Pertusati … and … well, Pertusati. Damien is the hardest team in the area to gauge.
TRIB TOP 10
But first, some concept: Bill Walsh once said that quarterback is the most important position on the field. Take it from a guy who watches football non-stop, from Friday night until Sunday night, I believe this is the most profound statement about the game EVER! (And yet it’s so simple). It’s better than “defense wins championships.” Better than “ya gotta have a good running game.” There might be examples of both axioms being true, but the fastest way to having a good football team, especially in high school, is having a good QB. And it doesn’t matter if he’s a runner (Philip Chase) or a thrower (Matt Castaneda) or both (Mark Mendrun). You see, I truly believe that life isn’t complicated. Complications come only when we make them. I believe everything can and should be simplified. High school football is no different than anything else. Good coach + good QB = good team. It’s just that easy for me. Having watched a lot of high school football, my biggest philosophy is that if a team has an effective passing game, it’s got the foundation for a good season. I’ve seen too many teams handicapped by bad QB play. The reason for this is that very few coaching staffs can make up for a lack of a good QB by running the ball well and being creative. Eventually, you need to throw. I’m not saying a team has to be Ty Detmer and BYU, but I am saying it has to be able to at least throw fear (literally) into the opponent. So now that you know my criteria for preseason rankings, you have a little insight into why the rankings are what they are. Believe me, they can and will change. This is the best guideline I can provide SGV fans entering spring practice. I will insert the anonymous opinion of SGV insiders here and there. I’ve heard some very interesting things thus far and it’s only May! Obviously, your comments and input are appreciated.
1. South Hills – I’m not sure many of you will understand this, so I’m just going to say it. Things like the 35-0 loss to Charter Oak, the loss to Rowland, injuries to key players and the overall inability to get on a roll last year have South Hills poised to take no prisoners this season. As one SGV assistant coach put it “Charter Oak woke up the sleeping giant.” They did, and now the San Antonio League and Southwest Division are going to pay for it. The Huskies won a share of the league title last season and upset a seeded team on the road in the playoffs in a REBUILDING YEAR. Now the best frosh class this area has seen in a LONG TIME is ready to play a significant role on the varsity level. Are they needed? You be the judge. South Hills has a viable returning QB in Brandon Parham, who lost the battle last year but most assume will have the job to himself this year. Really? Word is that junior Cameron Deen and soon-to-be sophomore Chris Willison (6-1, 185) will push for the starting job. RB Evan Heard is back after a solid sophomore year, but word is that Anthony Drake (one-time Diamond Ranch student) will get the bulk of the carries and is very explosive, an element South Hills sorely lacked last year. Dimitri De La Fuente returns at WR, but word is that both receivers on last year’s frosh team could crack the starting the lineup. Couple all of that offensive potential with a defense that will rival Charter Oak as being the best in the area, and you see why it’s not too soon to put South Hills at No. 1. About the defense, the front seven will be stellar with LBs Bowden and Kuklinski back and DL Kebin Umodu already entertaining one offer from a Pac-10 school. The season lays out perfectly. The Huskies will get tested early by a tough non-league, go untouched in league and enter the playoffs as a seeded team. In my opinion, no team in the area or Southwest Division has more upside than South Hills. It’s very possible the Huskies could be sitting on three consecutive CIF titles.
2. Charter Oak – Talk about a complete team. There are 10 starters back on defense, an up-and-coming QB, two RBs good enough to be featured and an elusive playmaker at WR. But the only reason I can’t put Charter Oak No. 1 yet is because I believe losing WR/DB Michael Johnson and LB AJ Pasalo will take a bigger toll than most people expect. Not to mention, most of the offensive line has to be replaced. However, if the new offensive line is as good as the coaching staff believes, then CO will be markedly better on offense. RBs Kanaan Snowden and Johnny Crespo are a fantastic combo. WR Mikey Harrell and QB Chris Allen should get plenty of good opportunities down field with that kind of running game. I think the biggest thing this spring will be monitoring Coach Lou Farrar’s situation. Some people say OC Dominic Farrar and DC Roger Lehigh will basically run the show as Big Lou’s role begins to decrease. I just have a hard time believing Big Lou can simply slide into the background. It’s a situation worth watching at passing league games and the like. By the way, CIF ought to just follow my Top 3 for the Southwest Division’s opening poll. The division champ will come out of this group.
3. Los Altos – One insider told me to set up camp at Los Altos because this is far and away the best team in the area. I’m not sure I buy it and that’s because of the QB vacancy. However, all bets are off with South Hills and Charter Oak if the Conqs do somehow land a transfer or coach Greg Gano develops a competent passer from what he’s currently working with. TE/DE Ray Rodriguez and OL/DL Nick Longoria are a great pair to build the core of the offense and defense around. LBs Richard Maciel and Marc Felix are a nice tandem in DC Lee Fair’s scheme. The offense has everything, but the aforementioned QB. The Conqs have to be able to get the ball to Rodriguez and WR Tony Seanez. The running game is set with Bryce McBride, who I rate as the top RB in the area. I’d like this team even more if the Donte Webb situation were more clear. He’s still on campus, from what I hear. But it’s a long off-season. If Webb stays and can somehow play a Chappelle Brown-like role at WR/DB, then this team gets that much better. Los Altos’ off-seasons are always fun to follow. Nobody reloads better and holes always seemed to get filled.
