CIF CHAMPION SWEETWATER SEEKS CONTINUED SUCCESS
The Sweetwater Red Devils returned to the CIF champions circle last season after defeating the Monte Vista Monarchs, 7-0, to claim the San Diego Section’s Division IV title. But the Red Devils certainly didn’t reap many rewards.
The section promptly moved the National City team to a higher playoff division and the Metro Conference moved the Devils to a tougher league.
Sweetwater players see the moves as motivation.
“We’re going for another one,” senior defensive back/running back James Zarate said. “It’s what’s driving us. We feel we have the potential to win another one.”
It had been a long haul since Sweetwater won a section title until last season. The Devils captured back-to-back CIF titles in 1983 and 1984, but had not duplicated the feat until last year.
It took a special bond between players to accomplish that, according to senior running back/defensive back Antonio Garcia.
“It’s all about being a family,” Garcia explained. “We all came together in the fifth game last season.”
The Devils haven’t lost a game since. They bring an 8-0 winning streak into this year’s season opener against visiting Santa Fe Christian on Aug. 29.
SuHi head coach Brian Hay acknowledges it will be more of a challenge to repeat last year’s success with the moves up in both the division playoffs and league competition tier. But he said his team is up to the challenge.
“The top teams from Division IV went up and the bottom teams from Division II went down,” Hay explained of the make-up of the revamped Division III competition tier. “It will be tougher. There are some teams there with some talent. We’ll play anybody and see how we do.”
Hay said the Devils will continue to do what they do best, which is to run the football. Sweetwater averaged 344 rushing yards in its 13 games last season against just 27 passing yards per game.
Garcia led the team with 1,355 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Also back in Devil uniforms are Zarate (401 rushing yards, six touchdowns) and senior linebacker/running back Raven Middleton (703 rushing yards and four TDs).
Middleton threw the game-winning touchdown to Garcia in last year’s CIF championship game.
Other key returners include linebackers Cecilio Portillo, free safety Andrew Wright, tight end Miguel Triana and linemen Ricardo Perez and Kevin Mendoza.
Senior quarterback Christian Amon (304 rushing yards, 316 passing yards) is back to lead the offense.
Hay’s 2014 group should be a load to move. “We’re going to be much bigger,” the SuHi coach noted. “We’re averaging 300 pounds up front.”
After winning last year’s Metro-Pacific League championship, Sweetwater will vie for supremacy in the Metro-South Bay League alongside resident league powers Hilltop and Mar Vista, which have combined to win the last four Metro-South Bay League titles.
Hilltop won last year’s league title while enjoying an amazing season of its own with a run to the Division III semifinals.
“Everyone that’s in it, we played last year,” Hay said. “We know our opponents real well. Of course, they also know something about us.”
CAN DEFENDING CHAMP HILLTOP FEND OFF INVADERS, KEEP LEAGUE CROWN?
The Hilltop High School football team experienced a season last year not to be forgotten any time soon. The Lancers captured the Metro-South Bay League championship in dream fashion on a touchdown on the last play of the game and then went on to advance as far as the San Diego Section Division III semifinals, losing to the eventual division champion Christian Patriots, to cap a mighty 10-2 finish.
A year later, a Hilltop may appear hard pressed to repeat those exploits, but as the old adage goes, that’s why they play the games.
“It was a lot of fun,” HHS head coach Cody Roelof said. “I was glad to see the kids have so much success, especially the senior guys who had put so much work in over the last four years.”
The Lancers, circa 2014, will have to deal with a roster hit heavy by graduation of its top offensive and defensive stars of a season ago. Hilltop will also have to deal with a more challenging league schedule than in the past.
It could all add up to a bust — or another dream season.
Either way, the foundation has been set for future success, whether it is this season or next season.
“Our numbers are about the same,” explained Roelof, who has helmed the Lancers since the 2010 campaign. “The kids continue to work hard. They have a little more confidence.”
While enthusiasm remains rampant throughout the program, there is much this year’s team will have to overcome to find success this fall.
“We graduated our whole defense,” Roelof stated succinctly. “It’s a slow process (in rebuilding) but we’re going.
