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2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
By Loren Kopff
1-8 overall last season, 1-5 in the Suburban League, sixth place, 6-43 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Jason Anderson (first season)
Lost 28 seniors out of 49 from 2014 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2001
Sept. 4 Valley Christian (7-4 overall last season)
Sept. 11 @ Gahr (3-7)
Sept. 18 @ Pioneer (1-9)
Sept. 25 @ Mayfair (5-6)
Oct. 9 Norwalk (7-4)
Oct. 16 @ Artesia (4-6)
Oct. 23 (HC) Bellflower (7-3)
Oct. 29 @ John Glenn (2-8)
Nov. 6 La Mirada (9-2)
For the past three seasons, the Cerritos football program has tried to turn the page and bring back some respectability. Although it may not have shown in the wins and losses department, former head coach Darin Owens set a different standard on what football should and can be like at Cerritos. Now, former defensive coordinator Jason Anderson takes over as the school’s seventh head coach since 2004. This will be the first time Anderson has been a head coach at the varsity level anywhere, however, he had been the junior varsity coach at Martin Luther King High School under Owens. This will be Anderson’s fourth season at Cerritos, thus making the transition very easy.
“When I learned that [Darin] would not be coming back as the head coach, I had to really take a second to think about where I fit in everything,” Anderson said. “Obviously I talked with coach Owens, talked to some of my friends, my wife, my family and what I started realizing is I didn’t want to give up what we had been working on for the past three years.
“It’s been eye-opening, that’s for sure,” he continued. “Having been in the system for a long time and been on the varsity level, you think you know. But you don’t know until your name is on the top of the list and you have to deal with everything that goes with running a program. That’s been the eye-opening part. I was prepared but I didn’t realize how demanding it was.”
Like fellow Suburban League member Norwalk, which also has a new head coach who will keep the same offense but modify it slightly, Anderson plans to keep the double-wing offense as the primary staple of the Dons’ offense. But, with senior quarterback Anthony Beltran behind center, he’ll have some company in someone who knows something about throwing the ball. Sophomore Colby Nielsen will be the backup and figures to be the future with two more years left after Beltran graduates. Anderson said that Nielsen’s footwork is “very tight” and that he is helping to contribute with some of the aspects of a throwing quarterback.
“We’re going to try to expand it a little bit,” Anderson said of the offense. “We’re operating under the double-wing still. That’s one of the things that’s getting the program going-it’s continuity. We need a foundation and the double-wing has proven to be a foundation. LaMarr took it and did great things with it.”
Anderson was speaking of former 1,000-yard rusher LaMarr Crowder, who along with guys like Kory Boyd, Jake Kim, Neel Patel and Ki’Jon Washington, among others, have set the bar the past three seasons. The backfield will be handled by seniors Manolo Cevallos, Isaiah Harris, who will be the fullback, and Kameron Skibba and junior Kaliq Hatcher. Senior Michael Ndawula will be the leading wide receiver while senior Branden Brown and junior John Trinidad are the top tight end prospects.
“We’re working on developing our passing game,” Anderson said. “We’re trying not to be one dimensional. We’re trying to get a bit more well-rounded in our offense. Now, I want to make it very clear that it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to run the ball a lot. We’re still a ‘run first’ team. But with Colby and Beltran, it gives us better options at the quarterback spot.”
The Dons will have some depth on the line with senior Andrew Shin and sophomores Shreejit Bharai and Jymel Johnson vying for left tackle, senior Chris Son and junior Kristoffer Ugalde at left guard, juniors Peter Lee and Matt Mendiola at center, seniors Frank Martinez and Capone Walker at right guard and junior Able Perez at right tackle. Martinez, Mendiola, Perez, Shin, Son and Walker are all returning players.
“If our line can come together, and these guys have been doing it for years; the past three years they’ve been doing the same offense…if we gel there, we’ve got running backs with varsity experience and we can have a really, really good balanced running attack,” Anderson said. “When this offense has balance, we can really be dangerous with that. And that’s where I’m hoping that having Kaliq and Manolo at the two wing spots and then having Isaiah Harris at the fullback spot and Beltran at the quarterback spot can give us some of that.”
This side of the ball has always been a problem and for the Dons to have a successful season, they cannot give up an average of just over 37 points a game, which was the case last season. Senior Ives Tejada, sophomore Sterling Thompson, Brown, Johnson, Perez, Martinez, Shin and Trinidad plan on seeing some time on the defensive line. The secondary will be handled by senior Oscar Villarreal, Hatcher and Cevalos at strong safety, junior Giancalo Vargas at free safety and senior Mehtaab Singh, junior Tyler Nam, sophomore Ryder Eddy Ndawula and Skibba as the cornerbacks. The top linebackers are projected to be juniors Josh Cruz and Antonio Galindo, sophomore Darius Blue, Beltran and Harris.
“For us the toughest one always is getting quality looks at things and getting good reps so that we’re prepared for the full speed go,” Anderson said. “It’s hard to simulate other people’s scheme. I like our defense a lot. The defensive coordinator that we brought in this year, Barry Thomas, has a passion for defense and a passion for teaching kids how to do it. He’s done a great job bringing a confidence and an IQ to the guys on the defensive side of the ball. That’s where the maturation of Josh Cruz has come from.”
For the second straight season, the Dons will play a nine-game regular season. Spume teams did express interest in playing Cerritos this season. However, those requests came from some of the stronger programs in Southern California and Anderson didn’t feel it would be feasible for his team to face the likes of a JSerra or other PAC 5 Division schools.
“That’s not what we’re looking for,” Anderson said. “We’re looking for teams that are going to help us as a program. We want to be competitive. It’s not beneficial to us right now. Maybe one day Cerritos football will be at a level where we can play Los Al and have a good game.”
Two seasons ago, Cerritos got out to a fast start against Valley Christian before falling 42-28. Last season, the Dons nearly snapped a nine-game losing streak to Gahr but came up short in a 24-20 setback as all 20 points were scored in the fourth quarter. Also last season, Cerritos fell to Pioneer by two points. Its only win was a homecoming conquest over John Glenn.
“Our goal this year isn’t to win two games,” Anderson said. “It’s to push the program forward, to try to get that extra win, even if it’s just one more win. The past is gone and behind us and it’s this team playing this year’s team. We’re not playing teams of the past. We’re going to give it everything we got and see where the chips fall. If we come up on the short side but gave it everything we got, I can live with that.”
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