BREAKING NEWS: Dorian Wells headed to South Hills …

Found money …

The info: Former Bishop Amat football standout Dorian Wells, who is arguably the top player in the San Gabriel Valley, has checked into South Hills High and is enrolled in summer school there. He will evidently be a member of the football team this season.

Analysis: Wells’ arrival vaults South Hills into a whole different class. As you all know, I’ve ranked South Hills No. 1 in the SGV and believe they are the favorite to win the Southwest Division. But before Wells’ arrival, you could make an argument for Charter Oak or Los Altos to hold such expectations. Now, South Hills easily ranks with some of the top teams in SoCal. I truly mean this. It’s not crazy anymore to project an undefeated season, and if that happens, then what about a state championship bowl game? The Huskies already have three solid QBs, two excellent running backs, a defense that has a D-1 D-Lineman, two of the top LBs around, and scattered members of the vaunted frosh team from last season ready to play big roles. The offensive line is the only worry. South Hills is absolutely set for an amazing season. Granted, no game has been won or lost yet and the Huskies still have to go do it. But Wells is one of the top skill players in SoCal and he will be an excellent defensive back. Wow! That’s all I can say.
About Amat … I’m simply speechless. This could be the worst off-season I’ve ever witnessed. Obviously something happened for Wells and Amat to part ways. I still don’t want any speculation or commentary on this. For whatever reason, players are leaving Amat rapidly. This does not bode well for what was once a promising season. Amat simply can’t recover from losing Wells and Bryce McBride in the same off-season, then throw in Brandon Sermons and Tony Adams, too. The good news for Amat is the bad news for South Hills – no games have been played. Amat hasn’t lost to anybody yet. But you just have to shake your head. With Wells and McBride, the Lancers were a competent QB away from being a legit playoff team. I’d be very worried and perplexed if I were an Amat fan (and some people say that I am).

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Top 10 running backs in the SGV …

Gatorade, check. Oxygen, check. Smelling salts, check. Damon Kuklinski is playing running back, too!

If last year was the Year of the Quarterback in the SGV, then this year is the Year of the Running Back (that could be my lead for the football preview right there). I could go on and on with this list because the Valley is up to its eyes in talented ball carriers. Some teams even have multiple options at the position. I’m a little concerned about the fact that many teams may not have a good quarterback to go along with their stud running back, meaning it won’t take much to derail the seasons of several of the names on this list by stacking up against the run. Wasn’t it Mr. Miyagi who once said balance is the most important thing in life. Ahh, something like that. Anyway, here we go … I’m pretty rock solid on this list, but as always I’m open to a little spirited jousting where opinions may vary.

1. Bryce McBride, Los Altos – If LA doesn’t find a QB, then what should be a great season for McBride could be only just OK. It won’t take Charter Oak, Damien or South Hills long to figure out what they need to do to beat Los Altos. And you could see the blue visor go flying if LA isn’t capable of keeping the heat off with a little play action here or there. But the positives pointing toward McBride having one of the best seasons around is the fact that he should simply run away from many of the opponents on LA’s docket. Then there’s the advantage of having guys like Nick Longoria and even tight end Ray Rodriguez clearing the way for him. Conqs coach Greg Gano is savvy enough to get McBride the ball in every which way and even tailor an offense around him if the QB situation doesn’t get better.

2. Chris Harris, Duarte – Harris led the SGV in rushing last year as a junior. Granted, much of that was against inferior competition, but he did rack up 166 yards against Glendora, 241 against La Canada and 189 against Santa Clara. Even the 95 yards against Verbum Dei looks respectable. Don’t expect the numbers to change much this year and they could get slightly better even though tackle Mike Harris is now at UCLA. The presence of QB Austin Goldsmith means that teams can’t just gang up on Harris without facing the prospect of getting beat deep. Harris also figures to move forward physically and the speed is already there to turn a crease into a breakaway.

