DELIVERY DATE WEDNESDAY: The Tribune PrepXtra Football preview — all 67 pages — WILL BE IN WEDNESDAY’S San Gabriel Valley Tribune home subscription, and at your neighborhood newsrack. If you need extra copies, visit the Tribune in person at 1210 N. Azusa Canyon Road, West Covina for $1 a copy. The entire magazine will be available online in a week to ten days, but in the meantime, I’m sharing the Tribune preseason football poll courtesy of football writer Aram Tolegian, who has seen just about everyone over the summer.
1. CHARTER OAK
STRENGTHS: Offense, offense and more offense. QB Travis Santiago led the Chargers to a huge summer on the passing circuit. Santiago even worked out with NFL players and looks poised to pile up serious numbers with 6-foot-4 receiver Chris Gilchrist as his top target. Sophomore running back Kurt Scoby bulked up in the offseason and should be even better with a year of varsity experience under his belt. Look for the Chargers to top last year’s 34.6 points per game average.
OBSTACLES: The entire front four must be replaced, and losing defensive lineman Alex Hernandez to Damien in the offseason didn’t help. With a fantastic secondary, the Chargers don’t have to be great up front, but they can’t get run over either.
OUTLOOK: After winning back-to-back CIF titles in 2008-09, the Chargers took a step back in what was a bit of a transition year. Several members of a talented underclass got their feet wet and should take a huge step forward this year. This is your Sierra League favorite, and if the Chargers do win the league, it will help their postseason chances in the loaded Inland Division immensely.
2. BISHOP AMAT
STRENGTHS: When QB Rio Ruiz is in the starting lineup, Amat will have no trouble putting up points. The run game should be strong again with Jalen Moore carrying the load. All-purpose standout Zach Shay is back from injury and should shine no matter how he’s used. Defensively, Amat’s secondary should be the strength of the stop unit with talents like Adam Alcantara, Ajee Montes and Dionza Blue all returning.
OBSTACLES: Amat found its defense was not ready for primetime last season when the big stakes were on the line. That was something coaches spent the offseason trying to correct, but with defensive leader Julian Gener graduated, there pressure’s on to find somebody of his caliber to at least reach last year’s level.
OUTLOOK: This will be one of Amat’s smaller teams. That hasn’t exactly stopped the Lancers in the past, but it may put a lid on how far they can go in the postseason. The offense will have to make up for any size or defensive shortcomings and it just might be good enough to do that.
3. WEST COVINA
STRENGTHS: The Bulldogs boast a collection of athletes that would make any program in the area blush. Tribune Player of the Year Chris Solomon is back and should shine again at running back and safety. Defensive end Justen Meaders is arguably the best defensive player in the area and anchors a defense that could be the area’s best. West Covina’s running game, which is once again deep with backs, should be the area’s best again.
OBSTACLES: Veteran QB George Johnson must be replaced and that won’t be easy given his steady leadership and ability to make the big pass during the rare times the Bulldogs needed it. The offensive line must also replace several key cogs, but coaches are confident this year’s group will be fine.
OUTLOOK: If you’re looking for the safest bet in the area in terms of winning a league title and lasting awhile in the postseason, the Bulldogs are your team. Even with the concerns at QB, West Covina’s running game and defense make it the preseason favorite to repeat in the Hacienda League and Southeast Division.
STRENGTHS: The Spartans desperately needed to improve their overall team speed and did so in the offseason. Several impact transfers should give Damien’s offense plenty of weapons to choose from. Receiver Josh Savage is a specimen at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and he should help Damien do what it couldn’t do last season – stretch teams deep.
OBSTACLES: If the Spartans can also boost some nastiness, especially on defense, in addition to their upgrade in team speed, this team could be dangerous. Defense was a major issue last year, allowing 42 points each to Bishop Amat, JSerra and Chino Hills in blowout losses.
OUTLOOK: Because Damien made such offseason strides and the majority of the Sierra League didn’t, this team has a chance to shock the Valley and win the league. Damien is the most improved team around and with the pressure building on coach Greg Gano to produce a big winner, expect the Spartans to do just that.
5. Chino Hills
STRENGTHS: The Huskies will have the area’s best offensive line, led by Nick Enriquez (6-4, 250) and Carlos Palafox (6-4, 305). And with quarterback Andrew Chavez also returning, Chino Hills figures to be very efficient, if not punishing on offense. The Huskies lost some big names in the skill spots, but coaches think they’re better across the board in terms of athletes.
OBSTACLES: Chino Hills has always reloaded in the wake of big graduation losses, but it’s hard to see this team simply not skipping a beat with guys like Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and Nate Harris no longer around. The impact of graduation losses will be felt hardest on defense where only two starters return.
