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2021 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Cerritos out to prove that last season’s success is not a one-year fluke

Cerritos high school logo, don

 

By Loren Kopff• @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

CERRITOS DONS

3-1 overall last season, 3-0 in the 605 League, first place

11-32 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Brad Carter (second season, 3-1)

Lost 18 seniors out of 38 players from 2020 roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2001

2021 schedule

Aug. 19           Buena Park (0-5 overall last season)

Aug. 27           @ Banning (3-1)

Sept. 3            Portola (3-2)

Sept. 10          Ocean View (4-2)

Sept. 17          @ Troy (1-4)

Sept. 24          BYE

Oct. 1              @ St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy (2-1)

Oct. 8              Segerstrom (2-1)

Oct. 14            @ Pioneer (0-2)

Oct. 22            John Glenn (0-1)

Oct. 29            @ Artesia (0-1)

It took a little over a year from the time he was hired for Brad Carter to coach his first game for Cerritos High and when that Mar. 26 56-0 blowout win at John Glenn High was complete, you could see a whole new attitude within the Dons program. Although Cerritos played four out of six games allowed by the CIF-Southern Section because of the Covid situation, Carter said there were a lot of positives in the abbreviated and unusual 2021 spring season. The Dons won all three league games and won a league title for the first time since 2001.

“There were a lot of positives for sure,” Carter said. “There was a scramble from start to finish with jumbling around with the kids. But going 3-0 in league was really exciting. I know there were some cancellations in the rest of the league and we were able to get all three of our league games in. Overall, it was a very positive first season.

“We were happy to get one game,” he continued. “There was a real serious threat of not playing any games. I know the San Gabriel Valley cancelled their season completely. So, I told the kids if we got one game, we were going to run with it, and we were lucky enough to get four.

As for the short offseason, which began in the middle of April, Carter said the team was able to in a full spring ball in May, get in the weight room and back on the field and have a complete, routine summer. The Dons have also participated in several seven-on-seven events and linemen competitions.

Even with the short season and having to follow all the Covid protocols before stepping onto the field, Carter said his team learned that they could compete, especially since there was a lot of doubt if Cerritos could compete with the local rivals.

“I think after the season ended, we realized that not only can we compete, but we can succeed in being league champions,” Carter said. “I think that was the biggest takeaway; that there was some trust built in the coaching staff.

“Every year is a new chance to prove ourselves as a new team,” he later continued. “We had a lot of success in [the] 2020 [season] in the spring and even if we went 4-0 and won every game by 100 points, I would still be saying we have to prove that this year, this team, has success. I’m confident that this program is going in the right direction. I’m confident we have great coaches working with our kids and I’m confident our kids are giving great effort.”

OFFENSE

In the four games played, Cerritos scored 121 points in league action while another 21 in its loss to Sierra Vista High and had points in 13 of the 16 quarters played. While the Dons graduated nearly half of the players on last season’s team, they return enough offensive threats to make them legitimate instead of a one-season fluke. It starts with senior quarterback David Sagun (34 of 56, 419 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions last season). Sagun can also be mobile out of the pocket has he ran 13 times for 86 yards and scored four times.

“He’s going to do a really great job for us,” Carter said. “He’s been working really hard this offseason. He’s improved his throwing mechanics greatly. He’s always been a leader; he’s always been tough and a good runner. But this offseason, we’re trying to get him to throw the deep ball better, and that’s happened. So, we’re really excited about seeing him flourish.”

Sagun’s backup will be junior Dylan Burton, but the Dons will show that they can run the ball as well because senior running backs Connor Defrain, Erick Louie III and Mateo Martinez all return. Defrain is the leading returner with 20 carries, 136 yards and two touchdowns last season while the other two combined for 10 carries, 85 yards and three touchdowns. Carter said those three ‘will be in the lineup for us’ but look for senior slot receiver Elijah Granflor (four receptions, 37 yards, one touchdown) and junior Quincy Monreal to also get some touches out of the backfield.