3. Nico Barbone, San Dimas – Barbone was the worst kept secret in the SGV last year. He was hyped going into his sophomore season and delivered in spades by rushing for 1,330 yards and 12 TDs. The bad news for opposing defenses is that Barbone has evidently put in his time this off-season. He got faster and more agile by taking in part Jimmy Nolan’s SpeedKillz camp. He’s also reportedly gotten stronger via the weight room. Add it all up and Barbone is going to be an even bigger load this season … one who might run away from a few more people, too.

4. Tim Gilmore, Wilson – Some coaches I’ve spoken to believe Gilmore might be the best athlete in the SGV. I’m not totally sure how the Wildcats are going to use him this year. I’d expect him to get a lot of carries, but also some receptions. Gilmore is extremely fast and capable of winning some games all by himself. Against CO or LA, the solo act won’t work. So it will be up to ‘Cats OC Greg Willig to complete the package with other options.

5. Kanaan Snowden, Charter Oak – The Chargers are legitimately three deep at RB this season. But I expect what started late last season to continue this year, and that’s Snowden getting the bulk of the carries. Snowden’s best attribute isn’t speed or breaking tackles, it’s the fact that he hits the right whole and rarely messes with any east/west movements. Snowden has improved physically this off-season and should be ready to build on last year’s late-season emergence.

6. Brian Spirlin, Diamond Ranch – Spirlin was the Panthers’ original starter last year before getting hurt very early in the season. His off-season has been confusing, just like everything else Diamond Ranch. There were rumors of Spirlin transferring to Colony, but it didn’t happen. If healthy, he’s a compact runner with good speed and the ability to shrug off tacklers. Spirlin is expected to be the Panthers’ workhorse and the presence of other weapons should make it so that he doesn’t have to deal with opponents focusing solely on him.

7. Evan Heard, South Hills – I still can’t get over Heard’s physical maturation. The D-1 frame is in place for the versatile junior. But I keep hearing talk of Damon Kuklinski sharing time in the backfield. Given Heard’s versatility and ability to catch the ball, he could play an all-purpose role that will see him line up all over the field. I don’t think Heard will be totally shutout of the carries, and if anything, he should see the bulk of the load since Kuklinski’s first priority is linebacker. Expect another major step forward by Heard this season.

8. Howard Martin, Northview – Just like all members of the Vikings’ ballyhooed Class of ’09, Martin will be expected to take a major step forward this year. There are so many skill players poised for breakout seasons in Northview’s offense, it’s hard to believe there’s enough yardage to go around. But the base of Northview’s offense will be running the ball and Martin should be a force in that department. He’s arguably the top breakout candidate on the list.

9. Damon Kuklinski, South Hills – When I visited Huskies practice, Kuklinski was working with the RBs. How can the area’s top linebacker pull double duty at running back, especially the way Kuklinski plays LB. You could look at Kuklinski’s frame and see it as being possible. This is yet another player who has certainly improved his appearance during the off-season. Wow! Kuklinski has always had the footwork to make for a good running back. I worry about his endurance playing two demanding positions. But he should be good for 10-15 carries a game and that could be enough for some excellent numbers. Kuklinski got carries last year, so this will be nothing new.

10. Marcus Wagner, Bishop Amat – If the Lancers coaching staff would definitively commit to Wagner being the feature back, then he’d shoot up this list. But like Kuklinski, Wagner also plays LB and I just don’t see how he can hold up doing both. Wagner simply looks painful to tackle. Think bowling ball with speed … and with a good offensive line clearing the way, wow! But coaches are treating the QB and RB scrambles like top secret info, so I have no clue what Wagner’s load will be.

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RUMOR: Mike DiFiori is after the Temple City job …

I want to CLASSIFY this as just being a rumor, but I believe it to be pretty reliable info or else I wouldn’t post it. Evidently, DiFiori has thrown his name in the hat (applied) for the vacant Temple City gig. If it’s true, DiFiori’s break from coaching (at least in the head coach capacity) will have lasted one season (even though for that one season he was an assistant at La Salle). Anyway, DiFiori once coached at Temple City before his stint at Amat. Once again, can coaches please come with something better than “I want to spend more time with my family.” Let me get my hands on the “How to handle the media” guide from CIF and I will change that part.

