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2018 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: VALLEY CHRISTIAN EMBARKS ON NEW SEASON WITH CHANGES, SMALLER TEAM

 

 

VALLEY CHRISTIAN  DEFENDERS

9-3 overall last season, 3-0 in the Olympic League, first place, lost to Antelope Valley High 59-34 in the Division 8 quarterfinals 42-20 overall last five seasons 

Head coach: Stephen Kelley (first season)

Lost 17 seniors out of 31 players from 2017 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2012

2018 schedule

Aug. 17 @ Rancho Christian (8-4 overall last season)

Aug. 24 Norwalk (7-4)

Aug. 31 Central Valley Christian (10-3)

Sept. 7 @ Monrovia (4-7)

Sept. 14 @ Ontario Christian (6-4)

Sept. 21 La Salle (3-7)

Sept. 28 Heritage Christian (8-3)

Oct. 5 @ Maranatha (6-5)

Oct. 12 BYE

Oct. 19 @ Village Christian (did not field a team in 2017)

Oct. 25 Whittier Christian (4-6)

There is a changing of the guard at Valley Christian High, and it’s not just the head coach. No longer will the school be known as the Crusaders, unless it’s in spirit. Instead, all athletic teams will be known as the Valley Christian Defenders. Stephen Kelley also becomes the program’s fifth head coach since 2002 and replaces Woodie Grayson, who had gone 42-20 in his tenure, including a CIF-Southern Section Division 9 championship two seasons ago. Kelley, who was the wide receivers coach at Carson High last season and the offensive coordinator at Redondo Union High staff for six seasons before that, will make his head coaching debut tonight.

“I’m excited to get started this year with my first head coaching opportunity,” Kelley said. “Valley Christian was a school that called to me and I definitely pursued the job. They’ve had a rich history of having a winning program here. So, I’m definitely looking to continue that tradition.”

Kelley said he had been following the program for the last five years because it’s a local program and he likes to stay up to date with all the local programs.

Another change, which followers of the V.C. program haven’t been used to, is the lack of numbers on the varsity squad. When the Defenders kick off the season tonight, there will be 26 players with half of them returners. Last season, V.C. barely had over 30 players on varsity for its first game.

OFFENSE

V.C. has never been shy about scoring. Last season, the team racked up 512 points and scored at least 62 points three times and 56 points in a fourth game. The one noticeable change that many will see right off the bat is that there are not a lot of experienced skilled players. Senior Hayden Ericks, who was a backup to Isaac Joseph last season, is now the new starting quarterback and completed eight of 14 for 75 yards and a touchdown last season. Kelley added that he has some different options as far as the backup quarterback(s) that he is keeping to himself for now. He said that he has several options that are planned if Ericks is not in the game.

“Hayden is a very smart quarterback,” Kelley said. “He processes information very well, so he’s out here and he’s able to get us in the right plays and the right looks. He’s really been able to take the coaching that we’ve given him and really implementing into our new system.”

Kelley said that he is not looking for Ericks to be his best after tonight’s game, but instead he’s looking for him competing and trying to get better each week and from game to game.

Senior Curtis Walhof (24 carries, 76 yards, one touchdown) is the only returning running back that had at least a carry from a team that amassed over 2,600 yards and had nine different carriers find the end zone 36 times. Kelley says that Walhof has done a tremendous job through the summer and looks polished and is looking forward to seeing him come in. Senior Elijah Anderson, who was on the team last season, and junior Jarvis Hudnall will get the bulk of the carries.

“Curtis has done a tremendous job,” Kelley said. “The luxury we have is we have three different style running backs. Curtis is more of a slasher; he’s more of a guy that’s quick and wants to get north and south. Elijah is very low to the ground, quick cuts, has great vision and is a guy that we’re looking forward to his upside. And then Jarvis is our downhill banger. So, he’s a guy that’s going to come in and get us those tough yards that we need when it’s time to get tough yards.” 

Senior Derek Talsma is the lone returning wide receiver and caught four passes for 28 yards last season. Kelley said that Talsma has been one of the most consistent players that V.C. has had throughout the summer and that he’s become a leader, both offensively and defensively. Other players that will be catching passes from Ericks will be junior Andrew Lange, who will be a tight end and move out the H-back position and sophomore Luca Calderella. The line will consist of senior left tackle Idiake Irumundomon, who was on varsity last season but on the defensive line, senior left guard Luke Turnbow, senior center Sam Range, who was a starter last season and is the anchor of the line, senior right guard Jared Van Enk and junior right tackle Justin Camper.

