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2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Gahr in for a long season with inexperienced team

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

GAHR GLADIATORS

3-7 overall last season, 2-3 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fourth place

25-28 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Greg Marshall (17thseason, 86-81)

Lost 19 seniors out of 41 players from 2018 roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

2019 schedule

Aug. 23           Jefferson (6-5 overall last season)

Aug. 30           Bellflower (7-3)

Sept. 6            BYE

Sept. 13          North Torrance (10-3)

Sept. 20          @ Sunny Hills (8-3)

Sept. 27          @ Mayfair (9-3)

Oct. 3              Downey (6-6)

Oct. 11            @ Dominguez (3-7)

Oct. 18            @ Lynwood (0-8-1)

Oct. 25            Warren (8-4)

Nov. 1             Paramount (7-5)

The 2018 Gahr High football team was not expected to advance to the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, but it was playing for third place in the San Gabriel Valley League on the final week of the season with a chance of moving on to the postseason. The task of beating Downey High on the road was staring the Gladiators in the face and in the end, Gahr couldn’t rebound from a 28-7 deficit after three quarters, eventually losing 42-27. 

Still, one could have thought what Gahr’s season would have been like if it had not blown a halftime lead in three straight games heading into league action. That’s the difference between a 4-1 non-league campaign and a 1-4 mark.

“Number one, obviously we didn’t finish a couple of games that we had to have,” said longtime Gahr head coach Greg Marshall. “That was the defense. Offensively, we were good as we ever were. I thought we were in because of our schedule. We had a decent ranking, and then Fullerton won [and] they shouldn’t have won. And someone lost; they came from behind then lost. Nothing went our way on that last night.”

Marshall has been the dean of SGVL football, having coached the Gladiators for what is now 17 seasons. Last season was the fourth time Marshall did not finish above .500 and he has experienced life in the playoffs four times, advancing to the semifinals in 2007.

“It’s the kids, because obviously, it’s not a high profile, high pressure job,” Marshall said. “The coaches are like, ‘hey, you lost some kids’, and no one sweats it because we coach the kids that we have and do the best with what we have. We don’t have any outside…or some idea that we need to be more than what we are. We’re happy with the progress that we make every year. That’s the easy part.”

OFFENSE

This season will be a tough one for Marshall and his varsity team as the Gladiators will nearly start from scratch with a relatively inexperienced team on offense. There will be a new look to the offense and when it comes to the skill players, so don’t expect to see someone from last season’s team. According to Marshall, the Gladiators do not return one offensive playmaker. 

“We have a lot of new guys, a lot of new guys,” Marshall said. “We lost some guys to…transfers. Andrew Simpson went to [St. John] Bosco. We should have been loaded this year. Joaquin [Carmouche] went to Orange Lutheran. Aaron [Okoro] went to Millikan. I’ve had one of these years before. We lost about four of five key guys.”

Marshall believes the offense works for the quarterbacks they have, which will be junior Rashaad Willis and his backup, junior Chandler Nixon. Marshall will be adding a halfback and a tight end, just in case, because the team is short on skill guys.

“He’s a basketball guy, he’s played some quarterback before, he’s learning the system,” Marshall said of Willis. “We won’t know anything until you get them to the park. Some guys play a little better in games. We hope he grows when he gets under the lights.”

The ground game will be led by senior Thomas Toral, a transfer from St. John Bosco High, and junior Johnny Robinson while the top wide receivers are projected to be seniors Robert Fuentes, a first-time player, and Daniel Mitchell and sophomore Cieonta Davis.

For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Gahr will have plenty of lineman. Slated to be the starters up front will be junior left tackle Adrian Ayala, sophomore left guard Le’Troy Pruitt, returning senior center David Versteeg, sophomore right guard Teegan Vasquez and junior right tackle Elloy Mendoza.

