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2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Valley Christian’s Garner feels right at home as school’s new head coach

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

3-7 overall last season, 1-3 in the Olympic League, fourth place

40-20 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Bill Garner (first season)

Lost 13 seniors out of 31 players from 2018 roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2017

2019 schedule

Aug. 23           @ St. Anthony (3-7 overall last season)

Aug. 30           Lancaster (3-7)

Sept. 6            Portola (2-8)

Sept. 13          OPEN DATE

Sept. 20          Ontario Christian (6-5)

Sept. 27          @ La Salle (0-10)

Oct. 4              @ Whittier Christian (0-10)

Oct. 11            @ Heritage Christian (10-1)

Oct. 18            Maranatha (6-5)

Oct. 25            BYE

Nov. 1             Village Christian (6-4)

If there is anyone who knows what Valley Christian High football is all about, then it’s Bill Garner, who replaces Stephen Kelley as the school’s new head coach. Garner attended V.C. since kindergarten, graduated from the school in 1992 and married his high school sweetheart, Jody Garner, who is the school’s athletic secretary. He left V.C. briefly but came back as a teacher and is in his 15thyear employed at the school, the last 10 as part of the football program. Garner coached under the previous four head coaches, always on the defense.

“I’ve just been around for a while,” Garner chuckled. “I’ve coached everything, and I never, ever aspired to be a head coach. My biggest holdup was that I never thought I could put together a staff, and to me, that’s the number one job of a head coach.”

Garner doesn’t want to get into last season, in which the Defenders finished with a losing record for the first time since 2013 and won as few as three games for the first time since 2012.  But he did say that, ‘to sum it up, it’s soul searching time. It really is’.

“In the midst of last year, there were a couple of final missing pieces that fell into place,” he continued. “But I think even though they were missing pieces, there were a couple of more realizations that I needed to have before it was maybe just a sense that this was something I was supposed to do.”

Garner believes the team can get back to the playoffs and that scheduling non-Olympic League opponents was critical. Before last season, V.C. had reached the playoffs five straight seasons under Woodie Grayson, who is now at Bellflower High.

OFFENSE

Kirk Diego returns as V.C.’s offensive coordinator after being on defense previously and the Defenders, who scored 191 points last season, considerably low by V.C. standards, hope they can add much more this season. Garner calls Diego’s return a ‘big win for us in the spring that he was willing to come back’.

According to Garner, V.C. will have about four or five freshmen quarterbacks at the lower level. But senior Brayden Garner and sophomore Colin Abrahams will be battling for the starting spot on varsity. In fact, Bill Garner says those two may even rotate in and out during the first game just to see how it plays out.

“Brayden just kind of rose to a perceived…coming into his senior year, he was like, ‘we don’t have an upperclassmen quarterback’,” Bill Garner said.

Junior Noah Ferinac returns as the main running back with senior Jarvis Hudnall complementing him. Ferinac rushed for 300 yards on 37 carries last season and found the endzone three times while Hudnall added another 31 yards on half a dozen carries. The new head coach says those two are probably the two hardest working guys in the program during the offseason.

Sophomore John Nelson, who was dinged up a bit last season but has the potential to be a pleasant surprise, is also in the mix for running back.

If there is an area on offense where the Defenders might have little depth, and Garner is using that term cautiously, it will be the receiving department. V.C. has never had a ton of depth with wide receivers but this season, seniors Luca Caldarella (22 receptions, 448 yards, seven touchdowns last season) and Andrew Lange and sophomores Rocco Caldarella and Carson Slager will be the main targets.

“We’re not going to kill you with speed, but hopefully we can run good, crisp routes and execute,” Garner said.

Garner says the offensive line is still in flux and up until two weeks before the season opener, the Defenders couldn’t get the same group to practice too many days in a row. He added that it became a situation where he could give his starting five, which is a pretty good starting five, but that group isn’t near to being the starting five.

