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A look at the San Juan Capistrano high school football scene

The San Juan area football teams will start their seasons next week. Photo by Steve Breazeale
The San Juan area football teams will start their seasons next week. Photo by Steve Breazeale

By Steve Breazeale, Jim Shilander and Kevin Dahlgren

San Juan Hills: Veteran Stallion Roster Looking to Improve League Chances

The seniors from this year’s edition of the San Juan Hills football team were part of the program’s winless 2011 season. They were also a part of the record-setting 2012 season that saw the Stallions flip the tables on the opposition and rattle off six consecutive wins to start their year. After an 0-10 season, the Stallions suddenly found themselves in the hunt for a league title.

Head coach Aaron Flowers has preached steady progression since he took the job two years ago. Now, with a bevy of returning players who have been involved in a total culture change at San Juan Hills, they are looking to take the next step and emerge as a contender in the Sea View League.

Offense

After watching Sea View League opponent Aliso Niguel wear them down with a no-huddle, up tempo offense during an October 19 matchup last year, the Stallions coaching staff decided they would implement that style over the offseason. Flowers and his staff felt that with eight returning offensive starters on the depth chart, now was the time to act.

The offense is now practicing at a higher tempo and they hope to carry that over into the regular season. Defensive coordinator Armando Gonzalez told The Capistrano Dispatch in June that the amount of reps taken by the varsity squad in the offseason was the most he has ever seen in the program’s history.

Flowers and his staff have made the up tempo offense a priority, but even with the added reps and his players growing familiarity with the system, the veteran coach knows it will not be a finished product right away.

“It’s a work in progress … The stuff we’re trying to do, you just can’t implement in a month … it’s kind of an entire program situation,” Flowers said. “It is a culture shift and that takes a while. Even throughout the season we are going to be developing it as we go.”

The responsibility of making sure the up tempo offense runs smoothly will fall to returning senior quarterback Jacob Gibson. Gibson threw for 1,852 yards and 15 touchdowns last year in what was his first year ever playing the position at the varsity level. It was a solid campaign, and Flowers is banking on the experience Gibson gained last year translating to more consistency going forward.

“Last year was a big-time learning process for him … We just tell him, if you just execute the offense then those things come. Just execute the offense and the big plays that are within the offense will come.”

Gibson will be without his top two receivers, Kyle Mucerino and Scott Hoover, but will have returning starters Matt Mucerino and Ilias Irby out on the perimeter.

The starting offensive line should be a strength for the Stallions as seniors Jake Nelson (tackle), Joey Casillas (center) and Brandon Leggett (guard) return.

The San Juan Hills football team will have several returning starters on defense in 2013. Photo by Steve Breazeale
The San Juan Hills football team will have several returning starters on defense in 2013. Photo by Steve Breazeale

Defense

The defense has also stepped up their tempo in the offseason practices, which is a direct result of the new offensive play calling speed, according to Gonzalez.

The Stallions will employ a 3-4 defensive look and have a deep linebacking corps at their disposal. Senior middle linebacker Brennan Walsh, a first team All Sea View League defensive selection in 2012, will lead a talented group made up of returning starters Curren Lapes, junior Jacob Venegas and senior Steven Aguilar.

In all, the Stallions defense returns six varsity starters.
The secondary should be secure with senior strong safety Ian Hickey and senior William Blum back in the mix. Blum was a first team All Sea View League defensive selection in 2012.

“We have a chance to be a very good defensive team as long as we execute,” Flowers said.

With all of the steam built up from last year and the returning depth, the Stallions will look to gain ground in the Sea View League. With teams like Capistrano Valley and Laguna Hills losing a good amount of seniors to graduation, the league that saw three teams claim a share of the title last season could play out in the same manner again this time around.

“We expect to be in the mix. That’s become our expectation as a program and that’s not overconfidence,” Flowers said. “We prepared all year long to be in the mix at the end of the year … I see each game coming down to the wire.” — Steve Breazeale

St. Margaret's football head coach Rod Baltau addresses the squad. Photo by Steve Breazeale
St. Margaret’s football head coach Rod Baltau addresses the squad. Photo by Steve Breazeale

St. Margaret’s: Core Players Return for Tartans Title Defense

When St. Margaret’s head football coach Rod Baltau took over three years ago he inherited a team that was full of sophomores and freshman. It was a young squad, but that core group of players developed an identity and translated that into almost immediate success. The Tartans run to the second round of the CIF-SS East Valley playoffs in 2012 marked the end to much of that groups high school football careers.

There are still several players who had been a part of the Tartans dominating run in the Academy League on the 2013 roster, but now Baltau makes comparisons to that team he guided to a 9-3 overall record back in 2010.

“We were getting older but now we’re back to being younger but I guess that’s just how it works,” Baltau said. “It’s going to be fun to see some young guys that are going to need to step up. It looks like they are but when we go live we’ll see if they actually do.”

