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Valley Christian’s junior class to play a key role this season
By Loren Kopff
VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS
7-4 overall last season, 3-1 in the Olympic League, second place, 24-30 overall last five seasons, lost to Linfield Christian 28-27 in Northwest Division first round playoff game
Head coach: Woodie Grayson (third season, 12-11)
Lost 19 seniors out of 34 from 2014 opening day roster
Last time missed the playoffs: 2012
Aug. 28 @ Laguna Beach (2-8 overall last season)
Sept. 4 @ Cerritos (1-8)
Sept. 11 Ocean View (7-4)
Sept. 18 Mayfair (5-6)
Sept. 25 Ontario Christian (3-7)
Oct. 2 @ St. Anthony (11-2)
Oct. 9 (HC) Village Christian (5-5)
Oct. 16 @ Whittier Christian (1-9)
Oct. 24 @ Heritage Christian (6-5)
Oct. 30 Maranatha (11-1)
Nov. 6 BYE
When a high school’s junior varsity team goes 10-0 in back to back seasons, it’s easy to see why the varsity squad should have a banner season. Valley Christian head coach Woodie Grayson is hoping for that as he improved his win total by two games last season. The Crusaders graduated over half of their team last season and while the numbers may still be down by V.C. standards, a lot of those players from the undefeated lower level team are now varsity rookies and ready to make an immediate impact.
“The numbers aren’t what they typically would be around here,” Grayson said. “But the more people I talk to, other than obviously St. John Bosco and [Long Beach] Poly…I think numbers in general are down. But for us, we’ve been pretty consistent. This is my third year here and the numbers are about the same as my first year.”
V.C. scored over 30 points in all of its seven victories and could be even more explosive this season. Senior quarterback Jesse Smith assumes the duties behind center, replacing the tandem of Will Brines and Jack Struiksma. But the strength could come in the backfield, led by senior running backs Robert Downs, Quaid Kawana and Matt Sigala, who was primarily a fullback in 2014.
“Obviously Robert is probably our most electric guy,” Grayson said. “He can do a lot of things in the backfield. He can handle the ball and we can flex him out and throw him the ball. Being able to move him around a little bit this year will probably be more of what you’ll see than last year.”
But the running game gets a little better with the addition of junior Dominic Paul, who carried the ball 40-45 times a game on the junior varsity team. He will rotate with Downs in the backfield to give the Crusaders what should be a healthy one-two punch. Paul helped the junior varsity team average close to 50 points a game last season.
Senior Trent Berkenkamp and juniors Michael Polk and R.J. Van Kampen return as the top wide receivers along with senior Anthony Wesley, who played on junior varsity two years ago but did not play last season, mainly focusing on track.
“Coming out of spring ball and going into the summer, we started to be able to identify that we’re probably a little bit more balanced, especially with Trent coming back,” Grayson said. “Jesse had a really good spring and even a better summer. I expect us to throw the ball better than we have in the past. But we’ll still have a strong run game. On paper, we’re better.”
The offensive line will be held down by junior left tackle Ravon Chambers, sophomore left guard Robert Chatman, who was the best lineman on the junior varsity team last season, junior center Zach Krosschell, junior right guard Eric Schoonover and senior right tackle Roger Ramos, whom Grayson said can play every position on line. In addition, junior Austin Minnema will give Ramos a battle for right tackle.
“Even though we lost our best lineman last year, Joe Castanos, who is now at Whittier College, I think overall we’ll be better up front because all of those guys coming back have experience,” Grayson said.
It’s easy to see why the Crusaders won seven games and could have easily won nine. The defense allowed 20 or fewer points six times. The same linemen on the offensive side will be on the defensive front as Grayson stresses the importance of an ironman team. Sophomore Tevita Makaafi gives V.C. even more depth on the line. Berkenkamp and Downs are slated to be the top cornerbacks while Van Kampen will be the free safety and Paul the safety. Joining the secondary will be seniors Jacob Gisbert, Rodney Lear and sophomore Quory Smith. The big question mark on defense will be the linebackers, where the Crusaders graduated Garrison Coley, Rick Pena and Kyle Westra, all of whom combined for 175 tackles, two and a half sacks and two interceptions. That part of the defense will be spearheaded by Kawana, junior Jalen Hines and sophomore Samuel Talavera.
The Crusaders dropped Duarte and added Laguna Beach as their first opponent. The teeth of the schedule occurs when the team has consecutive home games against backyard neighbor Mayfair and longtime rival Ontario Christian. Then V.C. goes on the road against small school power St. Anthony. Last season, V.C. lost to Mayfair by two touchdowns and fell to St. Anthony by three points.
“You never want to say a game is going to be easy,” Grayson said. “We don’t really know much about Laguna Beach. Their numbers are probably more like ours. They probably don’t have a big roster. But it’s an unknown. We could go down there and be walking into a hornet’s nest.”
Two seasons ago, the Crusaders hosted Maranatha on the final game of the regular season with the Olympic League title on the line and the same could happen again this season. In 2013, V.C. opened with a 14-0 first quarter lead before Maranatha answered back with 28 unanswered points and held on for a 31-28 win. Maranatha is the only current league team in which V.C. has a losing record against (2-3). Valley Christian is 5-0 at home against Village Christian since 2004 with three of those victories taking place during homecoming. The last time V.C. defeated Ontario Christian at home was 2011, and that was a four-point victory.
“We’re really excited about this year because we think that we can be better than we did in the past two years,” Grayson said. “Talent-wise, this is probably our best team. The great thing about those first two years for me was just the amazing leadership those two teams had and I don’t know that we found someone to step in that void yet. Hopefully they will.”
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