Eawtlake Titans enthused about move to CIF Open Division
Which team will win the 2013 Metro-Mesa League championship? The Eastlake Titans appear to be the early front-runner.
And that might not be a bad pick. After all, the Titans are coming off a 2012 campaign in which they won the San Diego Section Division I championship title.
But 2013 brings new challenges. If Eastlake is to win this year’s league title, it will have to unseat two-time defending Metro-Mesa champion Olympian. If the Titans are to repeat as CIF champions, they will have to unseat regional powers Oceanside and Helix as Eastlake makes the move (with seven other teams) to the newly created Open Division.
Titan head coach John McFadden and his players remain enthused about the challenges ahead, however.
“I’m very excited obviously,” McFadden said. “I hope the breaks go with us. A lot of a team’s success has to do with that. The best team we ever had was two years ago when everyone got hurt and we went (only as far as) to the semis, and we still did a great job. Sometimes you get dealt things that you can’t do anything about. If we stay healthy, we’ll be competitive.”
Despite its success in the San Diego Section playoffs, Eastlake has dwelt in the shadow of Olympian the past two seasons for supremacy in the Metro-Mesa. That could change this season.
Top returners include Z-back/cornerback Isiah Olave and inside linebacker Keifer Graham, both All-CIF honorees in 2012.
Joining them as team leaders are tight end Wes Braddock, linemen Emilio Rodriguez, Stephen Tapia and Armando Alvarado, all seniors, junior outside linebacker/running back Isaiah Strayhorn and senior linebacker Nasser Ali.
Olave, who has already received recruiting interest from Idaho, UC Davis and UC San Diego, rushed for 437 yards and scored eight rushing touchdowns in 2012 while playing behind star backs Aaron Baltazar and Tavarus Green.
Olave also caught 12 passes for 221 yards and one touchdown.
He proved he could be a bull with the ball by averaging 9.1 yards per carry — best on the team among regulars.
Strayhorn collected 249 rushing yards and scored four rushing TDs in limited duty last season.
Graham led the team with 138 tackles as a junior, making 108 first hits, while also recording a team-high three fumble recoveries.
Ali ranked third on the team with 90 tackles.
Newcomers who expect to make an impact include freshmen running back/strong safety Traylon Reed and running back/safety Dean Klaser.
Reed is the younger brother of former CVHS standout running back Jevante Reed while Klaser is a cousin of 2009 Park View Little League World Series champion Luke Ramirez, a key contributor to the Eastlake baseball’s team’s ongoing success.
The Titans will be operating with a definite youth slant on the offensive side of the football, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“We had our best freshman team in our history last year —four or five from that team might be on the varsity,” McFadden said. “That’s a lot for us.”
The starting quarterback job in training camp appeared to be up for grabs between junior Justin Scott and sophomore Izzack Morales.
Receivers include juniors Santiago Andujo and Jacob Preisler and senior J.P. Peacock.
“We had an intra-squad scrimmage (last Friday) and we’re excited about what we saw,” McFadden said. “We have a lot to work on, as always, but I think we have some potential for this group.
“All five teams in our league are quality teams but we expect to be in the running for the championship with Otay Ranch and Olympian.”
That brings up the section’s new Open Division. The concept is to place the section’s top teams into one marquee division. Though his team will not have the opportunity to defend its Division I title, McFadden said he has mostly positives about the format change.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I know we can play with anybody but, with so many CIF championship-caliber teams in the division, it will obviously make it more difficult. But I feel if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Every game in the Open Division will almost be like a CIF championship game, so I think it will make it much more exciting.”
Eastlake will get a bearing on where it might stack up against the section’s elite squads when it engages seven-time Arizona state champion Hamilton (Chandler) to kick off regular season play. The non-league showcase game will be played Aug. 31, starting at 1:30 p.m. at Cathedral Catholic High School.
The Huskies enter the 2013 season ranked 14th in the nation.
“It’s going to be a good test to see where we fit,” McFadden said. “Win, lose or draw — and you always want to win — it can only make us better.”
Three-year letter-winners Ali, Strayhorn and Graham share their coaches’ optimism about the upcoming season.
“We’re young but we’re confident.” Ali said succinctly.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but I feel our players can step up and take another CIF championship,” Strayhorn offered his opinion.
“We’re excited about the Open Division,” Graham added. “We know it’s going to be pretty challenging.
“It meant a lot to the seniors on last year’s team to win CIF — it was great to win it last year for them, but this year is going to be for us.”
Can Eagles continue to soar above the rest?
The Olympian Eagles are two-time defending Metro-Mesa League champions and deservedly so. The Eagles’ four championship seasons overall (including previous titles in the South Bay League and Metro-Pacific League) have been wrought with hard work and execution. That was admirably exemplified in the team’s trip to the San Diego Section Division III championship game in 2011.
Despite a massive wave of graduation, new head coach Paul Van Nostrand feels his team is up for another championship run.
“Having been in the CIF finals in 2011 and semifinals in 2012, losing to eventual champions Lincoln, the goals remain the same — win the Metro-Mesa League title and play in the CIF finals,” Van Nostrand said.