There shouldn’t be a shortage of targets for Sagun as senior wide receivers Grant Fueston (five receptions 36 yards) and Jonathan Martinez (three receptions, 13 yards), who was the team’s place kicker, and junior Mateo Martinez (nine receptions, 103 yards, two touchdowns) and back along with varsity newcomer junior Luis Sanchez.

The offensive line will be anchored down by senior left tackle Francis Carillo, sophomore left guard Aiden Diaz, senior center Elijah Santos, sophomore right guard William Peterson and junior right tackle Chris Wood. Senior Dylan Williams, who was the right guard last season, could see some action later in the season.

“We’re excited for sure,” Carter said of his offense. “The strength of our team last year was our defense and I think the strength of our team this year will be our offense for sure.

“The left side is a little more mature; they’ve been there, done that,” he added on the left side of his offensive line. “The right side is going to be a little younger. That’s always the focus in camp, is getting the O-line solidified.”

If there is one negative Cerritos will face this season, Carter said it could be the chemistry, which will be very important in summer camp. The depth of the offensive line would be the second negative.

DEFENSE

The Dons allowed 56 points in the four games played in the spring but 12 came in league play. Carter said last season’s defense was tough and fast and if Cerritos can duplicate that this season, the coaching staff will be excited.

“They were also really talented,” Carter said of the defense. “I don’t think we realized until they left how much talent we lost due to our senior class. But we’re definitely going after that same tough, fast mentality with the new group that’s coming up.”

Carillo, Diaz and junior Josh Anderson, who was on the frosh/soph team last season, are the leading candidates to be on the defensive line, although Carter is hoping for more depth in that area. As of now, Carter is still looking for that fourth starter.

The secondary will consist of cornerback/safeties Fueston and Jonathan Martinez with senior Manoj Cowgill and junior Emiliano Alcantar, who sat out last season. Louie III, who had 14 tackles last season, returns at linebacker and joining him will be senior Cage Cantlan, who also sat out last season and will be on the inside, and sophomore Jeremiah Bagaygay. None of the other returning defensive players had more than four tackles.

“There’s a lot of young guys,” Carter said. “That group is going to have to prove that they’re ready to compete at the varsity level. We’re definitely working them really hard to get up to speed with our plays and schemes.”

SCHEDULE

A lot of new non-league opponents will be on the docket, provided the Dons can complete the full 10-game slate beginning with a home game against Buena Park High. While there were no playoffs last season, Cerritos will be tested prior to getting to its 605 League opener on Oct. 14 as the combined record of the seven non-league opponents is 16-16, although Buena Park went winless in five games. Had Cerritos been able to play a 10-game schedule last season, it would have played road games at Firebaugh High, Maywood CES High and Beverly Hills High, all of whom had a combined 2019 record of 10-20. Buena Park, Portola High, St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy and Troy High would have been 2020 opponents on the original schedule with St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy going 12-1 and Portola going 10-2 in 2019.

“I think it’s a very strong non-league schedule,” Carter said. “We had some openings, so we were trying to schedule teams that we thought would be a competitive matchup and I feel like we did that. My goal is non-league play is to get our team ready for league play and I think our non-league schedule will do that.”

The Dons have not played Buena Park since Aug. 24, 2012, a 74-0 loss, and faced Ocean View in 2012, 2013, 2018 and 2019, winning just the second meeting by a 63-28 decision.

HOMECOMING

For the sixth time since 1998 and the second straight time, the Dons are hosting a non-league opponent for homecoming. For the first time ever, Cerritos will be facing Segerstrom High, but homecoming games haven’t been too kind for the black and gold. The Dons have lost their last five homecoming games, including a 48-7 setback to St. Pius X-St. Matthias Academy on Oct. 3, 2019. Since 1998, Cerritos is 6-16 on homecoming night with two of those victories coming against John Glenn High.