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2013 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Cerritos, Valley Christian ready to move forward after dismal 2012 campaigns

 

By Loren Kopff Sports editor note: This the third installment of area football previews that have been published in the Los Cerritos Community News for the past three weeks.

CERRITOS DONS

0-10 overall last season, 0-6 in the Suburban League, seventh place, 4-46 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Darin Owens (second season, 0-10)

Lost 12 seniors out of 49 from 2012 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2001

2013 schedule

Aug. 30        BYE

Sept. 6         Valley Christian (3-7 overall last season)

Sept. 13 @   Gahr (5-5)

Sept. 20       Ocean View (4-6)

Sept. 26       Norwalk (9-3)

Oct. 4 @       Artesia (4-6)

Oct. 11         Bellflower (6-5)

Oct. 18 @    John Glenn (2-8)

Oct. 24 (HC) La Mirada (10-2)

Nov. 1 @      Mayfair (4-6)

Nov. 8 @      Whittier Christian (8-4)

After a 2012 season in which the Cerritos varsity team moved to junior varsity status for its final six games, all in Suburban League action, head coach Darin Owens is more than anxious to get the 2013 campaign started. He said the program is taking tiny steps to get back in a positive stage and that the program may take two steps back to make one step forward. He added that the Dons will move really, really slow to get the fundamentals down but he’s excited for the program to ‘make the turn’ towards respectability.

“The past is the past; it’s gone forever,” Owens said of last season. “That’s what is so neat and refreshing about this season. That’s all we’ve focused on. That’s it. It was that simple. It’s reality.”

Owens indicated that if the team can simply compete, then it will be a successful season. He’s not worried about wins and losses and is looking forward to playing a spoiler role later in the season. He added that the solid step to forgetting about the issues of last season is getting the staff and the community to come back as well as staying with the same philosophy.

In terms of the player personnel, Owens said he talked all summer long with the team about each player being responsible to improve on his own area each day and not to worry about what other players are doing.

“It’s been encouraging,” Owens said. “The kids lifted hard and they are focused. The group that we have tries their hardest. I’ve coached some very good football teams in my past as a head football coach. What encourages me about this group of kids is that they just keep going and they keep trying to get better. That’s all you can ask for in an athlete.”

OFFENSE

The Dons failed to score in all four nonleague games last season and had difficulties crossing midfield. But the team will be loaded with sophomores and juniors this season. Junior Ki’Jon Washington is the leading candidate to be the quarterback in Owens’ double-wing offense. The top wingbacks will be senior LaMarr Crowder and juniors Kory Boyd and Ron Reedy while senior Allen Mina and sophomore Brandon Brown will be the main tight ends. While Owens stated his offensive line isn’t quite set, senior left tackle Neel Patel, junior left guard Jake Kim, junior right guard Anthony Eseberre and junior right tackle Vander Ferrer will most likely get the bulk of playing time.

“They understand the offense better,” Owens said. “The linemen are stronger right now and our backs are definitely quicker.”

DEFENSE

In the first four games last season, the Dons yielded 234 points and were on pace to break the state record for most points given up in a 10-game season. Don’t expect any such records to be broken this season with the line being held down by the same personnel that will be on the offensive line. The majority of the secondary will be anchored by most of the wingbacks while the linebacker spots are wide open besides Kim and Mina.

SCHEDULE

While most schools begin their seasons tonight, the Dons will get their campaign going on Sept. 6 with a home game against Valley Christian. It’s the first time ever that these two city schools will meet on the gridiron and it will also be the first time Owens steps foot on the grass at Rants Stadium.

“Our first games are pretty tough right there,” Owens said. “Valley Christian has a new coach and he’s pretty good. We really don’t know at this point in time exactly what he’s doing. Gahr obviously is going to be Gahr and Ocean View wasn’t senior-laden last year but they weren’t super young either.”

Cerritos has lost eight straight games to Gahr, being outscored 343-20 during that stretch. But with Gahr also fielding a very young team, the first step to claim ownership of the Silver Milk Barrel could be much closer. The Dons have nine wins against John Glenn since 1998, most against any league team in the past 15 seasons and the team will have La Mirada as its homecoming game for the first time in recent memory.

“We know we’re going to have some games where it’s going to be very rough,” Owens said. “There’s no doubt about that. It’s not going to be a surprise to anybody. But I also know we have some games where we are capable of competing in and we have some games where we’re capable of winning. When a team hits those wins; gets that first win…that’s the beauty of this sport, is that the entire past is completely gone at that instant. It’s awesome, and you never know where a team goes after that.”

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

3-7 overall last season, 1-3 in the Olympic League, fourth place, 27-27 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Woodie Grayson (first season)

Lost 19 seniors out of 38 from 2012 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2011

2013 schedule

Aug. 30 @    Duarte (5-5 overall last season)

Sept. 6 @     Cerritos (0-10)

Sept. 13       BYE

Sept. 20       Mayfair (4-6)

Sept. 27       Ontario Christian (13-1)

Oct. 4 @      St. Anthony (6-4)

Oct. 11 @    Whittier Christian (8-4)

Oct. 18 (HC) Francis Parker (8-5)

Oct. 25         Village Christian (7-5)

Nov. 2 @      Heritage Christian (4-6)

Nov. 8          Maranatha (3-7)

After stumbling to a three-win campaign and the second straight losing season, Valley Christian welcomes in Woodie Grayson as the school’s 13th head coach in 68 years. Grayson is no stranger to the school, or the area as he spent the last 19 seasons at Mayfair High School, six as a co-head coach with Mike Fitch, seven as the offensive coordinator and seven as the defensive coordinator. Grayson also played for Brethren Christian High School when it was in the Olympic League and played against V.C. He says he wants to bring back the style of football that former V.C. legend Mike Wunderley instilled and that he is taking a well disciplined approach to this season, which will be very demanding.

