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2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
By Loren Kopff
3-7 overall last season, 0-5 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fifth place, 23-27 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Greg Marshall (13th season, 64-60)
Lost six seniors out of 29 from 2014 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2009
Aug. 29 @ California (6-4 overall last season)
Sept. 4 @ Mayfair (5-6)
Sept. 11 Cerritos (1-8)
Sept. 18 @ Artesia (4-6)
Sept. 25 Fullerton (5-6)
Oct. 2 BYE
Oct. 9 @ Lynwood (6-4)
Oct. 16 (HC) Warren (5-5)
Oct. 23 @ Paramount (7-5)
Oct. 30 Downey (10-4)
Nov. 6 @ Dominguez (7-4)
Every season, Gahr’s football team is already at a disadvantage because it has to play in the San Gabriel Valley League, which has much bigger teams in terms of the enrollment of those schools. Those teams are also physical and if you don’t have a relatively healthy squad, it’s difficult to have a winning season. Longtime Gahr head coach Greg Marshall found out the hard way in 2014 as his team lost the final six games of the season with all league losses coming by an average of over 35 points.
The Gladiators had a chance to begin the season with four straight wins. But two missed extra points against California in the season opener resulted in a two-point loss. That was offset by a two-point win over Mayfair the next week.
“The problem was when [senior] Justin Garrett went down versus Fullerton, then Malik [Smith] got hurt against Warren and didn’t practice the rest of the year; he just played games,” Marshall said. “Offensively, that’s who we relied on. Then [Leotis Johnson] went down versus Paramount. It was just the same old thing. We’re a small team and like I tell people, when we went to the semifinals, not one guy got hurt; not one starter. We have not had a season where we have had multiple injuries.”
Marshall kind of compares this season to that of two years ago in terms of player personnel. That was the beginning of back to back 3-7 campaigns as Gahr has not had a winning season since going 7-3 in 2011. But if there is one improvement from last season’s team, it’s that Gahr will have higher numbers as there will be a junior varsity team.
“This is exactly where we were two years ago,” Marshall said. “We had a lot of kids move out or whatever. But all of [this season’s] kids stayed, so they’re all on the field and have suffered through it two years ago and suffered through it last year. But then we should benefit from it this year because all of the kids stayed focused and stayed the course. We have to be better.”
The offense last season showed at times that it can put up the points as Gahr averaged over 26 points a game. The Gladiators will have to replace Malik Smith at quarterback and will miss his 2,117 yards and 24 touchdowns. He was also picked off a dozen times. Getting the edge to replace Smith will be returning senior Justin Garrett. But he will have some competition as junior Robert Frutos, a transfer from Bellflower, and sophomore Jake Frechette, a transfer from Mayfair, will also vie for the job. Marshall says that Gahr ‘has to develop a quarterback who can throw the football’ and that it will be ‘easier on the line if they can pass protect’.
Leading the ground game will be senior Erik Rhodes, junior Latrell Stearns and sophomore Ugonna Olumba. Stearns is the only returner from that group and could be one of the top backs in the league.
Whoever is the quarterback will have plenty of targets to throw to as senior De’jah Pickett and juniors Alonzo Davis, Anthony Mullins and Erik Renfroe all return. Joining them will be junior Brandon Marks.
The offensive line will be tested as only senior center Julian Dawson and junior Joshua Paul return. The leading candidates for the other three spots early on are Mason Hernandez, Aaron Saleapaga and Randell Turner, all of whom are sophomores.
“We have some sophomore kids coming up who we’re thinking can definitely play on Friday night,” Marshall said. “Once again, the depth is so much better this year.”
This is an area that has plagued Gahr for several years, even when the team was winning games and advancing to the semifinals (2007). The Gladiators allowed almost 43 points a game last season but do not have a lot of returning players. Marshall says the defensive line will be the strongest part of the defense, possibly led by seniors Michael Partida and Cyle Veasley. Partida was a linebacker last season. The third lineman has yet to be determined and will mostly be rotated in.
In the secondary, it figures to be Garrett, Marks and Pickett at the corners with junior Isaiah Mays and Davis at strong safety. The early candidates to be linebackers are juniors Hamilton Kidd, a transfer from Calvary Chapel Downey High School and Theodore Ude as well as sophomore Marquise Alexander.
The Gladiators have the same schedule as last season with the games now at the opposite site. Gahr split a home and home series with California way back in 1998-1999 and Fullerton in 2002-2003 and is hoping to do the same this season. The Gladiators have won 10 straight games over city rival Cerritos but last season’s 24-20 was the closest win in that stretch.
“Cal is like us,” Marshall said. “That’s a good first contest for us because they’re a lot like us. I don’t know what Mayfair is going to have because of the new coach. We don’t know what we’re going to get out of that. Fullerton is going to look more like a league school. You have to go in there and play up and make big plays.”
A bye week entering league play is what awaits Gahr once again and the team hopes a duplicate of last season doesn’t happen. The last time Gahr went winless in league was 2001 and the program hasn’t had a winning league season since 2009, the last time it reached the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs. Marshall is hoping to open the league season with two wins against teams that missed the playoffs last season. Gahr is 8-5 against Lynwood since 1998 with half of those wins coming in the friendly confines of Hanford Rants Stadium. But as far as the rest of the league, the Gladiators have gone 8-31 against Dominguez, Downey and Paramount since 1998. Gahr has not hosted Warren on homecoming night since 2007.
“You just never know what you’re going to get out of those schools,” Marshall said of Lynwood and Warren. “Actually, Lynwood should have been a playoff team last year. They gave three games up that they had. They lost a lot of guys to graduation. But if we go in and go in healthy, then it’s like playing Fullerton. You have to play a very good football game, you have to be prepared and you have to be physical. If we’re able to get back to what we do best, which is throw the football, then they’re going to have some issues.”
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