After surveying a recent practice session in Eastlake High School’s Stan Canaris Stadium, Titan head football coach John McFadden wore a satisfied smile.
“We have a good group of kids — a cool bunch,” McFadden said. “I’m excited about the season.”
With those words, the Titans officially begin the defense of their two championship titles in 2010: the Mesa League banner that they have now claimed for the past four seasons and the school’s first-ever San Diego Section Division I championship.
Despite losing a large core of last year’s CIF championship team to graduation — Mesa League Offensive Player of the Year Tony Jefferson is a possible starter in the University of Oklahoma’s nickel package, first team all-league quarterback D’Angelo Barksdale is now at the University of San Diego, first team all-league linebacker Marcus Mendillo is now at Azusa Pacific, while offensive lineman Robert Graves, safety Eddie Vega and defensive end George Zhebroilov, all first team all-league picks, are all now at Division II Ft. Lewis College in Durango, Colo. — McFadden believes his 2010 team has the potential to once again challenge at the top of the Division I standings.
Last year’s team finished 11-0-2 — the first undefeated campaign in school history — and capped its CIF championship campaign with a 21-14 victory against the Vista Panthers at Qualcomm Stadium.
It was the first title in the section’s largest enrollment division by a South County school since 1984 and the first division title by a Metro Conference public school since 1996.
Despite the huge hit taken in the backfield with the losses of Jefferson (1,995 rushing yards, 25 touchdowns) and Barksdale (2,160 passing yards, 16 touchdowns), McFadden said the team’s offense is actually “ahead of the game.”
Taking over behind center is senior Jordan Hines, a multi-sport athlete (football, roller hockey and track and field) who is no stranger to the position. Hines played quarterback his freshman and sophomore years on the Titans’ junior varsity team and moved to the wide receiver position last season because of Barksdale’s incumbent status.
“D’Angelo was a fine quarterback but I think we have a little bit more at the position with Jordan, who is more athletic,” McFadden said. “Jordan is looking really good this year.”
The EHS coach said someone the stature of Jefferson is impossible to replace and he is not even going to attempt to do that with any one person. Instead, his team will attempt to fill Jefferson’s void by committee this season.
Sophomore Aaron Baltazar and junior Jude Isbell will take turns at the fullback position. Meanwhile, seniors Chris Fletcher and Zach Bannon will serve duty at the running back/wide-out positions.
Junior Travis Gardner, a basketball standout, and sophomore Joseph Carpizo also will look to be sure-handed wide receivers, while senior tight end Patrick Hardman and sophomore running back Tavarus Green rate as the team’s top impact newcomers.
All that assembled skilled talent will have the benefit of playing behind veteran linemen Arturo Hurtado, a junior, and Nico Sanchez and Ben Galletta, both seniors. Junior guard Eddie Campain joins them up front this year.
Junior Josh Palet will see action to start the season as Hines’ back-up while Marcelo Urrutia returns as the team’s place-kicker.
“We’ll run and throw the ball — I don’t see that changing,” McFadden said. “We have some really fast kids. I think our team speed is really great. We’re executing ahead of the game right now. Offensively, we’ll be fine. We really look good.”
Defensively, the Titans have reason to rejoice with the return of defensive backs Fernando Cabico, Bannon and Fletcher.
“All three DBs have started since they were sophomores and they are now all seniors,” McFadden said. “They’re obviously very experienced. They’re stoppers on defense.”
Clark Moses, last year’s nose guard, moves to the linebacker position this year. He is joined there by senior Jesse Lapid and juniors Hermes Franco and Zeke Ganzon.
Top defensive linemen include senior transfer Kiki Sejeran, junior Carlos Serrano and senior Josue Barajas.
“Our front seven has a lot of new guys but they’ve worked very hard during the spring and summer,” McFadden said. “All that we’re asking them to do is to improve every game.”
McFadden said he believed last year’s team had the potential to do what it did from the get-go and he feels this year’s squad has a lot of potential as well to be successful. The Titans have reached the semifinals of the San Diego Section playoffs the past four seasons, finally making their breakthrough last year. Overall, Eastlake has qualified for the playoffs in 11 consecutive seasons, starting in 1999.
“We graduated about 24 to 25 seniors,” McFadden said. “Of the starters, only about 14 were starters. We had a good solid group of juniors last year. I think we have a good group this year. I’m excited.”
That could spell trouble for opponents.
So, just how does the EHS sideline boss assess the upcoming season?
“We have been one of the top teams in either Division I or Division II for the last four or five years,” said McFadden, whose team kicks off regular season play with a non-league game against visiting Moorpark on Sept. 4. “We’re going to be very competitive. There are going to be a lot of competitive teams in Division I this year. I know that Vista should have a strong team this year. If we can stay healthy and play up to our capabilities, I don’t see why we can’t be successful.”
McFadden cited the usual suspects — Bonita Vista and Otay Ranch — as his team’s chief rivals for this year’s league banner.
“Our league is always competitive,” he said. “We have some good coaches down here in the South Bay.”
While McFadden said his teams over the past 10 seasons have given him many different kinds of memories, he admitted that last year’s CIF championship was, in his words, “special.”
Topping it will be a task but it’s one that the 2010 Titans appear eager to attempt.
“It’s been a building process over the years,” McFadden said.
One that has placed Eastlake in the penthouse.
The Titans kick off 2010 regular season play with a Sept. 3 home game against Moorpark.
2010 Varsity Schedule
(All games at 7 p.m.)
3: Moorpark at Eastlake
10: Eastlake at Lincoln
17: El Camino at Eastlake
24: Steele Canyon at Eastlake
1: Eastlake at Cathedral Catholic
8: Eastlake at Montgomery
15: Otay Ranch at Eastlake
22: Eastlake at Chula Vista
5: Bonita Vista at Eastlake
12: Mater Dei at Eastlake
Web site: www.eastlaketitanfootball.com