As Agent 86 Maxwell Smart might have said in the classic “Get Smart” television series from the 1960s: “Missed it by that much!” That catch phrase fairly sums up the championship fortunes of the Montgomery Aztecs the past several years. Montgomery has clearly been a team on the rise under the tutelage of head coach Julio Alcala but somehow the Aztecs just haven’t put it all together in the proverbial “big game.”
That could change this season.
The Aztecs, 4-2 in South Bay League last season, return an experienced offensive unit that boasts a returning quarterback, two returning running backs, a returning wide receiver and four returning starting offensive linemen. Overall, 17 returning starters are back.
The jump to the new Metro-Pacific League looks to heighten existing rivalries and well as cement developing ones.
“It’s going to be interesting with the realignment of our league,” said Alcala, whose team finished 5-5 overall in 2009.
“Everybody’s pretty much in it. Olympian is going to be tough. They were the champions last year in the South Bay League. Castle Park should be better than last year. Sweetwater should be improved. For us, it will depend on the maturity of our defense. On offense, we have the veteran type of players who should get the job done.”
The Aztecs return six all-league players: senior quarterback Jordan Lippman, senior running backs Diego Rodriguez and Manny Quiambao, senior linebacker Steven Schafer, senior offensive lineman B.J. Dioquino and senior defensive back Irving Lopez.
Lippman and Quiambao both earned second team all-league offensive honors last year while Lopez, Dioquino and Schafer were all honorable mention selections. Rodriguez was a second team all-league selection in 2008 before sustaining a knee injury last year.
Lippman passed for 753 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009 while Quiambao rushed for 731 yards and scored eight TDs.
Lopez, Rodriguez, Dioquino and Lippman are all legitimate college prospects, according to Alcala.
The major boost to the offense is the return of Rodriguez from an injury last season that helped blunt Montgomery’s championship hopes. Other top returning offensive players include senior wide receiver Steven Morales and linemen Esteban Espinoza (6-1. 265), Andrew Tapia (6-0, 245), Michael Meza (5-9, 230) and Omar Sanchez (6-1, 240). Dioquino stands 5-11 and weighs in at 340 pounds.
The defense is less experienced. Joining Schafer and Lopez are four top returners: junior linebacker Joel Castro, senior linebacker Daniel Padilla and senior defensive linemen Michael David and Armando Hernandez.
Castro ranked second on the team last season with 54 tackles, followed by Padilla (48 tackles) and Schafer (43 tackles).
The team’s top newcomers on offense include senior receiver Ardie Loyola, junior receiver Miguel Rodriguez and junior offensive lineman Josh Effinger. Impact newcomers on the defensive side include junior defensive linemen Angelo Alvarez (5-10, 250), Jose Aviles (5-11, 200), Jose Salazar (6-1, 220) and junior defensive backs Ryan Rodriguez, Ernesto Lopez and Robert Smith.
In last Saturday’s CIF Kick Off Classic, the Aztecs roared to a two touchdown lead before the team’s offensive unit even touched the football on punt returns by Charlie Williams and Quiambao.
This Aztec senior group won league titles at the freshman and junior varsity levels and could extend that to the varsity level.
Montgomery and Olympian paired up in the championship game of the Spartan Invitational passing tournament in late July, with the Eagles pulling out a 19-12 victory.
Rodriguez scored both Aztec touchdowns in that match-up.
“I liked the competitiveness,” Alcala said. “These guys want to get after each other.”
Montgomery kicks off the 2010 regular season with a Sept. 3 game at El Cajon Valley.
2010 Varsity Schedule
3: Montgomery at El Cajon Valley, 7 p.m.
17: Kearny at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
24: Orange Glen at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
1: Mar Vista at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
8: Eastlake at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
15: Hilltop at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
22: Montgomery at San Ysidro, 7 p.m.
29: Olympian at Montgomery, 7 p.m.
5: Montgomery at Sweetwater, 7 p.m.
12: Montgomery at Castle Park, 7 p.m.