Senior Justin Camper is a likely candidate for the center spot or right guard while junior Austin Chamberlin seems to have the inside track for left tackle. Chamberlin played on the junior varsity team last season, then because of injuries, was called up the next week where he started the final varsity game. 

“Here’s what I’ve been saying to people,” Garner said of his offense. “We don’t much, but right now, we have enough. That’s kind of what we’re keeping out in front of us for right now. That can always change. The type of offense that Coach Diego brought in…it’s spread out, it’s option, it’s fast-moving and it puts the burden of the game on our execution.

“We know what we want to do on offense,” he continued. “It’s really simple, but if we do what we want to do, it creates a lot of problems on defense.”

DEFENSE

Garner may not be coordinating the defense this season, but he brought up Randy Williams, who was the head coach of the junior varsity team. Garner says he was due to step up into that position. The Defenders will operate a 4-2-5 defense with sophomore Ryan Solomon-Mills joining the offensive linemen already mentioned.

Garner is the linebacker’s coach and the captain of the that department will be Hudnall (39 tackles last season), who will be in the middle. Senior Cameron Noble and Slager will split time at the other middle spot.

The secondary will be patrolled by a lot of the offensive skill players along with cornerbacks Rocco Caldarella and Ferinac with Luca Caldarella and Lange (25 tackles) at the outside safety positions with Brayden Garner (43 tackles) at inside safety.

“When you have 11 average guys playing up to play defense…we don’t have any one dude, but we have 11 guys who know how to work their butts off,” Garner said. “So, we’ve been coming back to the sense of playing defense as a team. We have to play team defense.”

SCHEDULE

The Defenders will have a relatively new look to their schedule, dropping four teams who they played last season and only playing a nine-game slate. In fact, there was a two-month period where V.C. was sitting at eight games and Garner was not okay with that. Then came the addition of Lancaster High. Finding non-Olympic League teams was hard because at the time the schedule was put together, V.C. was still in Division 6 and a lot of teams were skeptical of playing the Defenders. Garner says he likes to think of his team as rebalancing.

Garner says Portola High, founded in 2016, makes him nervous because it’s a new school in Irvine. But at the same time, people make the same claim about V.C. because it’s a private school.

“We’re not looking to blow anybody out, but I’m also not looking to get blown out,” Garner said. “That’s just where we’re at. So, that was kind of what I was putting on the table and we found some teams.”

Garner says the toughest non-league contest will be St. Anthony High, whom the Defenders have defeated two straight times after losing three straight contests to the Saints. V.C. has lost three league games in the same season twice since 1998 and of the four current league members, Whittier Christian High is the one V.C. has owned the most. In the past five meetings with Heralds, all victories, the Defenders have scored at least 48 points every time. 

“The goal, and you’ll always hear me say this, is if we can come out preseason .500, great,” Garner said. “One of our goals will always compete for a league title.”

HOMECOMING

V.C. will host Maranatha High on homecoming night and since 2010, V.C. owns a slim 5-4 advantage over the Pasadena-based school, but fell to the Minutemen 36-0 last season, the only time it was blanked in 2018. Two seasons ago, V.C. crushed Maranatha 63-14 on homecoming night and when the Defenders lost to Maranatha last season on homecoming, it marked the first time in more than two decades that V.C. had lost to a league foe on homecoming night.

DIVISION 11

The Defenders make a big drop from Division 6 to Division 11 where they are one of 35 schools vying for one of 16 playoff spots. Garner says for his team to compete for a league title, it will have to come out the previous five games healthy regardless of wins or losses. The Defenders face one division opponent this season, and it’s a big one. Ontario Christian High is V.C.’s longtime biggest rival and the Defenders have a 13-8 mark over the Knights since 1998. Last season., Ontario Christian posted a 40-17 victory.

“I didn’t know that was possible, but I was delighted,” Garner said. “I thought it was going to take us two or three years to get back down to where I knew we belonged. And when I say that, I mean just reflective of where we’re at as a program. We’re not Division 6. We’re down there in the nine, 10, 11 and that’s where we belong.”

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