 28-27 victory over Villa Park in the 2003 playoffs.

Nick Barrientos is a major reason why La Puente is 3-0 and some people are thinking the Warriors may knock off Azusa in the Montview League.

The senior has rushed for 413 yards rushing, six touchdowns and has been the driving force behind the Warriors averaging nearly 40 points per game.

“He does a lot for us,” La Puente coach Brandon Rohrer said. “A lot of our offense does go through him. I can put him out in space or in the backfield. He’s a big part of our success.”

Family pride is a big motivator for Barrientos, who doesn’t want to disappoint the lineage of good players in the household. Not to worry, though, his brothers won’t let that happen. They’ve started a speed-training camp to help their brother Nick and other Warriors football players get better. For Nick, that meant spending every morning this summer working out at La Puente Little League park.

“They told me I have to live up to the family name because all my brothers were good and even my dad was good,” Barrientos said. “They all played tailback and they want me to be better than what they were.”

Barrientos’ play has helped the Warriors gain confidence with each passing and each gathered win. The Warriors’ latest victim was neighboring Wilson. In that game, Barrientos not only shined on offense, but he also made his presence felt on defense and special teams.

Defense has never been an issue for Barrientos, who started last season as a defensive back before dislocating his elbow. When he returned, he was handed the running back job and hasn’t looked back.

“They expected me to be good, but I don’t think they expected me to be this good,” Barrientos said of Rohrer and the Warriors coaching staff.

“I didn’t expect to be this good, to be honest. I was pretty nervous at first because I had to do better than my brothers. I trained for it the whole summer, so it’s come pretty easy.”

La Puente has enjoyed a resurgence under Rohrer. Including this year’s victories, Rohrer is now 19-6 at a school that before his arrival had seen quite a bit of coaching turnover and subsequent lack of success on the field.

With nonleague play now completed, the Warriors have their sights set on Azusa and the Montview League. La Puente figures to be favored in every game until the Azusa showdown in Week 10. Should the Warriors enter that game 9-0, they would likely be playing for a league title and possible No. 1 seed in the Mid-Valley Division playoffs.

Don’t think for a second that teachers and students around campus aren’t taking notice of what might be the best season at La Puente in recent history. Barrientos and his teammates are starting to feel it.

“Something’s happening,” Barrientos said. “The teachers congratulate me because they’ve read about me in the paper. I can see that fans want to come out more because they can see that we’re good now.

“It’s exciting for us because we’re actually 3-0. It feels pretty great. Some people doubted us. We’ve proved them wrong.”

As for Barrientos’ biggest critics – his family – here’s an ongoing push to make sure baby brother does even better than he already has.

That’s meant staying after practice working on speed drills with his brothers in hopes of making an already impressive season that much better.

“There’s a lot of pressure because I’m the last one. They don’t want me to (fail), so I’m doing the best I can.”

So far, so good.

Follow me on Twitter @ChemicalAT