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That’s two O-Linemen DEAD …

Bonita’s Kevin Normington and now South Hills’ Daniel Stroud, dead in car accidents. What’s that tell you? I know the circumstances might be different, but the bottom line remains the same. These guys are the big nasties. They’re the baddest dudes on the team, big uglies if you will. But not even they can survive a catastrophic car accident. PLEASE BE CAREFUL WHEN YOU DRIVE. YOU MIGHT HURT YOURSELF OR SOMEBODY ELSE. That’s for all of us, not just the kids. God rest the souls of these two hogs and let this never happen again! And may God be with both families during this horrendous time.

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PRESEASON: Top 10 Quarterbacks in the SGV …

Danny Pertusati, this is everybody. Everybody, this is Danny Pertusati.

Because summer passing league games are the next order of business and QBs will be at center stage, I feel now is an appropriate time to give out the SGV’s best at the position. It’s still early enough that I’d be willing to listen to any arguments, so feel free to plug away.I will probably fire back, but that’s what we’re here for. I think there’s a lot of guesswork involved this season. Not a lot seems very clear as it pertains to this year’s QB crop whereas last year we had McDonough and Mendrun and Chase and Castaneda and so on all returning. This year, there are several excellent established arms. And then there are some cases of major potential. As you know, I think that good seasons go hand in hand with good QBs. I’d be willing to bet gold that the team of every QB on this list will have a winning season. Do you want that action? The hard part about ranking them comes from the fact that some of the unestablished names have considerably more upside than some of the established names. Make sure you re-read and understand that last sentence before firing away. If you have any info, then please share it. Don’t be afraid … this isn’t a baseball thread. I fully expect some new names to pop up once certain schools make their choices on starters. Undoubtedly, you can expect opinions to change and new ones to be formed once the summer begins to play out. I’m not going to lie to you, I have mixed feelings about the overall crop of local QBs. Welcome to the 2007 season …

1. Danny Pertusati, Damien – I know what you’re thinking … Yes, this is officially Pertusati’s first year under center. I know it’s hard to understand my putting him ahead of other more established names. But let me explain something, Pertusati is the best pure athlete on this list. He’s going to run and throw opponents ragged. Because of this, I’m starting to re-think my original thoughts about Damien. It hurts losing Mark Mendrun, Travis Eschardies and Anthony Hile, but there’s no reason to think Pertusati won’t have comparable success to Mendrun … throw in a good O-Line/D-Line, experience back at RB, and maybe this team won’t drop off as much as previously thought. Pertusati is probably a better scrambler than Mendrun, but I don’t think he’s quite the passer (yet). Tons of upside.

2. Chris Allen, Charter Oak – The way Allen finished the season should mean big things for CO as it aspires to not only get back to the big game, but win it this time. Allen’s ability to calmly manage the game was as impressive as his passing. I think there’s major upside to him, too. With half a season and some key playoff experience under his belt, look for Allen to blossom even more this season. My only worry is that Michael Johnson isn’t around to burn opponents deep.

3. Brandon Parham, South Hills – Fans got their first glimpse of Parham two years ago when he got extensive playing time against D-I power Esperanza in South Hills’ 2005 opener. The natural progression was for Parham to be the starter last year in the wake of Kevin Mort’s graduation. It didn’t happen as Nick Lamaison upset him for the job and put together a fine season. Parham has returned as a specimen this year. He looks ready to stake his claim over two talented underclassmen. Parham’s athletic ability will likely get him a ride somewhere as DB, but he could be one of those fun-to-watch run/pass combos that make the HS game so fun to watch.

