By Fred J. Robledo
The Northview and San Dimas High School football teams were so dominant in the Valle Vista League in 2008 that remembering that 4-7 Covina finished third is trivial.
Northview’s 40-39 victory over San Dimas gave the Vikings the Valle Vista League title, but the Vikings (9-3) and Saints’ (10-2) season ended abruptly in the Mid Valley Division quarterfinals, a disappointing finish for senior-oriented teams that had championship aspirations.
Now what? With Northview and San Dimas reloading and the rest of the Valle Vista looking like question marks searching for answers, Covina coach Darryl Thomas said the league championship is up for grabs.
“If our league ever had parity across the board, this could be the year,” Thomas said. “Northview and San Dimas should be tough again, but they just graduated decorated senior classes. Pomona looks like they return a lot and Baldwin Park looks like it’s ready to go.
“I don’t know what we’re (Valle Vista) capable of doing once we reach the playoff stage, but the (race) for the league title and playoff spots looks like it’s going to be tight.”
Northview not only lost most most of its offensive and defensive line, it also lost defensive coordinator Brian Zavala to Wilson. But senior running back Kamaron Germany and junior Josh Orona give Vikings coach Jim Arellanes a great place to start in the backfield, with junior quarterback Martin Arredondo talented but not proven.
Randy Contreas and Justin Diaz are two key returners on the offensive and defensive line, and knowing there is no clear-cup favorite, Arellanes is taking the approach of a defending champion.
“We’re young and might take some lumps early, but I’m confident with our run game and think defensively we’re going to be solid again, because that’s something we always have focused on,” Arellanes said. “Our attitude is we’re the two-time defending champs. If you want it, you have to take it from us. We’re still the favorites and we’re going to compete our butts off to win it again.”
San Dimas lost the incredible backfield of Daniel Joseph, Nico Barbone and Erek Brown, but Saints coach Bill Zernickow still expects the backfield that averaged over 300 yards a game to pick up where it left off, because the system hasn’t changed, and his new backfield threats have the potential to be just as explosive.
Saints fans should get use to hearing the names of Tre Evans, Ryan Kohler, Dillon Corona and Jordan Taylor, the foursome that will rotate in the Saints’ vaunted Wing T offense.
“The kids know what they’re doing,” Zernickow said. “Evans (6-1, 225) is a big kid, and in fact we’re bigger in the backfield. We don’t have as much speed, but from a physical standpoint we might be more punishing. It’s like going from a Ferrari to a truck. Different, but we think both can be effective.”
The key will be reshaping an offensive line that helped the Saints average 46 points, and improving a defense that struggled down the stretch.
Zernickow didn’t mind getting in a shootout a year ago because he always felt his team could score one more touchdown than his opponent, but it won’t be as simple this season.
“One of my big concerns is depth,” Zernickow said. “We only have 50 kids on JV and varsity (combined). We’re just going to play football and let the chips fall where they may. We feel like we have some talent, but I won’t get a real feel until we start playing games.”
Baldwin Park (4-6, 1-4) missed the playoffs, but could be the most improved, and is the consensus league favorite among coaches.
The Braves return size on both sides of the line and have arguably the best impact player in wide receiver Christian Lazarro.
Also helping the Braves’ cause is Duarte senior transfer Wardell Crutchfield Jr., a linebacker that will also double as a bruising running back.
“We like what we have, but it’s still a work in progress until we see it on the field,” Baldwin Park coach James Heggins said. “Whether people think we’re the favorites or not doesn’t matter, nobody is going to roll over for Baldwin Park, we have to go out there and earn it.”
Junior linebacker Mario Rodriguez and defensive end David Faananu are two big reasons Heggins thinks the Braves’ defense will be much improved from the team that allowed 25 points a game.
“We have always prided ourselves on defense and got away from that last season,” Heggins said. “If we can get back to shutting teams down and containing them, I think we will have enough offense to win a lot of games.”
Covina finished 4-7 and 3-2 to earn a playoff spot, but versatile quarterback Jacob Olivas has graduated, and the Colts lost ten all-league players to graduation.
Sebastian Duran takes over at quarterback behind an offensive line that doesn’t return one starter.
On defense, Thomas faces the same dilemma, new players that must prove themselves, and do so quickly.
“The situation we’re in has created a lot of competition for starting positions and playing time,” Thomas said. “Our first string isn’t that far ahead of our second string, which has created a great competitive environment in practice.
“From a size standpoint, we will be competitive with the other teams in our league, but we will have to develop at the impact spots. Like I mentioned before, this is a great year for parity in our league. I don’t think anyone knows what’s going to happen.”
After finishing fourth in the VVL and 6-4 overall, Pomona could become one of the biggest surprises with Ganesha hoping again to avoid the bottom of the table.
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