The Tartans steamrolled their way through the Academy League last year, going 3-0. They outscored their in-league opponents 156-14. With a good portion of last year’s roster gone to graduation, it will be interesting to see if the Tartans can maintain the torrent pace set by last year’s veterans.

Offense

The Tartans skill positions will be a strong point heading into the new season. Senior quarterback Josh Davis is a three-year starter and provides the consistency and skill that is necessary for the position. Two years ago Davis was named the Academy League Offensive Player of the Year. Baltau describes Davis as a dual-threat quarterback who can make big throws but also burst out of the pocket and scramble to pick up yards.

Joining Davis in the backfield will be returning starting running back Oscar Gomez, who is the reigning league offensive MVP. Gomez had a breakout sophomore season and will look to thrive again in the Tartans spread offense.

Baltau also likes the look of his young offensive line, which he says has good size.

Two-way player Jake Hines will look to sure up the Tartans receiving corps.

Defense

St. Margaret’s has been able to put a lot of points on the board in years past but where they have excelled is on defense. They recorded five shutouts last season, including one in the playoffs, and will have several impact players returning.

Hines, who is going to the University of Massachusetts Amherst to play college football next season, will be one of the team’s outside linebackers. Hines has started at the position since he was a freshman. He will play in tandem alongside junior middle linebacker Dalan Cragun. Baltau feels that the two have a special knack for the linebacker position and will provide the defense with veteran leadership.

“They’re experienced but they love playing linebacker,” Baltau said. “A lot of our guys have to go both ways, and Hines will start on offense, but they just love playing defense and they love getting after it.”

The Tartans will run a multiple defensive scheme this season, switching between 4-4, 4-3 and even 4-2 defensive looks.

A game to mark off on the calendar will be the Tartans September 27 non-league matchup with Laguna Beach, who defeated St. Margaret’s last season. — Steve Breazeale

JSerra Catholic: Looking for a Breakthrough

JSerra football head coach Jim Hartigan said to break through into the upper tier of the county’s toughest league, his Lions are going to have to grow up fast.

After some tough early season practice helped to build depth, Hartigan said he’s excited to see how his team rises to the challenge of the season.

“I’m pleased with the work, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made,” Hartigan said.

Like many teams, his players were worn down a bit from two-a-day practices, but the demanding schedule actually allowed some of that depth to come through.

“We just have to get through the injuries, and the fact that they’re tired,” Hartigan said. “We need to find a way to get game one under our belts. Hopefully on the bye week we can get healed up a little bit, then go back full bore with Huntington Beach, because our schedule just gets tougher as we go.”

JSerra senior Casey Eugenio will look to build on his solid junior campaign. Courtesy photo
JSerra senior Casey Eugenio will look to build on his solid junior campaign. Courtesy photo

Hartigan said an improved non-conference schedule, opening with perennial Las Vegas power Centennial, will help prepare the Lions to get over the hump in Trinity League play, against an opponent other than Orange Lutheran.

Each of the last two years, JSerra has started 5-0 in nonleague play before facing the jump in competition.

“We play Orange Lutheran off the get go, we had a big win against them last year. If we can string together five, or maybe six (wins) and then try and figure out who else we can beat in the league, it would be ideal,” Hartigan said. “We came close last year to beating Bosco. But we didn’t play well against Santa Margarita, we didn’t play well against Mater Dei and we were sloppy versus Servite. We have to find a way to capture a couple more wins in the Trinity League, other than the traditional one we’ve been doing in the past.”

Offense

The continued progress of junior quarterback Nick Robinson will be an important part of that effort.

“He’s done a nice job, last year as a sophomore, we threw him in the fire and he grew up, he had to,” Hartigan said. “He really got better as the league wore on. We’re going to be better up front this year, so hopefully he’ll take less hits. We’ve changed some things offensively to get the ball out quicker, so I’m expecting him to have a much better year. He’s going to be the key that gets this engine going.”

While Robinson will be the key for the offense, senior Casey Eugenio will be heart of both the offense and defense for the Lions.

“He’s just amazing,” Hartigan said. “He’s a playmaker. He’s proven, week in, week out, year in, year out, that’s he going to make plays on offense, defense and special teams. And sometimes he’s done all three. He’s just a good, solid, tough high school football player. He’s really the heart and soul of our team and we really need him to have a good year.”

Wide receiver/safety Ethan Aguayo is another player to watch, coming off a solid JV season that also included time on the varsity squad. Dante Pettis, another receiver and corner, has received Division I interest, including scholarship offers from San Diego State and Nevada, as well as garnering interest from Villanova.

Defense

Defensively, Hartigan said he’s liked seeing the improved pass rush in fall camp, especially coupled with improvements in the weight room that will help the team be stouter against the run. Coupled with an athletic secondary, and an active linebacking corps, Hartigan hopes to see the unit give up fewer big plays this season and force teams to have to sustain their drives.