Getting the type of numbers that last season’s team accomplished may not be that easy in 2018, especially with a less-experienced squad. Kelley is looking for the offense to stay balanced but will game plan for each team differently. So, in some games, the Defenders will pass more than run and other games, it will be the opposite. He added that their base is very balanced, and they plan to stay balanced as much as they can.

DEFENSE

Last season, V.C. was pretty much solid, yielding 20 or fewer points seven times. Two of the three losses came by three and 10 points respectively. A lot of the players will go both ways-offense and defense, so the line will feature the same names from the offensive line along with sophomore Matthew Beck. Kelley indicated that he’s looking for the defensive line to be one of the best groups on the field. Range had 31 tackles last season with a sack.

In the secondary, seniors Marcus Arnwine, Benjamin Lopez return with Calderella, Lange and junior Brayden Garner joining them. The linebackers will be anchored by senior Cam Stahl, who leads all returning defensive players with 36 tackles in 2017. Joining him will be juniors Cameron Guzman and Cameron Noble, Hudnall, and Walhof.

“I definitely look at it as a new challenge that I like,” Kelley said of his less-experienced defense. “And I am that type of person that always is looking for new challenges. We are playing with a lot of guys who don’t have a ton of varsity experience. But I’m eager to see how we play on Friday nights when everything is on the line. Like I said before, I’m not looking for us to be our best coming out of the gate. I’m looking for us to continue to develop every single day, and that’s all we can do.”

SCHEDULE

The Defenders will be challenged throughout the season as six of the 10 opponents went to CIF-Southern Section playoffs last season and only three of the 10 had losing records. V.C. played Central Valley Christian High from Visalia back in 2000 and came away with a 20-7 road victory. Last season, V.C. rolled up on Rancho Christian High 62-32 in the beginning of what would be an eight-game winning streak. However, Rancho Christian is coached by former Orange Lutheran legend Jim Kunau. V.C. is 13-7 against its arch rival Ontario Christian High and a combined 9-0 against four of the other five non-league opponents. Valley Christian is also 10-3 against Village Christian High since it became an Olympic League member in 2004. But Village Christian did not field a team last season. The game with Norwalk High will be somewhat of a reunion as Kelley and Norwalk head coach Otis Harrison were on the coaching staff at Compton High from 2006-2009.

“We have a tough non-league schedule, honestly,” Kelley said. “These are consistent playoff appearance teams that we’re going to play. Some of those teams have gone through coaching changes as well. So, we don’t really know how they’re going to come out.”

V.C. has gone undefeated in the Olympic League the past three seasons and has won the crown four other times since 2002. In 2017, V.C. outscored its three league foes 177-44 and is a combined 42-10 against the four since 1998.

“Heritage is the team that has battled with Valley the last couple of years for the league championship,” Kelley said. “They’re a team that is returning a lot of players and they were very good last year. Fortunately, we get them here, so we’re going to put all our effort making sure that we are competitive and we’re ready to win that game.”

HOMECOMING

V.C.’s league opener against Heritage Christian High is also its homecoming game. Last season, V.C. smashed Heritage Christian 47-16 on the road to close out the regular season and is 13-0 against the current league schools in its homecoming game since 1998. In addition, V.C. has lost just one homecoming game since at least 1998, that coming on Oct. 18, 2013, a 46-7 setback to Francis Parker High.

DIVISION 6

V.C. moves up not one, but two spots to Division 6, which will house 22 schools. None of the opponents the Defenders face are in the same division. Only six schools from the division will not advance to the postseason and the program has advanced to the playoffs five straight seasons, six out of the last eight and nine out of the last 12.

“The move was a little bit of a shakeup to many around here,” Kelley said. “For me, it was no big deal because a lot of teams moved around. It just goes year to year. Just like we graduated a lot of guys here at Valley, I’m sure there are plenty of schools that graduated a lot of people and they ended up moving up and they’re probably rebuilding. I don’t put a lot of stock in the number of divisions. Division 1 is at a whole another level and after that, honestly, I don’t really see too much difference in divisions going down probably from 2 to 10.”

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