4. Bishop Amat – From top to bottom, this is the best team in the SGV. But Orange Lutheran, SO Notre Dame and Loyola don’t really care what Los Altos, South Hills and Charter Oak think of the Lancers. So, everything about Amat has to be judged by the company it keeps. Players like Dorian Wells and Dominique Austin are great, but almost everyone in the PAC-5 have their own versions of them. And when you’ve got a weakness, it doesn’t take long for opponents to figure it out. Amat’s weakness right now is QB. Who is he? From what I hear, several players are battling for the spot. Amat can’t get through its league and CIF-SS division without a balanced offense, so the QB situation is the single most important item this spring/summer. It’s quite simple – if Amat finds a capable signal caller, get ready for a big season. All of the other pieces are in place.
5. Glendora – I’m not sure about how explosive the Tartans will be, but the defense is in place to have another strong season. I am a little concerned about the offense in the post-Jordan Edmond era. Not to mention, Zach Butler, the team’s second best offensive threat, is also graduating. That leaves QB Drew Kaluzny and RB Jake Vegas as the cornerstones of coach Mark Pasquarella’s offense. Glendora’s front seven is one of the best around, so the job of the coaching staff is simple this spring and summer: Develop the skill players because 14 points per game might just be enough for seven wins. P.S. I’d still like to see Glendora with a little more in the athleticism department.
6. Duarte – Am I the only one noticing that Duarte is starting to control the Duarte-Monrovia talent split? And it’s happening so quietly. This is quite a scary situation that’s in the process of happening. Last year, Duarte sent TWO players to Division I college teams. We’re talking UCLA and Fresno State, folks. What other SGV team did something like that? This year’s team features Chris Harris, who anonymously was the Valley’s leading rusher last year (it was a very tough conversation with Coach Crutchfield, telling him that Harris wasn’t 1st team All-Area). Not only does Harris return, but QB Austin Goldsmith (2,100 yards and 21 TDs) is also back. All-purpose standout Darius Reese returns, too. Duarte will put up a scary amount of points again this season. There’s absolutely no reason the Falcs won’t roll thru the Montview League and be on their way to another semifinals (or beyond) finish in the Mid-Valley Division.
7. Damien – The Spartans were No. 1 in the area for most of last season. So dropping all the way to No. 8 in the off-season is a big slide. Like last year, there’s a chance I’m severely underestimating the talent. QB Danny Pertusati gives Damien the formula I like – good coaching and a good QB. But I’m worried about the defense and the running game. I’m worried that Damien won’t be able to stretch the field like last season. The offensive line has the potential to be good and RB Marcus Williams is back. But beside Pertusati, where’s the speed on this team? This is yet another club to watch this spring/summer.
8. Arroyo – The Knights are the only MVL currently ranked. Although Rosemead and South El Monte have some nice talent coming back, Arroyo appears to be the more reliable situation. I’m not %100 sure about Tommy Cogburn and what toll asst. coach Jerry Urias took at South El Monte. Same can be said for DC Anthony White being removed from Matt Koffler’s staff and whether Tra Sumler is ready/able to be in the spotlight. So, Arroyo looks like a pretty solid favorite in the MVL and one could make the argument that nobody has more returning talent than the Knights. The preferred formula of a good QB/good coach is in play here. Plus, the Knights have up to four transfers/shoulda been Arroyo kids anyway ready to play a significant role.
9. Northview – There’s talk that the Vikings are ready to go on a Covina-like run beginning this year. Not only is the talented soph soon-to-be junior class something to be excited about, but it’s also the second year for head coach Jim Arellanes, so the players should be more used to his systems. It’s no secret that the upcoming junior class was supposed to do some good things, so this has to be the year all of that starts to materialize. The VVL looks wide open and Northview might just be the fastest of the fast.
10. Diamond Ranch – The Panthers had Top 5 potential until RB Aubrey Haynes made an odd transfer to St. Paul. Although nobody understands how going from Diamond Ranch to St. Paul qualifies as moving on to greener pastures, the blow of Haynes’ departure certainly hurts. But RB duties aren’t hopeless if Brian Spirlin fills Haynes’ shoes. There was some concern the soon-to-be junior was bolting for Colony, so monitor that situation closely. The rest of the Panthers offense appears just fine. Amat transfers Tony Adams and Brandon Sermons could add to the firepower. There’s returning experience at QB, which is nice. The Panthers’ nonleague schedule remains worrisome, but not as suicidal as last year. Like Northview, Diamond Ranch has a second-year coach in Roddy Layton who should see things go much more smoothly now that the campus is used to his style. Diamond Ranch remains one of the area’s more naturally talented schools, so even though this year’s team isn’t as experienced as last year, it remains a good bet to have similar results. Remember, the Panthers beat Los Altos and were a minute away from beating Charter Oak last season. Don’t sleep on this program.