____________________________ RATES       _______________________________ ________________________ CCC

Socialize

2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Valley Christian hopes to defend its 2016 championship in a new division

By Loren Kopff
@LorenKopff on Twitter

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

12-3 overall last season, 4-0 in the Olympic League, first place, defeated Silverado 59-13 in the Division 9 championship game

36-24 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Woodie Grayson (fifth season, 33-17)

Lost 13 seniors out of 42 players on 2016 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2012

2017 schedule

Aug. 25           @ Gahr (8-3 overall last season)

Sept. 1            Bellflower (2-8)

Sept. 8            @ St. Margaret’s (9-3)

Sept. 15          Rancho Christian (14-2)

Sept. 22          Ontario Christian (6-4)

Sept. 29          @ St. Anthony (13-3)

Oct. 6              Maranatha (3-6-1)

Oct.13             BYE

Oct. 20            Monrovia (6-5)

Oct. 27            @ Whittier Christian (6-4)

Nov. 3             @ Heritage Christian (6-5)

The 2016 Valley Christian High football season can be summed up in word, according to head coach Woodie Grayson-fulfillment. The Crusaders steamrolled through the season after a rocky start, and picked up even more steam once the playoffs began, especially their defense which yielded 32 points in the four divisional playoff contests. Willing the Division 9 title earned V.C. its first berth in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Regional Championship.

The goals of V.C.’s football program remain the same every season. The first goal is to have a successful non-league schedule, followed by getting to the playoffs, then winning the Olympic League and finally practicing on Thanksgiving, which means you have advanced to the quarterfinals. One new goal that Grayson is adding this season is winning the last game of the season, which escaped the Crusaders when they fell to The Bishop’s School 28-9.

“A lot has gone in in trying to get this program back to where it used to be,” Grayson said. “It didn’t just start with last year. It started four years ago. A lot has gone in in changing the culture and the expectations. A lot has gone in to try to get these kids to be at their best as opposed to just always thinking and trying to figure out what they’re supposed to be. To have that all come together last year and have most of the team stay healthy, stay focused, stay driven…to accomplish that goal definitely was fulfilling.”

OFFENSE

V.C. will benefit greatly this season by having virtually all of its key components coming back for their senior seasons. Leading the way is senior quarterback Isaac Joseph, who threw for 1,850 yards and 22 touchdowns opposite just five interceptions. He also completed over 60 percent of his passes. He attempted all but seven of V.C.’s passes last season and for added measure, picked up 462 yards on the ground and scored six times. Junior Hayden Ericks would be the backup to Joseph.

“The one thing that I’m starting to notice out of Isaac is more of an assertive, vocal role,” Grayson said. “You can tell that he’s driven to have another successful year. He doesn’t want to take a step back as a team. So, his leadership role has really improved, and he’s a year older. Last year was his first full season and we asked him to do some pretty complex things and he seems to be more comfortable with those things this year.”

Senior Gianni Hurd has been nothing short of spectacular in his one and a half seasons as a Crusader and was close to the 2,000-yard mark last season, falling 60 yards short. He found the end zone 29 times on the ground and averaged nearly 140 yards a game. This season, Grayson says Hurd is focusing on an individual thing as he is chomping at the bits to play defense, which could take away a bit from his offensive performance. Hurd, who had two touchdown runs of over 90 yards and another four of more than 50 yards, has been getting some looks from Fresno State University, the University of Illinois and the University of Washington

Hurd will be joined in the backfield by seniors Darian Green and Samuel Talavera while the receiving corps will be stacked with seniors Quory Smith (30 receptions, 402 yards, four touchdowns), Bailey Torres (15 receptions, 277 yards, three touchdowns) and Garret Williams. Senior Josh Akrofi, who didn’t play last season but has a lot of speed, will also be added to the mix of receivers.

“Athletically, at the skilled spots, we’re just as good as we were last year and probably better because those guys are all a year older,” Grayson said.

The left side of the offensive line will be handled by senior left tackle Tevita Makaafi, who started at right tackle last season before moving to the left side for the final 10 games and senior left guard Robert Chapman III, whose best trait is his athleticism and runs well for an offensive lineman, according to Grayson. Junior Sam Range moves from right guard to center and gives the Crusaders a little bit more mobility there. Senior Jake Leue, who played mostly defense last season and was a backup guard, will find a starting spot at right guard while senior Corbin Ziemke, a backup last season, will start at right tackle.

