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Gahr hopes that the injury bug will finally stay away
By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter
3-7 overall last season, 1-4 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fifth place
21-29 overall last five seasons
Head coach: Greg Marshall (14th season, 67-67)
Lost nine seniors out of 44 players from 2015 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2009
Aug. 26 @ Valley Christian (9-3 overall last season)
Sept. 2 Millikan (3-7)
Sept. 9 @ Cerritos (1-8)
Sept. 16 Artesia (3-7)
Sept. 23 Fullerton (4-6)
Sept. 30 BYE
Oct. 7 Lynwood (4-6)
Oct. 14 @ Warren (8-3)
Oct. 21 Paramount (5-6)
Oct. 28 @ Downey (7-5)
Nov. 3 Dominguez (8-4)
Gahr High had its third straight 3-7 season in 2015 and the program has not had a winning league record since 2009. Just like the previous few seasons, Greg Marshall, the longest current tenured San Gabriel Valley League head coach, had to deal with constant injuries on a weekly basis that resulted plugging in players that may not have been quite ready. At times when Marshall would be watching game films, he would occasionally ask himself and his coaching staff why this player or that player is in the game before realizing that it’s due to a starter being injured.
“Last season was a combination of everything else as far as injuries and still being very young,” Marshall said. “We just can’t stay healthy enough, and that’s what football is all about. And we’re still very young. I think this year is the first year where I would call us normal. We have “X” amount of seniors, “X” amount of juniors and “X” amount of sophomores. We have 40-something players who can actually practice.”
Marshall can’t even remember the last time he went through an entire season with his starting quarterback playing more than 90 percent of the time. In fact, you have to go back to the days of Casey and Corey Nielsen from 2007-2009 when Gahr didn’t have to go through more than two quarterbacks in an entire season. But Marshall projects this season’s team to be better than 3-7 and feels like the program is back to where it used to be when it was contending for a postseason spot.
“We’ve been unlucky,” Marshall said. “We’re not deep. It’s not like another guy can just roll in there. What do you do? You have to patch something together. But I think this group is a group that has stayed together.”
Last season, the Gladiators scored at least 20 points six times but only got past 30 points once. This might be one of most explosive offenses in the area and it begins with senior quarterback Robert Frutos. Unlike last season when Frutos was late coming to the team, he’s now been in the program for a full year and Marshall knows what his strengths and weaknesses are. Marshall compares him to former Gahr quarterback Jesse Figueroa (2006). Frutos won’t be throwing the ball 40 times because the Gladiators figure to do a lot of damage on the ground with the speed that they have. Backing up Frutos will be junior Chris Ricks.
The heart and soul of the offense begins with senior running back Latrell Stearns, a potential 1,000-yard rusher. Stearns has had some shoulder issues the past two seasons but Marshall says he’s finally healthy and anticipates him to get the ball around 25 times a game.
“He was pretty good last year,” Marshall said of Stearns. “The problem with last year is we ran out of quarterback and receivers and stuff, so [opponents] could focus in on him. But this year with Robert understanding the offense and the receivers we have, and knowing what we’re going to do and actually practicing it for the spring and summer, I think if [opponents] are going to take him away, I think we’re going to be able to hurt them in other ways and be more efficient at it.”
The other main running backs will be Ricks, if he is not under center, senior Isaiah Mays, would be used more of a halfback or fullback, juniors Marquise Alexander and Ugonna Olumba, and sophomore Micah Bernard, who can also play in the slot. On the receiving end, the Gladiators return a lot of experience with seniors Alonzo Davis, Anthony Mullins and Erik Renfroe. Also in the mix will be senior Brandon Marks and junior Jake Frechette.
The offensive line, depending on how they play in practice, according to Marshall, will be handled by junior left tackle Mason Hernandez, senior left guard DeCarlos Frazier, junior center Nicholas Morales, junior right tackle Roman Niumata and senior right guard Joshua Paul, who might also play center.
“What it should look like is it should rest on the fact that we have Latrell so we don’t put a lot of pressure on the quarterback,” Marshall said. “Alonzo and Eric should be 15 and 20-plus plays type of guys. Plus, Eric is going to run the fly. It’s pretty exciting because I see us comfortable with what we’re doing.”
After opening league action yielding six points to Lynwood High, the Gahr defense allowed at least 42 points in final four games. In fact, the Gahr defense held three opponents to single digits in scoring, but at least 28 points the other seven times, all losses. The leader of the defensive line will be junior Calvin Jones, who will probably be one of the only two-way players on the line. Jones can play either the weak side end or right tackle. Marshall adds that he’s looking for good things from him. Marshall says that the ace on the line could be Olumba. Hernandez and Niumata could also see some time on the line.
Junior free safety Renso Sandoval is the top returner in the secondary, but Marshall says they’re going to try to use him little. Renfroe and Ricks are also slated to play that position. The secondary, Marshall added, will be revamped with Bernard, and juniors Brandon Gibbs, Miles Johnson and Jeremy Matthews competing for the corner position. The strength of the defense will be the linebackers as Alexander, Mays, Stearns and senior Theodore Ude all come back.
“Those guys can stop the run themselves without us having to drop safeties down and bring corners [down] and all of the crazy stuff we’ve had to do in the past try to stop the run,” Marshall said of his linebackers. “If those guys can stop the run, then we’re much better off.”
Gahr will be put to test in its first game of the season when it travels half a mile down the street to face Valley Christian High. If the Gladiators can pull off an upset, then the next four nonleague games, on paper, seem formidable as they combined to win 11 games last season. As always, Gahr will get its bye before opening league play against Lynwood, whom the Gladiators have had the most success against of the league teams. The Gladiators are 9-5 against Lynwood since 1998. Gahr will travel to the city of Downey this season where it has been 1-13 against Downey High and Warren High since 1998.
“The Valley Christian game is going to be like playing ourselves,” Marshall said. “It’s going to be who plays the best first game or not the worst first game is going to win that one. That’s a good game for us because they’ve actually turned that [program] around with [V.C. head coach] Woodie [Grayson] and those guys over there.
“I think Cerritos changed their offense, so that can give them a better shot at scoring and being in the game,” Marshall continued. “And then Artesia always gives us problems. I would like to think that we’ll be able to stop the run and manage the pass against Artesia.”
Two seasons ago, Gahr hosted Paramount on homecoming night and saw the Pirates put up 70 points, the most by any league team since at least 1998. Before that, Gahr last had Paramount as its homecoming opponent in 2006, which ended in a 30-29 Gladiator victory in overtime. Gahr has lost its last two homecoming games.
Gahr will be one of 38 teams in the new division but will not play a division team this season. But still, for the Gladiators to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2009 and just the third time since 2007, Marshall hopes his team can win at least five games in order to be considered for an at-large position, knowing the league will again be brutal. But, he did say that the new format gives his team hope.
“Beating a team like Valley Christian goes a long way because they’re in a division ahead of us and they’re [defending] league champs,” he said. “Then going in and playing a bigger school like Millikan…all of those things that used to didn’t really matter, matters now. I think there are going to be a lot of at-large [teams] in our division. We have to get to five [wins] to be a true contender for an at-large in that division. But I think once we get down in that division, I think we can wreak some havoc if we’re still healthy.”
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