4. Austin Goldsmith, Duarte – The best nobody knows about? Goldsmith has the luxury of handing the ball off to last year’s Valley rushing leader Chris Harris. But with everyone in fear of Harris, the door could be open for Goldsmith to relentlessly burn teams who overcompensate against the run. Goldsmith has prototype body and skills and a nice set of receivers to work with. Duarte’s balance has the team headed toward another 12-13 game season.

5. Brian Partida, Arroyo – Talk about pressure … When Partida took over for Dominic Salmon, Arroyo fans wondered if their team would still be able to move the ball through the air. You see, Salmon was arguably the best passer in school history and the passing game was a considerably new angle to Arroyo football compared to seasons of the past. Partida’s performance over the past two seasons certainly eased those fears. He threw for 2,475 yards last season. Those used to be unheard of numbers for a Mission Valley League QB. But right behind him was South El Monte’s Jose Garay. I have a hard time separating these two, but I lean Partida beause he’s a senior and might have the better overall supporting cast … I didn’t say receivers, I said supporting cast. Partida gives Knights coach Jim Singiser the ability to let it all hang out, kinda like the 2004 season.

6. Jose Garay, South El Monte – I know there will be people in the foothill communities rolling their eyes when they see two Mission Valley League QBs ranked side by side. But Garay was truly remarkable last year, taking over for departed legend Lee Aguirre. Just when you thought the Eagles were headed back to obscurity, Garay lead them to a share of the MVL title. He’s only a junior and has one of the area’s best targets in Tommy Cogburn to throw to. Garay threw for 2,331 yards last year and could improve on those numbers as South El Monte makes its bid to stay on par with Arroyo and Rosemead.

7. Cameron Deen, South Hills – With Parham likely to get the nod as coach Steve Bogan’s main man, Deen, a junior, will have to wait his turn until next season. So why put him on the list? Because he does qualify easily as one of the Valley’s best, even as a backup. Don’t believe me? Go watch a South Hills passing league game and then ask yourself “Would he start at my place?” You’re forgiven.

8. Oscar Robles, Northview – Robles got his feet wet last year as a sophomore. He certainly had his moments and will have many more starting this year. Northview’s skill players look like some of the best around. This could be a Covina 2005-06 breakout in the making. I don’t think coach Jim Arellanes will get that crazy, but the Vikes are going to put up some numbers. The offensive line could hinder Robles’ progress, but he’s going to start making a name for himself this season.

9. Drew Kaluzny, Glendora – Tartans coach Mark Pasquarella took some heat last year for getting Kaluzny reps during key times in close games. But that’s a new technique being used by many coaches these days. South Hills did it with Kevin Mort, giving him reps as a sophomore in the second quarter while starter Philip Guerrero watched. The thinking is that you put the backup in when it’s still a game and not mop-up time. Wait, does Glendora ever have games with mop-up time? Alright, anyway, Kaluzny has some experience and I expect him to fit right into the Garrett Crook mold. He won’t mess anything up and will make the big throws when he has to. With Glendora’s defense expected to be great, should it be any other way?

10. Chris Willison, South Hills – Like Deen, you’ll ask how a likely non-starter is on this list. Check back in two years and you’ll understand. Although I think fans will start to get a taste of Deen and Willison this year. Bogan is likely to throw both of them reps. Again, this guy is a starter on almost any other Valley team, no matter how good you think you are. And technically, right now, he’s not a backup.

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Gary Brown says hello from Boston …

Diamond Bar’s stud SS/OF just called from Boston where he worked out today at Fenway Park for the Red Sox. He’s hoping to sneak into the first round of Thursday’s MLB draft. He won’t last past the first few rounds. By the way, he struck out SIX TIMES in THREE SEASONS!!! He’s committed to Cal State Fullerton, but could sign if the que$o is right. Brown said he can’t get a flight out of Boston until tomorrow because of the weather. He hit .612 this season!!!

“I couldn’t quite get one over the monster, but …,” Brown said.

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