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Norwalk motivated even more to claim divisional championship

English: State Seal of the California Intersch...

English: State Seal of the California Interscholastic Federation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW

By Loren Kopff

NORWALK LANCERS

13-1 overall last season, 6-0 in the Suburban League, first place, lost to La Serna 41-38 (2 OT) in Southeast Division finals, 43-19 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Jesse Ceniceros (seventh season, 51-24)

Lost 22 seniors out of 41 from 2013 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2006

2014 schedule

Aug. 29 @      Bell (5-7 overall last season)

Sept. 5St. John Bosco (16-0)

Sept. 12 @      Bell Gardens (7-4)

Sept. 19 @      El Toro (4-6)

Sept. 26 @      Mayfair (5-6)

Oct. 3  (HC)   Cerritos (2-8)

Oct. 10                        BYE

Oct. 17 @       Artesia (6-4)

Oct. 24            Bellflower (5-5)

Oct. 30 @       John Glenn (0-10)

Nov. 7             La Mirada (4-7)

The sting of the heartbreaking double overtime loss to La Serna in last December’s California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Southeast Division championship game still lingers, more for head coach Jesse Ceniceros than the players. But repeating as Suburban League champions, plus advancing back to the finals and winning it all will be a much taller task this season, especially after the Lancers graduated over half of its team.

“Honestly, I don’t know if you ever recover from that fully,” Ceniceros said. “As a matter of fact, I think the kids did a better job of recovering than some of the adults. These kids nowadays forget and are forgiving.”

But like every high school around, high school players last for four years before moving on to college and that’s what Norwalk has to do-move on. The Lancers may have lost the high profile players like wingback Rashaad Penny, quarterback Matthew Ortega, fullback Xavier Fuery, free safety Dante Foster, cornerback Nick Fernandez and linebackers Jose Abrina, Aaron Armendarez, Jonathan Sanchez and Daryll Seals, among others. But Norwalk returns plenty of experienced players and with the addition of the varsity rookies, could make that return to a 14th game in early December.

“Our goal was to win that championship,” Ceniceros said. “So obviously we didn’t get everything. It was a tough season to end that way. We had it there in our grasp, but we didn’t finish off. But it was actually pretty good for this group of kids because it was a motivation factor that motivated the kids to work harder in the offseason.”

OFFENSE

How explosive was Norwalk’s double wing offense last season? After scoring 20 points in their season opener against Cabrillo, the Lancers scored at least 41 points in the next nine games. All together, 579 points were put up on the board and over 4,300 yards were gained on the ground with Penny being a huge part of that. He rushed for over 2,000 yards and 52 total touchdowns.  But his departure isn’t the end of the world as the Lancers return senior Ryan McDowell (789 yards on 103 carries, 10 touchdowns), juniors Tyrant Davis, Jesse Lotts (164 yards on 29 carries, four touchdowns) and Christopher Walker (377 yards on 37 carries, three touchdowns). Norwalk also welcomes senior Remy Harvey, a transfer from Downey and junior transfers Isiah Carter (Bellflower) and Gevon Moore (St. John Bosco). Also new to the team is sophomore Carlos Jauregui. The signal caller will be junior Steven Tejeda and his targets will be anyone out of the backfield, plus senior tight end Dillon Faamatau, who caught four passes for 150 yards.

“He’s looking better right now,” Ceniceros said of Tejeda. “He’s more confident and he’s got good leadership qualities about him. He’s a great athlete. The thing about it with us, I think in any football program, is you’re looking for a quarterback who’s a leader and is able to handle pressure situations.”

When he’s not catching the ball, Faamatau can also line up on the right side of the offensive line while senior Esteban Rosiles will be set up on the left side. Senior Gabriel Silva, who was the left tackle last season, is the new center while seniors Juventino Liera (guard) and Rodrigo Sanchez (tackle) will hold down the fort on the right side.

“We have so many kids coming back from last year’s team,” Ceniceros said “The experience alone is key. Not only that, with our size…we were big last year and we’re that much bigger this year. They’re going to open up holes for our little running backs, especially like Chris Walker, who is a small guy but fast as heck. I think we have more athletic kids who are going to be able to handle the responsibility of carrying that ball for us. I don’t see us dropping off at all, to be honest. As a matter of fact, we might even be better.”

DEFENSE

Because so much attention is given to the offense, the defense seems to be slightly overlooked. But Norwalk yielded 187 points last season, posting a pair of shutouts and giving up less than 10 points four other times. Senior Chandler Roth, Faamatau, Liera, Lotts, Rosiles and Sanchez will all get time on the line while the secondary is solid with seniors Kevin Cabot, Angel Cano, Jauregui and the transfer players. Davis (56 tackles last season) and McDowell (70 tackles) will be the leading linebackers. Ceniceros says this is the most physical team he has had since taking over the Norwalk program.

“Our defense this year is probably going to be better than last year’s defense,” Ceniceros said. “Our linebacker crew is probably going to be one of the best in CIF. We have a kid like Ryan McDowell at outside linebacker. We’re moving Tyrant Davis to middle linebacker. We have a sophomore Jordan Thomas, whose size and his athleticism…he’s another special kid for us.”

SCHEDULE

Just three seasons ago, following a 7-5 season and a trip to the quarterfinals, the Lancers lost all four of their nonleague games, being manhandled by Cypress, Los Alamitos and St. Paul. Norwalk recovered to go 3-3 in the league and still advanced to the playoffs. Some considered that to be a rebuilding season and some may think the same for 2014. Bell, St. John Bosco, Bell Gardens and El Toro are all new opponents for the Lancers. Ceniceros says the home meeting with the defending national champions is a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the fans.

“[This year] doesn’t even compare to that year,” Ceniceros said. “We’re a lot different team than 2011. Honestly, we couldn’t find anybody to play us. Those teams that we scheduled are teams who are willing to play us.”

The first two league opponents before the bye week are not as easy as some believe. After a scoreless first quarter and a seven-point halftime lead, Norwalk beat Mayfair by just five points last season. It was just the third win this century over the Monsoons, all coming since 2009. Norwalk blanked Cerritos last season but the Dons also run a double wing offense. Look for that game to move fast. Norwalk’s last four homecoming games against Cerritos came in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010, but the last two have been blowout victories. Norwalk hasn’t defeated La Mirada at home in over 17 seasons but has defeated its city rivals, John Glenn, 11 straight times.

“We’re at a point with our program where we don’t even need to stress that,” Ceniceros said of repeating as league champions. “They know what they have to do. They know what it takes to win and they’re smart enough to realize that there’s a big target on their back and people are coming for them.”