Grayson says finding cohesiveness and gelling and having the same explosiveness as last season will be the challenges for V.C.’s offense in 2017.

“On paper, it has a chance to be better,” Grayson said. “But there are a couple of guys that we’re asking to make plays and didn’t have to make plays last year. There are some question marks on what those guys are going to be able to give us. We had better depth up front last year than we do this year. So, to say that we’re going to be better, I don’t know.”

DEFENSE

R.J. Van Kampen, the captain of the defense (147 tackles, six interceptions) and the school’s career interception leader and Jalen Hines (129 tackles), who anchored the middle of the linebacking position and kept the box solid, will be hard to replace as they both graduated. The Crusaders will also have to replace Zach Krosschell, Austin Minnema (six sacks), Eric Schoonover (four sacks) on the line, which will be challenges for the younger players.

“I think we’ve been pretty good defensively since I’ve been here,” Grayson said. “Last year was our most consistent year. Coach [Kirk] Diego does a great job of keeping it simple; getting guys to be in the right place to make plays and last year they made those plays week in and week out.”

Leue and Makaafi will be at defensive ends while Chatman III and Ziemke are the defensive tackles. Green, who will have more on his plate and will be asked to fill in the shoes of Hines,

and Talavera will be the top linebackers with junior Camden Stahl in the rotation and even a little of Hurd. Smith and Torres are the cornerbacks with Williams moving from the outside safety spot back to the deep safety position. Senior Jaylon Tucker will be at one of the outside spots while senior Adam Meza will play the other outside safety spot.

Grayson says this season’s team will definitely have to flip some roles as last season, the defense took pressure off the offense. This season, it will have to be the opposite.

“Finding that right, magical combination may take a few games,” Grayson said. “But that’s what us coaches are here for; to try to figure that out.”

SCHEDULE

Even though it’s the first game of the season, Grayson is excited to get to Gahr again and said his team learned a lesson last season by looking too far ahead, both coaches and players. He said the team needs to focus on what is right in front of them, which will be the Week Zero rematch against the Gladiators. Last season, V.C. was crushed at home 41-14.

“The Gahr game for us last year really, without taking anything away from Gahr, was a shocker,” Grayson said. “We really expected to win that game. And yet, give [Gahr head coach Greg] Marshall and his guys a lot of credit. I know they have some guys coming in from different places and it’s going to be a challenge for us numbers-wise to compete with them.”

Despite the loss to Gahr, Grayson said that wasn’t a wake-up call was not the Gahr. Instead, the 30-27 loss to St. Margaret’s High two weeks later served as a wake-up call. In that contest, the Crusaders built a 21-10 halftime lead.

Rancho Christian High is a new opponent as the Crusaders don’t face Mayfair High in that week. The biggest change on the schedule comes in Olympic League action where Village Christian High has dropped its program for this season. Valley Christian has gone 10-3 against Village Christian since 2004 including 6-0 at home.

“It makes it tough to really only have a four-team league,” Grayson said. “Filling that hole in the schedule this late in the year is tough. For us, it fell on the one end of a bye. We were able to fill it with Monrovia and trying to figure out how we fit against those guys and what their records are and what the matchups will be a little tough. We kind of knew what to expect from Village. But it’s unfortunate that they’re not going to have a program this year.”

HOMECOMING

It would have been against Village Christian, which was Valley Christian’s opponent two seasons ago. Instead, it will be Monrovia High. Since 1998, Valley Christian has lost just once on Homecoming night, a 46-7 setback to Francis Parker High in 2013.

DIVISION 8

Partly because of its divisional championship, the Crusaders move up to Division 8 where it will be grouped with 25 teams, making their chances of at least an at-large playoff berth pretty good. Only nine teams in Division 8 will not make the playoffs. Monrovia and St. Margaret’s are the only opponents that are in a higher division.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time and I remember the good old days when you can win a division and try to defend that title in the same division,” Grayson said. “But it doesn’t work that way anymore. For us, our focus is going to be on our unknown schedule. We’re going to focus on Week Zero through Week 10, and then we’ll figure out Week 11 when we get there. There are too many unknowns [in the division]; there are some good names in the division.

“Obviously, San Dimas has been around for a long time and has been very successful,” he continued. “Brea Olinda is a good program. Silverado came up with us, Notre Dame came up. So, we know there are some good teams out there. But all of that is meaningless if we don’t take care of business and have ourselves hitting on all cylinders by the time we get to Week 11.”