“Offensively, we lost our offensive line and we lost our backfield, two running backs. We’ve started rebuilding. We’re still in that process.
“We want to get more leadership, have a lot more guys step up except just a few.”
Players being counted on to provide that key leadership this season include outside linebacker Chris Perez, wide receiver/safety Isaiah Dillon, tight end Neiko Santana, linebacker Eli Sanchez, running back Angel Pineda, tight end/linebacker Michael Talbert, linebacker Jamin Solis, running back/safety Dylan Trenga, defensive lineman Sione Tuikolovatu, quarterback Daniel Sanchez, wide receiver/safety Luis Hernandez and running back Bryton Madarang.
Daniel Sanchez likely has the most experience in that bunch. He posted a break season as a sophomore with 1,059 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes and five rushing TDs. As a junior last season, he passed for 747 yards and three passing TDs while rushing for 274 yards and eight scores.
Hernandez had one touchdown reception while supplying 27 kicking points to finish third in team scoring in 2013.
Hilltop and Mar Vista have vied for supremacy the last four years as members of the Metro-South Bay League.
However, realignment has deposited Sweetwater and Mater Dei Catholic — both former champions in the Metro-Pacific League — into this year’s Metro-South Bay League lineup.
Mater Dei Catholic won league titles in 2011 and 2012; Sweetwater won last year’s Metro-Pacific championship en route to claiming the Division IV title.
Prior to last season, Mar Vista had won three consecutive Metro-South Bay League banners.
With four former league champions in the same league this season, including two defending league champions, it is definitely going to be interesting to see which team will be the king this year.
“It’s a tough league, a really tough league,” Roelof noted. “We have a CIF champion (Sweetwater) coming in.
“But everybody played everybody last year (in cross-over games), so there’s no one really new. I think it will be a real competitive league.”
The Lancers remain in Division III for postseason play, though that doesn’t get any easier either with the addition of Sweetwater to the mix in moving up from Division IV.
“Obviously, we liked it better in Division III rather than in Division II when everybody had to play either Oceanside or Helix,” Roelof said.
Hilltop will host the Chula Vista Kiwanis Bowl XIII on Sept. 12 against west side rival Chula Vista.
Crusaders to hit the ground running in new surroundings
ders finished 4-8 last season, advancing two rounds deep into the section playoffs. The Crusaders should be competitive at the Division IV level once again.
“We expect to challenge for a playoff spot,” Mater Dei Catholic head coach John Joyner said.
The Crusaders will be without two of their sparkplugs from 2013: receiver Iman Chatman-Dixon is now at New Mexico State while receiver Evan Bebee is now at Cheney State.
Still, the makeover for 2014 will not be too severe.
Top returners include linebacker/tight end Donovan Williams, center/defensive tackle George Arce, safety/wide receiver Michael Pimentel and tailback Luis Victoria, all seniors.
Newcomers include sophomore tailback/safety C.J. Verdell, junior linebacker Jayden Emberton-Gaines and junior wide receiver David Bracamonte.
The search is on to replace starting quarterback Marco Morales, who averaged 250 yards per game passing last season.
“Our offense should be OK,” Joyner said. “We don’t have the quarterback and wide receivers we had last year, so we should be more of a running team this season. Last year, we liked to pass the ball because of the receivers we had, though don’t completely rule that out this year.”
Joyner said depth on defense might be the team’s strength.
“Defensively, we return a lot of guys who’ve played a lot of games for us,” the MDCHS coach said. “Our top six guys are returning.”
Williams collected 55 tackles, 3.5 sacks and had one forced fumble in 10 games last season; Pimentel had 48 tackles and recovered two fumbles.
The Crusaders captured back-to-back Metro-Pacific League titles in 2011-12 before finally ceding last year’s league title to Sweetwater. Both teams move to the Metro-South Bay League this season. The new alignment should make for a more balanced and challenging league schedule.
“It’s going to be very competitive,” Joyner said. “I think the change will make for one of the most even leagues anywhere.”
