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2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Character and competition will be key if Cerritos is to end playoff drought

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

CERRITOS DONS

3-7 overall last season, 0-3 in the 605 League, fourth place

9-38 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Barry Thomas (fourth season, 6-23)

Lost 15 seniors out of 44 players from 2018 roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2001

2019 schedule

Aug. 23           BYE

Aug. 30           Firebaugh (1-9 overall last season)

Sept. 6            Bolsa Grande (2-8)

Sept. 13          @ Portola (2-8)

Sept. 20          Beverly Hills (2-8)

Sept. 27          @ Northwood (8-4)

Oct. 4              St. Pius X-St. Matthias (4-7)

Oct. 11            Ocean View (9-2)

Oct. 18            @ Artesia (10-4)

Oct. 25            @ Pioneer (6-4)

Nov. 1             John Glenn (6-5)

When the Cerritos High football team began the 2018 season winning two of its first three games and three of its first five, many thought the Dons were going to break their 17-year playoff drought. Despite posting their highest win total since 2010, the Dons struggled over the final five games and ended up last in the 605 League. Cerritos has not won more than three games in a season since 2003, but head coach Barry Thomas was pleased in the fact that the team was able to move the ball down the field more, adding it really wasn’t about the victories.

“Last season, obviously, was disappointing because I felt like…I kind of knew we would take our lumps on defense, but by the end of the year, I thought we would have a better rhythm, a better identity than we ended up having,” Thomas said. “Especially identity-wise, by the end of the year, we were still tinkering late in the year and that’s never good. This year, that was one of the focuses in practice, is to know what we’re going to do and be good at it and stick with it versus figuring things out. I feel like we’ve done that this year.”

Cerritos had a big team last season in terms of numbers and graduated 15 players. The players have bought into the system and now that they have experienced what winning feels like, Thomas is eager to see what 2019 has in store.

“More than talent, I like our character,” Thomas said. “Again, it has to be proven on the field, but I do like our character. I like how they compete, I like how they rally around each other. They have each other’s backs on and off the field. That is an intangible that I think is important.

“I like our talent; I don’t want to downplay that,” he continued. “But I feel like character-wise and guys believing in each other, that’s the thing we try to build from the very beginning.”

OFFENSE

After splitting time with Stacy King, who passed for nearly 1,400 yards, senior Nick Lightell is slated to be the starting quarterback with junior Joseph Quibrantar as his backup. Lightell completed 33 passes in 53 attempts last season, throwing for 755 yards and 11 touchdowns. Thomas said the quarterback battle last season brought the best out of Lightell in the Bolsa Grande High game, where he tossed a school-record seven touchdowns, and it brought the best out of King in the John Glenn High game, in which he accounted for all six touchdowns Cerritos scored.

“I heard a long time ago the best thing for any football team is competition,” Thomas said. “No one is comfortable. That’s kind of what the situation was last year; who was outplaying who and who was going to do the right thing.”

The ground game will be running back by committee unless someone can emerge once the pads go on in practice, according to Thomas. Senior Jayden Alderete was to be the top returner but tore his ACL last spring and is lost for the season. Alderete, who picked up 127 yards on seven touches with a touchdown last season, has been looked at by UC Davis, UCLA, Fresno State University and San Diego State University. Juniors Andrew Ramos, William Reed, Chaz Sanchez and Moises Vargas are all competing for the position.

“I think once we get into pads, the guys that aren’t willing to compete…those are the guys you want anyway,” Thomas said. “But I think we have really strong character kids that really want to play. So, it’s going to bring the best out of those guys.”

Seniors Gilbert Cobian, Noah Garcia and David Huh along with Sanchez and Vargas will be the main receiving targets with sophomore Jonathan Martinez, who has looked really good in the summer according to Thomas, also in the mix. Sanchez hauled in 36 passes for 545 yards and scored five touchdowns in 2018.

As far as the offensive line, Thomas says they can be flexible based on matchups. Senior Nicholas Maglonso or junior Jace Ramirez will land the starting left tackle spot while left guard will be handled by senior Derek Rodriguez or Maglonso. Senior Sammie Williams and Rodriguez will platoon at center with sophomores Matthew Ishoo and John Tan or Williams taking over at right guard and junior Andrew Barron at right tackle.

