Okay, so it’s way to early to forecast the 2008 football season, but 2008 is here and we’re doing it anyway. Obviously this list can change by fall, but for now this is my list and I’m sticking with it. In the coming weeks we will discuss the top returning players at each position.
Above: Bishop Amat’s Jesse Prieto hoping for a big senior year in 08.
1. Bishop Amat – I know what you’re thinking, Bishop Amat? Is he crazy. Well, after a 3-7 campaign and two years under coach Mark Verti, I like the Lancers’ chances at not only finishing above .500, but going 6-4, or even better. Don’t forget this is a team that beat Western Division champion St. Paul during the regular season. What other area team had a bigger win on its resume in 2007? The Lancers finished with a nice win over Loyola, and return seven players that either made first or second team from the Serra League, which says a lot. Quarterback Nick Lenhart is back for his senior season along with running back/linebacker Jesse Prieto. Also back are soon to be seniors Brent Seals (LB) and Sheldon Price (DB) – both Serra League first team selections. And there’s more with Jerry McClananan (WR), Isaiah Bowens (LB) returning after earning second team honors, and another fine defensive back in Justin Gener. With Amat’s schedule, they might not stay here, but if we created a 16-team tournament for local teams in 2008, I’d pick the Lancers to win it all , so I’m starting with them at the top until they prove otherwise.
2. South Hills — The Huskies lose player of the year Dorian Wells along with Brandon Parham, Damon Kuklinski and Kebin Umodo, but look what’s coming back. This is still a team beaming with talent. Cameron Dean will be a senior and is 10-1 as a starting quarterback. Evan Heard will take over the reigns in the backfield, and they have studs on both sides of the line with Chris Bowden (Sr.), Alex Barrios (Sr.), Wayne Goss (Sr.), Ty Olsen (Sr.) and then Miles Bevel (DB) controlling the secondary. All the pieces are in place to chase another San Antonio League title and CIF championship. Too bad they didn’t schedule Amat, that would have been great to see.
3. Diamond Ranch – If you take away the forfeits, Diamond Ranch went 7-3 in 2007 and will be better in 2008. Soon to be senior Brandon Sermons, who was the player declared ineligible which led to the forfeits, will be one of their biggest impact players returning along with running back Brian Spirlin. Also back is tight end/linebacker Bryan Bonilla. If they find a suitable replacement for graduating quarterback Joe Carillo, they will be very explosive. But as they’re assembled now, you have to consider them the Miramonte League favorites. Obviously, I can’t wait to see how they do against Bishop Amat, but Roddy Layton will have them fired up for it, that’s for sure.
4. Bonita – You have to love this team with Terry Paradez back at quarterback, Jiovanni Mier at wide receiver, and Brian Hubbard back at running back. Even leading tackler Jeff Galalich is back along with tough guy Robert Schmitt. So many others also return for coach Eric Podley. I’m going with Diamond Ranch as the Miramonte League favorites, but wouldn’t be surprised if this is the Bearcats’ season to shine
5. Charter Oak – What will happen after losing what coach Lou Farrar described as one of his best senior-driven teams? I expect third-year starting quarterback Chris Allen to have a huge senior season, and as he goes, so will the Chargers. But the biggest impact player will be soon to be junior running back Adam Muema. He was the best sophomore in 2007, and showed flashes of brilliance in spotted time behind Kanaan Snowden. Those two alone allow the Chargers to keep a top five ranking despite the senior departures. Will there be enough on the O-Line to compliment Allen and Muema, that’s the question. Defensively, there will be lots of new faces too, but Farrar and his coaching staff are experienced enough to deal with the changes, so the Chargers will be fine. But good enough to win the Miramonte or make a run in CIF? I’m not so sure about that.
6. West Covina – After a so-so season the Bulldogs are back and equipped to go toe-to-toe with the Huskies in 2008. Soon to be junior Jacob Shirley is going to shine at quarterback after a season of getting his feet wet. Also look for Ricky Johnson to have a big season at tailback following the departure of Isaac Tucker. And there are other big returnees like Albert Cid (down lineman), Alonzo Nevarez (linebacker), Richard Tejada (Guard), Jon Hernandez (DB), and Donald Scheffler (LB). Coach Mike Maggiore himself told me they will be back, so I’m taking his word for it.
7. San Dimas – How will San Dimas follow a 9-2 season and a tri-league title? You would think all conversations start and end with third-year starting running back Nico Barbone, but you have to love the fact that Erek Brown and Daniel Joseph return along with Barbone in the backfield. Mick Kalmar is also back at quarterback, and then you have Randy Hoskins, Kyle Withem and Ryan Doll, all of whom made all-league, returning. The Saints aren’t going anywhere. This could be an offensive machine and if they take care of business defensively, they could be even better that 2007 and is my favorite to win the Valle Vista.
8. Glendora — Following its first Sierra League title since 1993 and its 9-3 season and quarterfinal appearance in the Inland Division playoffs is going to be tough for a Tartans squad that graduated so many impact seniors, especially in the trenches. The Tartans lose nine Sierra League first team players, including league MVP Michael Edwards, running back Jake Vega, and many others. QB Drew Kaluzny is back for his senior year, but he will have several new faces around him. In fact, the Tartans had 13 sophomores on their roster, so how they develop with the next group of seniors will be key. What you know for sure is that coach Mark Pasquarella will have a plan and they will be competitive. But it will be interesting to watch how this unfolds.
9. Northview – The rumor is that Northview wanted to schedule South Hills in 2008 and got their wish because the Vikings feel like this is one of their best senior teams in years. In fact, the Vikings even inquired about facing Bishop Amat, but that’s didn’t happen. QB Oscar Robles started strong in 2007, but needs to get his mojo back because there is a lot of talent coming back with him, like soon to be senior wide receivers Anthony Farmer and Kevin Jones. Linebackers Andrew Rodriguez and Christian Vargas also are back with many others. I’m still not completely sold. I’d like to see this team play a little tougher, but the talent is there if they compete.
10. South El Monte — The defending Mission Valley League champions return Jose Garay, the Tribune’s quarterback of the year who is sure to have a big senior season. Although receiver Tommy Cogburn graduates, Manny Acosta is more than capable of becoming their big impact split end and Neiko Padilla replaces Jonathan Mendoza in the backfield. Offensively, Carlos Chacon (tackle), Robert Cedeno (guard) are back after earning first team league honors. Another league title is theirs for the taking.
Others to consider: Am I crazy for leaving Damien and Los Altos off the top ten list? Should Wilson, with Tim “Happy” Gilmore as a player of the year candidate be among the top teams? In Damien and Los Altos’ case, they just don’t have enough returning on paper. Based on past history, they probably should get the benefit of the doubt, but as of now they have to prove their way back. Wilson simply doesn’t have enough to surround Gilmore, but he will be fun to watch. Also look out for Rosemead, Arroyo, Covina, Duarte, and perhaps even La Puente, Rowland, and Walnut. Yes, I said Walnut.