Mar Vista Mariners to regroup with youth
The Mar Vista Mariners had their three-year reign as Metro-South Bay League champions end last season, and it did so in crushing fashion on the final play of the season.
The Mariners finished the 2013 campaign 4-6, and did not advance to the San Diego Section playoffs. It snapped a run of four consecutive trips to postseason play.
Mar Vista will be out to return to postseason play in 2014 despite fielding a young team.
“With less than 10 returners from last season, we lack the experience that other teams may have, so we are looking to have players step up under the pressure of playing under the lights on Friday nights,” Mar Vista head coach Tyler Arciaga explained.
Top returners include senior linebacker Adam Hernandez, senior offensive lineman Jesus Medina, senior wide receiver/defensive back Nijal Collins, junior offensive lineman Kaelin Washington and junior offensive/defensive lineman Hugh Anthony.
Hernandez earned first team all-league honors in 2013 while Medina and Collins were both second team all-league picks.
Arciaga, who played at Bonita Vista High School as a prep and at UNLV in college, noted that Washington started last year at center as a sophomore while Anthony was brought up to the varsity team from the junior varsity squad midway through last season to start the remainder of his sophomore season.
Impact newcomers include senior quarterback Ben Munoz, sophomore running back Khalil Spruill, senior wide receiver/defensive back Josh Cooper and sophomore offensive lineman Gabe Preciado.
Spruill was the MVP of last season’s freshman team while Cooper is a transfer from Virginia.
Preciado is the younger brother of Andres Preciado, now at Boise State.
“Gabe was the best lineman last year on the frosh team and will start this year on varsity at guard,” Arciaga said.
The Mariners lost a lot of firepower to graduation last season. Besides Andres Preciado, former “Mr. Everything” Jimmie Hill is now playing at Harvard.
Hill, as last year’s league offensive MVP, rushed for 1,928 yards and scored 20 rushing touchdowns.
The addition of Sweetwater and Mater Dei Catholic to the Metro-South Bay League instantly makes this one of the most competitive leagues in all of the San Diego Section.
Arciaga admits it’s not going to be easy for his team this season.
“This will be a tough league, but we look to compete and get into the Division III playoffs,” the MVHS coach said.
Exploring new horizons will definitely be a priority in the Mariners’ playbook this season. Mar Vista will play a road game in Santa Cruz during the third week of regular season play.
“The kids will have the opportunity to tour San Francisco and travel outside of the local area,” Arciaga noted.
Metro Conference Football Rankings
(CalPreps Preseason Power Ratings)
1. Eastlake Titans 46.9
2. Sweetwater Red Devils 25.7
3. Olympian Eagles 23.7
4. Hilltop Lancers 21.5
5. Chula Vista Spartans 19.8
6. Bonita Vista Barons 13
7. Otay Ranch Mustangs 6.7
8. Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders -1
9. Castle Park Trojans -3.3
10. Mar Vista Mariners -4.2
11. Montgomery Aztecs -17.7
12. San Ysidro Cougars -31.6
13. Southwest Raiders -39.7
1. Eastlake Titans, 2. Olympian Eagles, 3. Chula Vista Spartans, 4. Bonita Vista Barons, 5. Otay Ranch Mustangs
Metro-South Bay League
1. Sweetwater Red Devils, 2. Hilltop Lancers, 3. Mater Dei Catholic Crusaders, 4. Mar Vista Mariners
1. Castle Park Trojans, 2. Montgomery Aztecs, 3. San Ysidro Cougars, 4. Southwest Raiders
San Diego Section Football Rankings
(CalPreps Preseason Power Ratings)
1. Cathedral Catholic 55.4
1. Mission Hills 55.4
3. St. Augustine 53.5
4. Oceanside 52.5
5. Helix 49.8
6. Eastlake 46.9
7. San Pasqual 45.0
8. Ramona 43.9
9. El Capitan 40.3
10. Carlsbad 38.3
11. Rancho Buena Vista 37.6
12. Torrey Pines 34.8
13. Grossmont 34.5
14. La Costa Canyon 32.7
15. Mission Bay 31.8