“First of all, the greeting has been great; the reception from all parties involved,” Grayson said. “Second of all, [Valley Christian has] wonderful people and it’s a wonderful environment. That part has been great. Obviously, part of the transition has been setting a different culture and trying to get them to understand how I want things done. The kids have accepted everything that I’ve asked them to do.”

OFFENSE

If anything, the offense will be very deep with skilled players and should score more than the 164 points the team did last season. Of those 164 points, 45 were scored in the first half alone through the first five games and 28 were scored in the first game. The Crusaders have four quarterbacks but because of injuries to juniors Kent Running and Jack Struiksma, the top two signal callers will be senior Kendahl Jordan and junior Will Brines.

“They’ve all done some good things and they all have their strengths and differences,” Grayson said. “We pretty much have an idea of which way we’re going with the position. But right now, Jack is a little dinged up; he’s had some issues with his arm. Kendahl is so valuable to our team because he can play any of the 11 positions on the field. He’s very, very gifted football-wise as far as his knowledge of the game and his instinct for the game.”

The backfield is so deep that senior Darryl Richardson and junior Jonathan Nicholson have separated themselves from the rest, according to Grayson. Nicholson led the Crusaders with 597 yards and five touchdowns last season.

But the team also has seniors David Lutu, Joseph Martinez and Adam Range who all accounted for another 480 yards on 99 carries. Juniors Brian Cok, Aaron Kirchner, Nathan O’Toole, Chandler Vos and Kyle Westra along with sophomore Trent Berkencamp will all be on the receiving end of Brines and/or Jordan. Westra is the team’s leading returner with 149 yards on nine receptions and a pair of touchdowns. Grayson said Berkencamp was the best receiver in the spring.

Injuries have forced Grayson to shuffle his offensive line personnel around. But when healthy, he can go to anywhere from 10-12 players. Junior left tackle Joseph Castanos is one of the team’s best leaders, according to the new coach, and is the model of consistency at that position. Senior Mitchell Torres will most likely hold down left guard with either senior Ryan Amato or junior Luke Konkowski at center. Sophomore Roger Ramos is slated to be at right guard and if he’s not at center, then Amato, who played right guard last season, will be at right tackle. Also in the mix but currently dinged up are seniors Nick Dupuy and Thomas Kovacik and junior Garrison Coley.

“We had a good spring introducing the offensive system and bouncing into the summer, I thought we had a good summer,” Grayson said. “Skill-wise, we can compete with anybody in our league and probably most of our division. The biggest thing for us is to be consistent up front with what we want to do. We always want to come out and run the ball and control the clock. If we are healthy, we can do that.”

DEFENSE

Everyone on the offensive line will play on the defensive line along with junior end Nate Aaronsen, who was a linebacker last season. The leaders in the secondary are scheduled to be Berkencamp, Brines, Jordan, Kirchner, Lutu and senior Michael Douglas, the latter transferred from Serra High School last season but played in the final four games of the season. Jordan had 48 tackles last season, most by any returning player. Westra (37 tackles last season) and Richardson are the top two linebackers and will be backed by Coley and Dupuy.

“Defense really doesn’t matter a whole lot,” Grayson said. “As long as guys are aggressive, we can be good. We’re a smaller school than I’m accustomed to. The numbers always look a little bit different than what I’m accustomed to. But fortunately we’re playing other smaller schools, so the numbers are going to be about the same.”

SCHEDULE

V.C.’s preseason schedule is one of the most intriguing in some time. The first three contests favor the Crusaders on paper. The meeting with Cerritos is the first ever between the two schools and the matchup with Mayfair will be an emotional one for Grayson. But he said he’s only focused on Duarte.

“I’m not familiar with [Cerritos head coach Darin Owens],” Grayson said. “We didn’t get a chance to see his team on the field last year. But if he’s running the same offense, I think you’re going to see an interesting matchup in styles. They’re 95 percent run to pass versus what we like to do.

“For the team, physically, it’s going to be a tough one,” Grayson later said of his former school, which missed the playoffs for the first time in 17 years. “Obviously I’m familiar with a high percentage of those players over there and I’m very familiar with the coaching staff. I know that not making the playoffs left a really, really bitter taste in the mouth of their head coach and all of their assistants and players as well.”

After three straight tough games midway through the season, two of which will be on the road, V.C. returns to Crusader Field for its homecoming game against San Diego-based Francis Parker. It will be the first non-Olympic League team V.C. has hosted for it homecoming game since 2009 against Ontario Christian. V.C. still holds a 43-17 league mark since 1998 with four league titles and eight second place finishes.

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