Tribune’s Top Ten: Charter Oak leads the way; Glendora, South Hills not far behind

By Fred J. Robledo, Staff Writer
By this time next year Charter Oak, South Hills and Damien could all be in the Sierra League. Glendora could be in the Baseline League and Wilson and Nogales in the Valle Vista League. With area realignment having gone through a vote of 42-area principals and two subsequent appeals, the final verdict is due in October, bringing both a sense of urgency and relief for many area schools.

Urgency for those feeling this is the time to capitalize on a CIF championship, and relief for those hoping to be in that position next year. What hasn’t changed, and doesn’t appear to change in the foreseeable future are the area’s top programs, once again dominated by the usual suspects with a few knew schools hoping to prove worthy.

Will Charter Oak win a second consecutive CIF-Southern Section Southeast Division title, or will South Hills, West Covina or Diamond Ranch wrestle it away? Is this Glendora’s best chance to make a run at a Central Division title? Will Baldwin Park, Northview, Rosemead, Arroyo or anyone else become the front-runner in a wide open chase at the Mid-Valley Division title? Can Bishop Amat possibly muster another memorable season and will new coach Greg Gano transform Damien into one of the area’s elite? The answers will come over the next 14 weeks, but the anticipation begins today with the Tribune’s annual preseason football poll. To continue, click thread

1. Charter Oak (13-0-1)
Although the Chargers have won four CIF-SS titles under longtime coach Lou Farrar, they have never won back-to-back titles, which is all the motivation this coaching staff and players need to repeat. Running backs Adam Muema and Brandon Golden provide a dream backfield along with a supporting cast of two-way standouts at impact positions that rank among the Chargers’ best ever.
If the Chargers get past a nonleague game against defending Central Division champion Rancho Cucamonga on Sept. 25, they have a solid chance to run the table again. Only this time, an undefeated CIF-SS title also could lead to a state bowl appearance.
2. Glendora (8-4)
It’s too bad Charter Oak and Glendora stopped facing each other after the 2007 season, because this would have been an epic showdown in 2009. They match-up well at the skilled positions, but the Chargers’ skill players have more experience, which gives them the edge.
There have been nothing but rave reviews about junior quarterback Chad Jeffries, who has two Sierra League first-team receivers, Aaron Stockham and Wallace Gonzalez at his disposal along with returning senior running back Andrew Holmes. With materful coach Mark Pasquarella leading the way, this could become the Valley’s best offense come November.
With returning second team defensive backs Duwani Bankhead and Dylon Nichols, if the the Tartans control the line of scrimmage, which appears their only question mark, they could be in the running for a Sierra League title and deep playoff run.
3. South Hills (9-3)
It doesn’t matter who you speak to, everyone agrees that Duarte transfer Jordan Canada could become the biggest impact player in the Valley. Even a bigger impact than Dorian Wells, who left Bishop Amat to join the Huskies in 2007 and led them to the CIF-SS semifinals and earned area player of the year honors.
The Huskies were already loaded at several other positions, with receivers/defensive backs Geoffrey Vaughns and Ify Umodo arguably the most deadly combination around. Then you add defensive back Miles Bevel and lineman Sioasi Alonsi and Peter Nonu, and no wonder many are wondering if the Huskies have a shot at a fifth section title under coach Steve Bogan.
If senior quarterback Jacob Shirley, a late arrival after sitting out a year after transferring from West Covina shows the promise that earned him a second-team all-San Antonio selection as a sophomore, all the pieces would be in place.
4. Bishop Amat (7-4)
With the departures of so many talented players and the unforgiving schedule, this could be the Lancers’ highest ranking of the season. Face it, coach Steve Hagerty over-achieved in his first season, leading the Lancers to the playoffs and a near monumental first-round upset over Long Beach Poly before falling in the final minutes.
Gone are defensive gems Sheldon Price, Brent Seals, Isaiah Bowens and running back Deshawn Gaisie. But the cubbard isn’t bare, returning senior quarterback Jerry McClanahan, junior running back Jay Anderson and possibly the area’s best two-way standout in receiver/corner Darian Johnson.
But will the Lancers have enough depth and strength to butt heads with the likes of St. Bonaventure, Loyola, Notre Dame? Not so sure, but from a pure area standpoint, they proved last year they’re still one of the area’s elite, and will have a chance to prove it again with nonleague games against West Covina, Diamond Ranch and Damien.
5. West Covina (10-3)
There are many that argue the Bulldogs are the team to beat in the San Antonio League, not the Huskies. After all, the Bulldogs defeated the Huskies 14-10 to claim a piece of the league title along with South Hills and Rowland. West Covina advanced to the Southeast Division semifinals, a step further than South Hills, and also have several key players back for a repeat performance.
Running back Ricky Johnson and fullback Jesse Ili are a dangerous backfield combination, and quarterback George Johnson improved by leaps and bounds during the season last year, showing his versatility throwing and running the ball late in the season.
With several other key players back on the offensive and defensive lines and secondary, it won’t be a surprise at all if the Bulldogs win a second straight league title or challenge Charter Oak for the Southeast title.
6. Damien (3-7)
There are a lot of similarities between this Spartans team and the Bishop Amat team of 2008. Like the Lancers coaching switch to Steve Hagerty, the Spartans bring in a prover winner in coach Greg Gano, who has assembled an all-star staff of coaches, the same blueprint used by Hagerty.
The Spartans are returning after a forgettable season plagued by turnovers and a loss of confidence, but they return senior talent at several positions, and could very easily turn 3-7 into 7-3. Their schedule is their biggest challenge, but if they get on a roll, they could resemble the turnaround season that Bishop Amat experienced a year ago.
7. Rowland (10-3)
After sophomore quarterback Michael Ball helped the Raiders finish in a three-way tie for the San Antonio league title, and lead the Raiders to the Southeast Division semifinals, where they played eventual champion Charter Oak as tough as anyone, is there any reason to doubt the Raiders and coach Craig Snyder again?
Sure they lost a handful of players, including running back Brandon Stansell, but Ball is your prototypical high school quarterback. He is athletic and can run and pass with the best of them.
8. Diamond Ranch (7-7)
Talk about an exciting .500 season.
After starting 1-6 the Panthers finally lived up to the preseason hype by winning six straight, including wins over Muir, South Hills and West Covina in the Southeast playoffs before eventually falling to league rival Charter Oak in the championship game.
Several components from that team are gone, but coach Roddy Layton has one of the deepest programs in the Valley, one that is always athletic with strength on the lines. If quarterback Gus Viramontes turns into the player that Layton believes he can, they will be in the mix again.
9. Walnut (5-5)
The Mustangs give the San Antonio League four teams in the top ten, and they’re legitimate, having gained momentum for two years with a senior-heavy team ready to challenge for the league title.
After nearly knocking off West Covina, the Mustangs return arguably the area’s best two-way standout in running back/defensive lineman Leonard Rhodes, a bruising 6-foot-3 220-pounder that burst onto the scene as a sophomore.
10. Bonita (7-4)
Don’t ever underestimate an Eric Podley-coached team. Sure the Bearcats lose several key standouts, especially at quarterback with the departure of Terry Paradez, but they always seem to reload and have depth at the running back.
Charter Oak and Diamond Ranch are the clear Miramonte League favorites, but the Bearcats usually find a way to become a key player before all is said and done.
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