Cerritos proved it can score in bunches and did so with back to back games of over 60 points last season. Two more games of at least 40 points and one more over 30 and just like that, the Dons ended the season with 327 points, which is a lot by Cerritos standards.

“We’ll probably be a little bit more run-oriented,” Thomas said. “I thought we threw the ball a lot last year, which was our identity last year. This year, we’re going to be a little bit more exotic in the run than just what we did last year.”

DEFENSE

While the offense moved the ball more and scored more, the defense continued to struggle, allowing over 30 points seven times. In one of their seven losses, the Dons gave up 79 points to CIF-Southern Section Division 13 champion Adelanto High. 

The defensive line will be rotated with the same players on the offensive line. Thomas says he likes Reed’s versatility and adds that athletically, he’s what you want in a football player. He had four sacks in 2018 while Ramirez had four and a half sacks along with 53 tackles.

The secondary will consist of junior Nicolas De Giuseppe (61 tackles last season), Cobian, Garcia, Lightell (37 tackles), Quibrantar (78 tackles), and Vargas, whom Thomas says is one of the fastest players and has been learning pretty quick during the spring at corner but is versatile enough to play safety. Junior Jonathan Sagun, Huh, Ramos and Sanchez will be in the mix at safety as well.

The Dons are not deep in linebackers, but seniors Sam Agregado (57 tackles) and Diego Martinez and junior Nathan Endo are the leading candidates to hold down the fort in that area. 

“On paper, we’re probably better defensively than we are offensively,” Thomas said. 

SCHEDULE

The combined record of Cerritos’ 2018 opponents was 26-73 while the combined record of its opponents this season is 50-59. Thomas set the schedule up the way it is because he feels the measuring stick in the league is Glenn and says that everything they will do is practice for Glenn. 

Last season, Cerritos slammed Bolsa Grande 68-27, but Thomas is quick to say the Matadores will be a different team than last year and they are not a pushover.

“Regardless of who you’re playing, you take every opponent seriously,” Thomas said. “But you really have to take a look down the road because [Glenn is] looming. Hopefully, Week 10 is for a league title. That’s the aim; it’s at our house. It should be an emotional night because of senior night, and you know they’re going to be prepared. They’re going to be aggressive like they always are. They’re going to be physical like they always are.”

Cerritos scored a combined 175 points against Firebaugh High, Bolsa Grande and Beverly Hills High in three of the first five weeks of last season, all on the road. Portola High, located in Irvine, is less than five years old and has never faced the Dons. Northwood High is another rematch and Cerritos is hoping to avenge a 51-20 loss.

“I like the schedule,” Thomas said. “There are some guys who are more like us…and I like going to Orange County twice. I really like our Ocean View game because that’s a character game, because Ocean View will punch you in the mouth. They’re a physical team. Not that Northwood won’t, but Ocean View is a different beast as far as aggression.”

HOMECOMING

Cerritos has lost four straight homecoming contests and if there’s a chance of ending that streak, it might be this season. For the first time in at least 20 seasons, the Dons will host St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy on the festive night. Cerritos has won seven homecoming games since 1998 and the game against the Warriors will be the second of four straight games against teams who went to the playoffs last season. 

DIVISION 14

The Dons certainly will have their work cut out if they are to make the playoffs. Division 14 has 70 schools, the most of any division, and it’s almost a given that if Cerritos wants to get to the playoffs, they have to win the league or lose probably no more than two games. Beverly Hills, Bolsa Grande, Firebaugh, St. Pius X-St. Matthias and Pioneer High are also in the division. Win those games and upset at least three of the other four teams that went to the playoffs last season would increase the chances.

“It doesn’t matter unless you get to the playoffs,” Thomas said of the division. “I like what Division 14 looks like, but we were still a three-win team last year and that doesn’t cut it. That doesn’t get us into the Division 14 playoffs. It just doesn’t. We have to handle our business in league. If we don’t do that, it doesn’t matter what Division 14 looks like.”

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