OUTLOOK: By the team league play rolls around, expect Chino Hills to have worked out the kinks that come from having so many new faces in the starting lineup. The offensive creates major matchup problems for every team in the Sierra League, since nobody in the league boasts a top-notch defensive front. That may be enough for another league title.
STRENGTHS: New coach Todd Quinsey’s preferred style of offense fits perfectly with the talent he inherited and that should lead to one of the area’s better ground games. Quinsey’s Wing-T should flourish with running backs Corey Victoria and Donovan Holmes returning. Glendora’s defense may also be a strength if summer passing games are any indicator.
OBSTACLES: If Glendora falls behind in games, it may be lights out. QB Chad Jeffries has taken his act to San Diego St. and the Tartans may struggle throwing the ball, especially if they have to under pressure. Team speed, when compared to the Baseline League, may also be a big problem again this season.
OUTLOOK: The Tartans have a very difficult nonleague schedule that features the area’s preseason No. 1-ranked team in Charter Oak and two defending CIF champions in Monrovia and West Covina. On paper, Glendora deserves this ranking. But wins and losses will determine whether they stay here very long.
STRENGTHS: Like so many other teams in the area, Covina should be downright scary on offense. QB Billy Livington is back and has a full complement of weapons at his disposal. Receiver Vinny Venegas earned All-Area honors last season and should be even more dangerous as running back Gevontray Ainsworth blossoms further and takes some attention away.
OBSTACLES: Monrovia. Covina would otherwise be the favorite in the Mid-Valley Division if defending champ Monrovia called another level home. Two years ago, Covina gave a lot of underclassmen playing time. Last year, they reaped the rewards. This year, the Colts are one of the most veteran teams around, so it’s OK for Colts fans to think huge things are possible.
OUTLOOK: Covina will have no trouble scoring points and last year’s defense has several key players back after allowing just 17 points per game. The Colts got a year older and possibly a year better, which means another league title and possible high seed in the playoffs awaits.
8. SOUTH HILLS
STRENGTHS: Jamel Hart gives South Hills one of the top running backs around and they figure to use him endlessly with hopes of pounding opponents into submission. Also back is QB Vince Hernandez, who should do even better this year with the continued recovery of receiver Jamie Canada, who could develop into one of the top weapons around if his knee continues to heal.
OBSTACLES: Defense. The Huskies played a bevy of underclassmen last season and it showed. South Hills allowed a whopping 35 points per game last season. Coaches are confidence that a year older means a year better, and that better be the case of this ranking won’t last long.
OUTLOOK: The skill players are there for South Hills to score with the best of them. The question simply comes down to can the Huskies stop anyone. The defense should be better due to experience and Canada’s return. Whether that’s enough to successfully traverse a schedule that has eight teams with winning records from last year remains to be seen.
STRENGTHS: Azusa’s offense should be a study in balance. The Aztecs have QB Jake Martinez back, and he looked good during the summer passing circuit spraying the ball around to another strong group of receivers. The ground game has a nice talent in running back in Desmond Reed. Azusa lost some key players from last year’s team, most notably Jose Nunez, but this program’s recent run has proven the ability to reload.
OBSTACLES: After going 10-0 in the regular season last year and earning the No. 1 seed in the Mid-Valley Division playoffs, the Aztecs’ campaign ended in disaster with an upset loss at home to Village Christian. To make sure that doesn’t happen again, head coach Joe Scherf bolstered the nonleague schedule with the likes of San Dimas and Maranatha.
OUTLOOK: The Aztecs still tower over the Montview League, so another league title appears a certainty. Depending on how the Aztecs do against Maranatha and San Dimas, this team could be a high seed yet again once the playoffs begin.
10. DIAMOND BAR
STRENGTHS: Enthusiasm. New Brahmas coach Ryan Maine has brought an infectious attitude of optimism to the program and it’s showed this offseason with the Brahmas winning the SGV Shootout passing tournament. The Brahmas have a fantastic passing game led by QB Henry Omana and receiver George Katrib. Speedster Donte Harris emerged over the summer as yet another deep threat. Despite all that aerial talent, Maine has put more of an emphasis on the run game, which should mean big things for running back Jamaal Clayton.
OBSTACLES: Line play has been a major problem for the Brahmas in recent years and figuring out how to be more physical was the big dilemma this offseason for Maine and his staff. If the Brahmas get better play along the lines, that should mean the offense won’t leave the field so fast and the defense won’t wear down.
OUTLOOK: Diamond Bar went 6-4 last year, but wasn’t close in league losses to West Covina, Bonita and Diamond Ranch. None of those teams are as good as last year, but Diamond Bar is better. How much the gap has closed will determine whether the Brahmas are back in the postseason for the first time since 2003.