Breaking into the upper division of the Trinity League, Hartigan said, would go a long way to securing the programs first CIF-SS playoff invitation.

“I think it’s time,” Hartigan said. “This is our seventh year. Certainly we want to try and earn that for ourselves by taking third outright, which means you’d have to win three games. There’s always the chance of being the wildcard, but you have to win seven games to even be considered for that. It’s important, but it’s only going to happen if we stay healthy and we progress.” — Jim Shilander

The Saddleback Valley Christian football team is looking to defend their San Joaquin League title in 2013. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren
The Saddleback Valley Christian football team is looking to defend their San Joaquin League title in 2013. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren

Saddleback Valley Christian: Warriors Looking to Maintain Momentum

The Saddleback Valley Christian football team steamrolled their way to the 2012

San Joaquin League championship last season and so far in the early going of fall camp, head coach Justin Reber likes what he sees out of his returning players.

“This is the biggest team, size and strength-wise, that I have had as a coach at this school,” Reber said. “This team could be twice as good as the team we put out on the field last season.”

That’s saying a lot, considering the Warriors pounded their way through league opponents with a devastating run game last year.

It’s been a while since the small San Juan Capistrano team got to don the pads and start tackling, which they finally did last week.

“We’re excited to get back on the field and start hitting again,” senior wideout Marco Castellanos said.

Castellanos and the rest of this year’s varsity team began practicing last week with hopes of putting together another league championship. With eight returning offensive players and six players returning on the defensive side of the ball, the 2013 Warriors team thinks they are ready and able to capture back-to-back San Joaquin League titles.

Offense

The Warriors will be missing two key pieces from their offense that contributed so much one year ago. Running back Forrest Lohman and quarterback Brandon Camarillo-Towes have graduated, leaving major holes to fill.

Lohman was an absolute force last season as he rushed for 1,969 yards and 25 touchdowns. Lohman accounted for 25 of the team’s 38 rushing touchdowns. Camarillo-Towles kept the offense flowing and balanced the run-heavy attack.

Coach Reber thinks they have found ways to fill those holes left by the graduated seniors. All they had to do was look to their depth chart.

“We have four legit weapons at wide receiver who will fill the role on offense and we think Jake Markum is going to step in at quarterback without missing a beat,” Reber said.

The list of receivers that Markum, a junior, will have at his disposal consists of Charlie Morris, Caleb Ward, Sawyer Caso-Nogle and David Molina.
Markum isn’t worried about the offense missing any strides this season, despite losing their record-setting running back.

“Our offense is much better than last year. The offensive line is doing a great job, we have four really good receivers and we have the ability to score a lot of points,” he said.

Defense

When asked how the team was preparing for the upcoming season, junior wide receiver and free safety Charlie Morris said, “I feel like our defense has gotten much better since last year, we are working on getting the new players up to speed but we will be ready for the first game. Overall we’ve got a really great team.”

Senior linebacker Josh Sandberg and junior defensive lineman Asa Johnson are also slated to return.

This year, the marquee matchup for the Warriors will take place October 4 when they take on Aliso Niguel out of the Sea View League. It will be the largest school, by far, that the Warriors have faced in over two years.

“This team can compete with the bigger schools like Aliso Niguel. We might not have the size or strength they do, but we have great players who will go 100 percent for four quarters. I’m excited to see what our guys can prove,” Reber said. —Kevin Dahlgren

Capistrano Valley Christian: Eagles Taking Flight

The Capistrano Valley Christian football team returns several key skill players in 2013. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren
The Capistrano Valley Christian football team returns several key skill players in 2013. Photo by Kevin Dahlgren

The Capistrano Valley Christian football team ended their 2012 campaign with a second-place finish in the San Joaquin League. Their only loss in league play came October 13 in the form of a 49-14 trouncing by inter-city rival Saddleback Valley Christian. This year, the Eagles will have plenty of time to prepare for the rematch of last season’s defeat as they take on the Warriors in their final game of the season on November 7 at San Clemente High School.

Offense

Entering the 2013 season, junior quarterback Riley Babick and the rest of the Eagles squad are eager to redeem their second-place finish. Once again Babick will look to sophomore receiver Ben Sukut, who led the Eagles in receiving and all-purpose yards as a freshman, for h

elp in leading his team to a league championship.

Sukut was easily Babick’s favorite target last year and the two combined for 11 passing touchdowns.

Defense

On the defensive side of the ball, Sukut collected six interceptions totaling over 316 yards in interception returns playing at defensive back. Sukut’s all-around 2012 performance earned him a spot on the Maxpreps.com Freshman All-American Team.

This year’s Eagles team is chalk-full of young talent, with 11 returning sophomores including defensive back Dylan Baird, who led all underclassmen with 40 tackles and tied with Sukut for the interceptions lead.

Despite being a young team, the Eagles are prepared to make a run at a league title and the even more elusive CIF-SS championship. —Kevin Dahlgren

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