Showed up bright and early for Huskies practice on Friday, and there was media man/coach/drill instructor James Escarcega rounding up the troops and firing off a pre-practice speech. I’ve known James for a while and he’s quite a character, and a great guy to get the players’ juices jangling that early in the morning. Meanwhile, the legend, coach Steve Bogan was off in a classroom, waiting for the right moment to make his entrance. When Bogan finally walked through the gates I grabbed him for a conversation, figuring Escarcega was enjoying his quality time with the guys. Not two minutes into our chat there’s military-man Escarcega, colorfully chiding Bogan to leave the media alone, and screaming at me to go back to the Star-News. What an introduction to Huskies football. But Bogan, he’s all class and understands the huge expectations Huskies fans have, especially after the arrival of wide receiver Dorian Wells, who transferred from
Bishop Amat. Bogan marvels at Wells’ big-play ability, but cautions that some of the expectations are over-blown, emphasizing that they have plenty to prove after a 6-6 season in 2006. But clearly, this is a talented cast that already includes Kebin Umodu, a first-team All-CIF Southwest Division first-team defensive end, along with Damon Kuklinski and Evan Heard – both returning second-team All-San Antonio league running backs. There’s quarterback Brandon Parham and linebackers like Chris Bowden, Wayne Goss and others. I don’t know if they’re clearly the area’s top team, but there’s no doubt they’re among the top two or three.
South Hills opens the season on Sept. 7 against Trabuco Hills at Covina District Field.
Don’t care which schools you think recruit or not, I want to know who you think is the best X’s and O’s guy. The best motivator. The one you want in crunch time when championships are on the line. The one who gets the most out of his talent. The East San Gabriel Valley is filled with a deep talent pool of coaches, so without trying to list them in any particular order, these are who I’d consider the Tribune’s Top Ten with all the aforementioned considered.
Steve Bogan (South Hills) – Always in the hunt, and he’s from Edgewood. How can you go wrong?
Darryl Thomas (Covina) – Three CIF semifinal appearances since 2000.
Greg Gano (Los Altos) – Followed DeSpain and created own legendary status.
Lou Farrar (Charter Oak) – He’s “Old School” and “Old School” works.
Mike Maggiore (West Covina) – Giving it up to another Edgewood alum who also owns a CIF title.
Eric Podley (Bonita) – Nobody underestimates his coaching ability.
Mark Pasquarella (Glendora) – Look where Glendora was before his arrival.
Terry Roche (Chino Hills) – Worked magic at Diamond Bar, doing same with Huskies.
Mark Verti (Bishop Amat) – Toughest job in SGV.
Jim Singiser (Arroyo) – Won or shared four of last five Mission Valley League titles.
Peaked in and listened to new assistant coach and former Cleveland Browns and USC star Daylon McCutcheon talk to a group of players during Wednesday’s practice at Bishop Amat. He was asking how many all-state and all-cif players were standing in front of him. I don’t recall seeing a hand raised, but he went on to talk about how important the traditions were at Amat, and what it represented to wear that jersey.
There is no doubt this is going to be one of the most challenging years in school history for the boys in blue. There are several reasons why so many players have left in the last year – some for disciplinary reasons – some on their own terms, and that’s where I should and will leave it for now.
But the list is long, gone are Tony Adams (Diamond Ranch), Dorian Wells (South Hills), Brandon Sermons (DRanch), Blake Tillis (Los Altos), Bradford Ray (South Hills), Junior Tamayo (Los Altos), Kevin Bonilla (Chino Hills), Bryce McBride (Los Altos), Adam Acosta (Montebello), and Ryan Henson (Mater Dei?). And by the way, former Amat standout Rodney Sermons is also at Diamond Ranch as one of coach Roddy Layton’s assistants.
But as coach Mark Verti reminded me, there is a lot in reserve when you talk about Marcus Wagner taking over in the backfield with either Nick Lenhart or Nick Iglesias starting at quarterback. Brent Seals is back at safety and big Steven Ochoa (tackle) and James Stremple (OL) are back on the lines.
But how will the losses of so many impact players affect them? And how good would they have been if everyone stayed? We’ll never know the answers to those questions. The Lancers open with Los Osos and Orange Lutheran at home followed by road games at Hart and Rancho Cucamonga. If the Lancers don’t win one or both of those first two games, you’re looking at another long and difficult road just to stay .500.
With the schedule Amat plays, it’s so difficult to compare them with anyone else in the San Gabriel Valley. I’ve always felt you could only compare Amat with Amat’s past glory, and while that might not seem fair, that’s how it is at any school with a great tradition.