Van Nostrand, who takes over for legendary coach Gil Warren, has been with the team since its inception, serving primarily as quarterback coach. Ironically, he guided his son Ryan through the Eagles’ ranks. Now Ryan has joined the Olympian coaching staff.
The elder Van Nostrand returns to the head coaching position after serving in the same role at Castle Park High School before making the move to Olympian’s start-up season at the junior varsity level in 2006.
He remains confident the team can continue its winning tradition.
Although 30 seniors graduated, Van Nostrand noted that “the Eagles have a solid core of returners and players moving up from the lower levels.”
Senior linebacker Rey Osuna, a first team All-CIF selection and 2012 Metro-Mesa League Defensive Player of the Year, leads the team’s returners.
Osuna had two interceptions, two fumble recoveries, two sacks and blocked one punt last season while ranking second on the team with 114 total tackles.
Top returners also include linebacker Connal Brown, running back Trevor Casillas, offensive lineman Jordan Fagan, receiver Greg Goff, kicker Angel Garcia, running back Isaiah Gutierrez, offensive lineman Dylan Jensen, offensive lineman Adam Kvashny, running back/safety Benny Rodriguez and defensive lineman Victor Ramirez.
All are seniors.
Newcomers include sophomores Garry Cannon and Jonathan Norris and juniors Anthony Hughes, Will Lampkin and R.J. Leomiti.
The OHS coaching staff has to be optimistic about what it has assembled coming into the season.
Olympian emerged on top of an eight-team field in the 15th annual Spartan Invitational summer passing tournament in July. The Eagles defeated Hilltop, 30-8, in the championship game to cap the low-key event.
But the real season starts Aug. 31 when the Eagles travel to Point Loma to kick off non-league play. Game time is 3 p.m.
Mustangs still chasing elusive Metro-Mesa championship title
This is Anthony Lacsina’s fourth year as head coach at Otay Ranch High School. Every year the Mustangs have set out with the goal of winning the Metro-Mesa League championship but have come up short, in a few cases, just barely so.
“Last year we had a great start at 6-0,” Lacsina said. “We beat some good teams. We (then) had some eligibility issues and injuries that slowed us down. But that is no excuse. Everyone has to make it happen; everyone has to play.”
This year’s team will once again be led by quarterback Kyle Hawkins, who rates as the top returning quarterback not only in the league but in the entire Metro Conference.
As a junior in 2012, Hawkins, a first team all-league pick, threw for 2,125 yards and 17 touchdowns (against 15 interceptions). He also rushed for 850 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns.
Lacsina calls Hawkins a “dual threat” with his legs and his arm.
Protecting Hawkins could be a key point to the Mustangs’ 2013 season.
“Our offensive line has improved from last year,” Lacsina said. “We have some young backs who want to step up for the team.”
An ongoing strength for Otay Ranch should be its defense, particularly its front seven, according to the Mustang coach.
“Our front seven are all studs,” Lacsina said with conviction.
Heading the defense will be senior tackles Rasheed Farha, Angel Tegardine, senior linebackers Justin Doton and Jeremy Gula, senior safety Junior Soto and junior linebacker Jensen Peterson.
“We’re just looking for that nose guard,” Lacsina said.
Doton led the team with 120 tackles last season while Farha ranked second with 4.5 sacks and Gula had an interception to go with two fumble recoveries.
Peterson was a member of Park View’s fabled 2009 Little League World Series championship team, showcasing his athletic ability.
Lending Hawkins a hand on offense this season are junior running back Malik Williams, senior offensive guard Rollie Garza, senior receiver Quentin Bell, senior running backs Kyran Lee and Damien Wyzykowski, senior tight end Jevon Fields and junior tight end J.B. Halloway.
Bell had 19 catches for 301 yards last year while Fields recorded two touchdown catches.
“Every year we plan on winning league and I think this year (the league) will be competitive,” Lacsina said. “Eastlake has a young team but they’re favored to win. Olympian has a young team. In my opinion, I think it’s wide open. But until you knock off those big two guys (Eastlake and Olympian), you can’t say you’re going to win it.”
The Mustangs kick off regular season play Sept. 6 with a home game against Mt. Miguel.
Spartans in rebuilding phase, but remain undaunted
Are the Chula Vista Spartans in a rebuilding year in 2013? Head coach Judd Rachow might not use those exact words but the Spartans will certainly be out to jump-start their offensive game with a large cast of new characters.
The CVHS defense will be more solid to start the new season, Rachow said.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Rachow conjectured. “We’re starting off new or nearly so at every spot on both sides of the ball with the exception of my inside linebackers and running backs. But we’ve competed well out there (in summer passing tournaments). It’s been a lot of work but the kids have done a good job.”
The Spartan backfield could be one of the most talented in the Metro-Mesa League with Jayvon Reed, Hui Wolfgramm and Jaylon Candler, all of whom are stoutly built and will pose a challenge for defenders to bring down.
Reed and Wolfgramm are both seniors while Candler is a junior. Center Alex Chavez is a senior.
