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2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Cerritos aims higher than just a moral victory as more wins are on the horizon

 

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

 

CERRITOS DONS

2-7 overall last season, 0-6 in the Suburban League, seventh place

6-41 overall last five seasons

Co-head coaches: Daniel Mesa and Barry Thomas (second season, 2-7 overall)

Lost 20 seniors out of 39 players from 2016 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2001

2017 schedule

Aug. 26           @ Western (2-7-1 overall last season)

Sept. 1            Bolsa Grande (1-9)

Sept. 8            @ Gahr (8-3)

Sept. 15          Beverly Hills (0-10)

Sept. 22          @ John Glenn (2-8)

Sept. 29          La Mirada (11-3)

Oct. 6              @ Mayfair (6-5)

Oct. 13            BYE

Oct. 19            Norwalk (7-4)

Oct. 27            @ Artesia (6-4)

Nov. 3             Bellflower (2-8)

There were some mixed feelings about the 2016 Cerritos High football season as far as co-head coaches Daniel Mesa and Barry Thomas were concerned. Sure, the Dons doubled their win output from the previous two seasons combined. But, it just wasn’t what the first-year co-head coaches wanted to see.

“Well, unfortunately I guess, we got a pat on the back for doing things the right way; being a man of my word saying if you don’t do things the right way, you won’t play,” Thomas said. “So, we sacrificed some talent to have some integrity. But we want to win more games. We expect a lot more this year.”

The motto this season, according to Thomas, is to get more than one win in league. He adds that the team will have to make more noise in league. Since 2011, Cerritos has won just two league games and hasn’t won more than two league games in any season since going 3-3 back in 2003.

OFFENSE

Early on last season, Cerritos showed that it can have some pop in its offense as the team scored 65 points in first three games. However, reality that is the Suburban League sat in and over the final six games, the Dons combined to score 45 points. Cerritos was able to move between the 20-yard lines. But once it reached the red zone, the Dons simply couldn’t finish drives.

“Obviously, our non-league schedule wasn’t nearly as tough as our league schedule was,” Thomas said. “You look at Division 13 and who they had to play as opposed to who we have to play. I felt like we made some strides and we’re also trying to change the culture as far as what they had done for the last two years, being in that double-wing stuff and then all of a sudden, we’re trying to teach kids to run routes and how to be in a huddled offense. I think we made some strides in that.”

Despite the bad season, the Dons, who have primarily been a run-oriented team, managed to post the most passing yards in the last 12 years or so and had the longest touchdown pass in the last 17 years. Getting the credit for that is senior quarterback Colby Nielsen, who threw for 820 yards on 64 completions and tossed nine touchdowns. Against Bolsa Grande High in the season opener, he threw an 83-yard scoring strike to senior running back Ryder Eddy.

“Obviously, he has a pedigree,” Thomas said. “He’s done a lot. His ability to grasp the offense is outstanding. The fact that he knows where everyone is supposed to be every time…there will be times in practice where he will fix people accordingly. He has more strength this year, he’s put on a little bit of weight this year, speed-wise, he’s gotten a little faster. We expect a pretty good season out of him. I think he’s poised to do pretty well.”

Backing him up and expected to be Nielsen’s heir apparent is sophomore Stacy King. As far as the ground game goes, senior Ryder Eddy and junior Tye Anderson will be the primary running backs. Anderson was second on the team last season with 201 yards on 43 carries. Seniors Christian King, Andrew Hernandez, Jared Nam, Rodan Rias and sophomore Jayden Alderete will be the top targets of Nielsen. However, Eddy can work out of the slot at times as he caught 15 passes for 334 yards last season and was the recipient of three touchdown passes.

Junior Matt Ryan (left tackle), senior Jymel Johnson (left guard), sophomore Ryan Baker (center), junior Javier Campuzano (right guard) and junior Ramon Huerta (right tackle) will be up front with senior Isaac Corral and sophomore Daniel Lee filling in when any of the linemen goes down with any injuries or needs a break. According to Mesa, the weights of most of the players have gone up significantly from last year.