There’s only one way back in my opinion. Now that the gap between Amat and the rest of the SGV has obviously closed, Amat needs to challenge and send out invitations to schedule Los Altos, Charter Oak, South Hills and other great local teams on a regular basis. And why not. The first step Amat needs to take to take to attract the SGV’s best players and restore its credibility locally is to schedule the area’s best teams, especially those where players are leaving to. Imagine the interest is would generate. In the 1980s and early 90s this wouldn’t have worked because other SGV schools didn’t have a chance, and Amat didn’t need to because it had all the area’s best players. But that’s not reality anymore. It’s great to play the Orange Lutheran’s and the Hart’s, but I don’t thinking scheduling Charter Oak or South Hills is going to hurt the Lancers’ chances of preparing for the Serra League. Do you? Amat is at a crossroads where it needs to re-establish itself locally, or players are going to keep filtering out to other schools already building on their own winning traditions. What do you think, could this ever happen, and should it? And would these schools agree to face each other. I don’t see why not, or how it couldn’t benefit all involved.
Click link for video interview with Gladstone coach Albert Sanchez and Richard Gurrola
6:30! That’s what time Gladstone opened practice Monday morning in preparation for its season opener against San Dimas on Thursday, Oct. 30, which is one of two area games on Thursday along with Ontario at La Puente. My alarm doesn’t function until 7, so I met coach Albert Sanchez around 8, and he talked about how disappointing 2006 was for his Gladiators. After two consecutive undefeated Montview League seasons in 2004 and 05, the Gladiators finished 4-6 and 2-4 in league to finish fifth, missing the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade. The Gladiators open with defending champion Duarte (Sept. 21) followed by Azusa (Sept. 28), so he knows they’ve got a lot of work in a short time.
“We have more returners as opposed to last year,” Sanchez said. “We feel like we’ve got one of the best playerrs in the area in Richard Gurrola. He’s going to do everything for us, run, catch, maybe line up at quarterback and play defense too. I’m not saying the competition (in the Montview League) is weak, but if we can get by Duarte and Azusa, I like our chances of winning league.”
Also talked to Charter Oak coach Lou Farrar on Monday, and can tell right away I’m going to like working with him and his son Dominic, the offensive genius. Without spilling too much before the previews come out, the Chargers have nearly all of their offensive weapons back, along with all four starting corners. There will be some new faces on the offensive and defensive lines, but when we started talking about running backs, Big Lou started dropping names like Kaanan Snowden, Jonathan Clark and Johnny Crespo, saying they’re all high-powered interchangeable parts. It also looks like junior quarterback Chris Allen, who was 9-1 as a starter after taking over for Drew Carreon, will remain there. Carreon has turned into a big-time linebacker since, and is more than a capable back-up.
I’ve read about some of the Amat “impact” players leaving the program in recent months, so maybe the return of one its former greats, Daylon McCutcheon, will not only add a coach with big-time college and NFL experience, but also be a drawing card for soon-to-be Lancers, or those thinking of transferring to the Boys in Blue. McCutcheon graduated in 1995, and was one of my favorites along with Bienemy. After Edgewood folded, I spent the late 80s and 90s up the street watching not only these two tear it up, but many others. I read about his hiring on the blog here first, but confirmed it with coach Mark Verti this afternoon. After graduating in ’95, McCutcheon played at USC and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, where he played from 1999-2006 before injuring his right knee last September.
Verti’s reaction: “Daylon’s coming back to help out the D-Line, corners, and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience at every level. He’s a good Amat guy and a big help to our program. Our kids are only going to benefit from having him around.”
Here’s the deal, we’re always looking for correspondents to cover Friday night football games. And since all the experts reside here, I thought I’d start with you. We generally don’t ask that you write too much, and in some cases will just ask that you call in the box score with a recap of the game. You will receive a press pass to cover the games from the sidelines or in the press box, and be paid a small fee for your time. If you’re a journalism major or thinking about it, this is ideal. If you’re a football junkie who can spell, this will be great for you also. To be considered, please send an email with your contact information to set up an interview.
First off, thanks to all of you who have weighed in on the changes. I’m grateful to be back on this side of the valley, and am looking forward to introducing myself to all of the coaches, and of course, all our regular blog contributors. I’m an Edgewood High alum, so that should save me from being accused of favoring one team over another.
I’ll need you more than ever to get going. I’ve only got a couple of weeks to get the football section out, so anything you want to tell me about the top teams, top players, top match-ups, etc, etc, please feel free. Also, tell me about the topics you liked and disliked on Aram’s blog. On Saturday mornings, Aram ran his “Cry me a River” thread to discuss Friday night games. I ran the same thing in Pas called, “Saturday Morning Quarterback,” so nothing changes on that end. We’ll also have two-minute drills and Friday night game highlights, and there will be more video profile interviews than last year leading up to Friday night games.
It will take a few weeks to grasp who the top players and teams are, so I won’t discuss it in too much detail yet. I guess we can start with Aram’s May top top ten, and you can tell me how close he was.
1. South Hills
2. Charter Oak
3. Los Altos
4. Bishop Amat
10. Diamond Ranch
Although FOX is my future employer, no, I had nothing to do with this – West Covina vs. South Hills on November 2 will be the FOX Sports/Prime Ticket game of the week. How cool is that? The Valley gets a little love in the form of what could be the San Antonio League championship game. I think the game was originally scheduled for a Thursday, but the schools will move it to accommodate TV.