Reed gained 387 yards and four rushing touchdowns while playing in the shadow of older brother Jevante last season but could be poised for a breakout season.
Wolfgramm, a fullback/defensive lineman, scored three rushing touchdowns in 2012.
Rachow said both “lead by example” on the field.
Candler, a league championship wrestler, will also play linebacker, while Reed will also see playing time at the safety position.
Senior defensive lineman Javier Anzar will also be a team leader while Rachow said junior defensive end/running back Simisi Iongi will “impact the team both ways.”
Three quarterbacks were vying for playing time in preseason practices: Hunto Gotto, Elijah Whitehead and Mario Cabada.
Replacing graduated signal-caller Ricky Estevez (1,656 passing yards and 15 touchdown passes last year) and ace receivers Richard Walker (506 receiving yards and five touchdown receptions) and Ray Holden (830 receiving yards, eight touchdown catches) will be a chore, to say the least.
But the Spartans may have answers.
“We still like to run the football,” the CVHS coach said.
The Spartans will unveil their new-look offense in front of home fans in the teams’ two annual rivalry contests against Sweetwater in the 67th annual Legacy of Pride game on Sept. 6 and the Chula Vista Kiwanis Bowl XII on Sept. 13.
“We’ll be competitive,” Rachow said. “We’re going to have to learn to play team football. We have a lot of guys coming up from JV. We’re inexperienced up front. We’re at that stage where we’re learning. Even though we’ve had a good passing game the last couple years, we still like to run the football. How successful we are will depend on how quickly the guys adapt to playing varsity football.”
Chula Vista kicks off the season with a non-league game at Steele Canyon on Aug. 30.
Bonita Vista Barons looking for gridiron improvement
By John Philip Wyllie
special to the star-news
After three consecutive losing seasons the Bonita Vista Barons are hoping to reverse their fortunes in 2013 under recently hired head coach Chris Thompson. Thompson has inherited a team with substantial size and ability, but the Barons will again be challenged by their tough schedule.
Ricky Alvarez, the team’s 2012 Defensive MVP, will line up at nose guard and be called upon to disrupt their opponents’ inside running game. Alvarez, a senior, will be joined on the defensive line by the very solid Christian Melhorn.
Thompson believes both players have the potential to play in college.
Offensive tackles Alex Ohlendorf and Ben Brannen will also be part of the D-line rotation. A pair of highly mobile outside linebackers in Trevor Kemp and Brice Jackson will control the edges while inside linebacker Angel Landavazo will focus on stuffing the inside run.
Defensive coordinator Phillip Lomax believes Landavazo and Kemp will join Alvarez and Melhorn as collegiate athletes following graduation. Converted safety Johnathan Schultz, another senior, rounds out what should be a very good linebacker corps.
The Barons secondary is sound and experienced with returning senior starters Mahmoud Zeiden and Matt Macario, joining Antonio Bustamante and Tyler Thompson.
“The strength of this team is in its big men,” Chris Thompson said.
The offense is led by a pair of stellar tackles: Ohlendorf (6-4, 260) and Brannen (6-1, 265).
“These two should be able to line up and play with anybody,” the BVHS coach said. “Alex has received some Ivy League offers. I think Ben is flying under the radar right now, but he should get some Division I-AA or Division II offers. Our undersized center, Joey Snider (6-0, 215), is smart and tough and he likes to battle.”
The situation at guard was a question mark at the beginning of fall practice.
The quarterback job was also up for grabs as the season began. Seniors Marcos Kasak and Nick Cappos will try and fend off a challenge from junior John Freeman as they battle it out for the starting job. Cappos and Kasak saw limited action last season behind departed Austin Kane.
Explosive sophomore Chris Boguille should get the bulk of the carries on offense. Christian Gilstrap, Andy Garcia, Alvarez and Landavazo will also contribute to the Barons rushing attack.
The Barons are blessed with two fine tight ends in junior Alex Lopez and senior Quinten Miller. Thompson believes Lopez, a two-way player, will develop into a Division I prospect. The BV coach thinks both players rank among the best in the county.
Senior Robert Garza returns as the Barons top wide receiver. He will be joined by juniors Christian Powell, Patrick Wilson and Lloyd Alexander. Garza will handle the punting while Alexander will come on for field goals, PATs and kickoffs.
Bonita Vista faces Montgomery in a non-league match-up to kick off regular season play Aug. 30 at Olympian High School.
STAR-NEWS PREP PIGSKIN COACHES POLL
Which team will win the Metro-Mesa League championship title?
1. Eastlake Titans 38 points
2. Olympian Eagles 36 points
3. Otay Ranch Mustangs 34 points
4. Chula Vista Spartans 27 points
5. Bonita Vista Barons 25 points
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW
Metro-Mesa League Standings
•Olympian Eagles 4-0, 11-1
•Eastlake Titans 3-1, 10-3
•Chula Vista Spartans 2-2
•Otay Ranch Mustangs 1-3, 6-5
•Bonita Vista Barons 0-4, 2-9