After scoring 54 points in a season-opening win at Jefferson High, Gahr failed to reach 30 points in four straight games. In fact, in their three victories, the Gladiators scored 54, 61 and 72 points and tacked on 45 against Paramount High in a 10-point setback. In that game, Gahr blew a 34-19 halftime lead.

“We’ve been here before,” Marshall said. “I think there was another year where we came back when we had lost four or five guys. We played pretty well, but we couldn’t hold up in league. We coach the guys that come to Gahr and we don’t worry about those who leave.”

DEFENSE

Marshall won’t beat around the bush, saying that the Gladiators were not a very good defensive team last season and insists that this season’s defense must be better. The team will have a new defensive coordinator in Paul Guidry, who used to play at Gahr. The Gladiators allowed at least 28 points in nine games and surrendered at least 40 points four times, including the final three games of the season.

The main defensive linemen will be seniors Robert McClain and Anselmo Montemayor and junior Anakin Larabee. Marshall says the Gladiators will have a full defensive line of four or five guys who won’t play offense and that there will be depth in that position than they ever had. The rest of the linemen was still up in the air.

Senior Chandler Dixon will play free safety while juniors Anthony Dixon and Chase Nixon will hold down the corner spots. The anchor of the linebackers will be senior Shane White with Robinson and junior Kyle Nwosu on the outside. Junior Dante Navejas will also be in the mix.

“We have some [experience] at linebacker,” Marshall said. “Actually, we have three sets of linebackers. The only thing we don’t have, and this is a weird year, is we don’t have skill players. But we have depth at line and depth at linebacker.”

SCHEDULE

If it wasn’t bad enough that Gahr has an inexperienced team, the schedule isn’t doing the team any favors. The Gladiators will face eight teams who had at least a .500 record last season and all but one advanced to the playoffs.

“That’s what I told everyone last year,” Marshall said. “We didn’t play anyone basically who didn’t go to the playoffs. Everyone we played was legit, and I think they won their playoff game too. Jefferson lost their first playoff game, but a lot of those guys won their first playoff game.”

Gahr drops Millikan High and replaces it with Bellflower High with former Valley Christian High head coach Woodie Grayson at the helm. Following a bye after the second game for the second straight season, the Gladiators host Division 9 semifinalist North Torrance High, a team they lost to by three points last season. But Gahr heads back on the road for a pair of games before league begins. The opponents of Gahr’s two league victories last season will come in consecutive weeks on the road.

“The problem is you have Downey and Warren and Paramount,” Marshall said. “I think Dominguez and Lynwood are games we should win, unless they show up with some transfers. But, Downey and Warren and [Paramount] are just going to be tasks. We have to try to knock off one of them to get in [to the playoffs]. Plus, with the stronger preseason schedule, the league becomes more critical because it’s hard to get the three or four wins in preseason.”

HOMECOMING

Gahr is 5-9 against league opponents on homecoming night since 1998 and will face Warren High this season for the big event. The Gladiators have faced the Bears the past two odd-numbered years for their homecoming game, splitting the previous two. Since 2000, Gahr is 6-9 against the Bears and lost last season’s contest 46-14 on the road. At home, Gahr is 4-4 against Warren since 1998. Last season, Gahr lost to Paramount on homecoming night in a game that pretty much knocked Gahr out of the playoffs. 

DIVISION 8

Gahr drops from Division 6 to Division 8 and even though it figures to be a long season for Gahr, there are 21 teams in the division with all but five making the playoffs. The odds seem to be in favor for Gahr but getting the wins in the first five weeks of the season will be the key. 

“It’s better than six,” Marshall believes. “I don’t know how we got jumped up to six last year. That was crazy. But the good thing about the higher divisions is it’s almost easy to get into the playoffs. Some wins or losses, even with the record we had, we could have got in. The same thing with this year.”

The lone team that Gahr will face from the division is Sunny Hills High and if Gahr can head into league play with at least a 3-2 mark and beat the teams it should in league, then maybe, the Gladiators can sneak into the postseason. 

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