“I think we’re going to be better,” Mesa said of the offense. “I think we’re going to be a little bit more versatile. Just going off of what we did in the spring and during the summer…we installed a new offense. I think we should see a lot of improvement this year.”

DEFENSE

This has been a problem area for the Dons for a long time and last season was no exception as Cerritos allowed 357 points and at least 39 in all seven losses.

“I think we’re going to be better in the secondary,” Thomas said. “But losing Josh Cruz is huge. Before that, losing Branden Brown the year before…that was huge because he could anchor down any tire. I don’t think we’re going to be as good at linebacker; we’re only returning one starter there, which is [senior] Darius Blue. I think we’re going to be okay. We’re not going to be as good as last year.”

Thomas was referring to Cruz, who graduated in June and led the team with 96 tackles. Corral, Johnson and junior Daniel Gomez will have spots on the line while sophomores Sam Agregado and Nicholas Maglonso could also see some time there. Senior Eric Baker and Eddy, who is going to be more versatile, will be the key guys in the secondary. Senior Christian King might be the most talented player that Mesa has seen in the past few years at Cerritos while Stacy King will start at corner.

The linebacking position will be handled by seniors Matt Fernandez, Cody Guinto and Jeff Volivitch. According to Mesa, the latter could be that next guy that next year that coaches will say, “it’s tough to replace Jeff Volivitch”, as was the case with Cruz this season and Brown last season. But, it’s his second year ever of playing football, so there’s a question mark. Eddy and Nam could also see some time here as well as junior Alex Flores.

SCHEDULE

For the first time since 2013, Cerritos will play a full 10-game slate, which ‘was high on our priority list’, according to Thomas. On paper, the season sets up perfect for Cerritos to get a huge jump on any playoff aspirations as four of the first five games are easily winnable. Cerritos slammed Beverly Hills High 41-6 on the road while Western High is a first-time opponent. Cerritos has lost 12 straight games to city rival Gahr High and has not scored in double digits in 11 of those contests.

“It’s tough,” Thomas said of the first few games. “Bolsa Grande has a new coach and as a coach, I’m always paranoid about the opponent. We didn’t blow them out [last year]. That was a hard-fought game. We had to come up with a defensive play at the end. So, they’re not a pushover. And with a new head coach, you don’t know what they’re going to do offensively.”

Once the Dons get into Suburban League action for the final time before moving to the new 605 League in the fall of 2018, Thomas says he’s looking forward to the games against John Glenn High and Mayfair High. He feels that size-wise, the Dons are going to be better and that bodes well for them when they face Mayfair. Last season, Cerritos trailed the Monsoons 14-7 at the half before falling 48-13. The game against Glenn is a revenge tilt as the Eagles crushed Cerritos 39-7 in the final game of the season.

HOMECOMING

Cerritos is hoping that it doesn’t duplicate the same outcome as that of 2009, the last time the Dons hosted Norwalk High in their homecoming game. Cerritos has lost 12 straight encounters with the Lancers and for their homecoming game, the Dons last won on this special night in 2014, a 29-9 romp over Glenn.

DIVISION 13

All 16 playoff teams from Division 13 last season were all automatic qualifiers, but the year before in the old format, there were seven teams that would have been considered as a Division 13 team that were automatic qualifiers. Beverly Hills, Bolsa Grande and Glenn are in the same division as Cerritos while Artesia High and Western are in Division 12. There are 84 schools in Division 13, the most in any division.

“I like our chances if we can get there,” Thomas said. “But we have to handle our own business in our league. I feel like we have to sneak up on some people and we have to turn people over. We haven’t done that very well the entire time I’ve been here. It’s kind of our emphasis.”

“I do think, though, if we were able to get in [the playoffs], we would more battle tested than most of those teams in Division 13,” Mesa added. “Nobody plays the likes of a La Mirada or Gahr.”

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