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HMG-CN H.S. Football Preview: Gahr Faces Uphill Battle With Young and Inexperienced Squad

August 20, 2021

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

GAHR GLADIATORS

1-3 last season

23-25 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Greg Marshall

(19th season, 90-92)

Last time missed the playoffs: 2018

2021 SCHEDULE

Aug. 20 CANCELLED GAME WITH MAYFAIR

Aug. 27 North Torrance (3-1 overall last season)

Sept. 3 @ Heritage Christian (2-1)

Sept. 9 @ Garden Grove (3-3)

Sept. 17 Sunny Hills (5-1)

Sept. 24 BYE

Oct. 1 @ Downey (4-1)

Oct. 8 @ Dominguez (2-3)

Oct. 15 Lynwood (0-0)

Oct. 22 @ Warren (5-0)

Oct. 29 Paramount (1-3)

What a difference a year makes. This time last season, Gahr High head coach Greg Marshall was embarking on his 18th season and was hoping to take a team heavy in seniors back to the playoffs for a second consecutive season and fourth out of the last five. But the pandemic hit, the CIF-Southern Section canceled the fall sports playoffs and an abbreviated season consisting of no more than six games was put together in the spring. Marshall was proud that his seniors, some of whom had been in the program all four years, were able to get some games in.

“I think we were very fortunate to get those in, and I think a lot of that because we had so many seniors who were able to put it together so fast,” Marshall said. “If I had [the 2021] group, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable playing four games. We might have gotten two in.”

In the past four months since the Gladiators last played, Marshall said the program has been trying to get back to some type of normalcy and added that about 25-30 kids showed up during the recent optional workout period. That number grew to around 60, including freshmen, when it came time to hand out gear for the players. But hard times have hit the Gladiators recently with some of the players coming down with Covid. Still, Marshall plans on playing dome games this season.

OFFENSE

After being blanked by Dominguez High 27-0 in last season’s opener on Mar. 25, the Gladiators scored 68 points in the next three games. Because of Covid and players transferring out, Marshall has had to do some tweaking in the offense, meaning what he wanted to run a few months ago will be different when the season begins, including the quarterback. Marshall’s plan A for a signal-caller transferred out in the last week of July. So, junior Tyvon McGirt, who caught a 60-yard touchdown pass last season against Bellflower High, gets the starting nod with senior Joshua Rubio as his backup. When he is not under center, Rubio will be one of the featured running backs along with junior Jaquan Miller. Also in the backfield will be senior Kye Clemmons and sophomore Royal Nwosu with juniors Micah McNeil and Jalen Montgomery slated to be the tight ends.

Marshall is projecting his offensive line to be senior left tackle Adam McNeil, freshman left guard Branden Meza, junior center Tristen Contreras, sophomore right guards Marcell Frazier or Noah Taylor and sophomore right tackle Anthony Fierro.

“It’s a young line, so we’re going to throw the ball which will be easy to pass protect and try to drive them off the line,” Marshall said. “Switching quarterbacks, we have to be able to run the football. Everything has changed. I’m not saying it can’t be done or won’t be done; I think it will be [done]. But we go from spring to summer, you have an idea of what all the kids can do, and you put them in a position to be successful. Now I have to redo that and I’m not going to ask kids to do something they can’t do.”

DEFENSE

Historically, Gahr’s defense hasn’t been one to write home about. It’s rare to see the Gladiators allow less than 20 points in many games. Last season, Gahr allowed an average of 30.5 points a game with its best performance coming in the lone win against Bellflower, a 34-16 decision. The leader of the defensive line will be junior David Mataele, who was a starter last season, along with junior Tuini Mataele, and the two will be on the ends. Marshall is also projecting Contreras, Fierro and junior Jason Jackson to be on the ends at some point. The secondary stacks up with Rubio and McGirt as safeties and sophomores Evan Spurlin and Isaiah Wilcots as cornerbacks. The linebackers will be a combination of brothers as the McNeil’s will be on the inside while Jalen Montgomery and sophomore Kalen Montgomery are slated to be on the outside.

SCHEDULE

Gahr was scheduled to host Mayfair High tonight in the season opener. But after the recent Covid issues, Marshall took that game off the books and the Gladiators, who will now play as many as nine regular season games, will begin the season on Aug. 27 against North Torrance High. The Saxons are one of five teams that had a winning record, making this season’s schedule another tough one. Gahr lost to North Torrance 28-25 in 2018 and 41-7 in 2019 while it fell to Sunny Hills High 38-0 the week following the loss to North Torrance. The meetings against Garden Grove High and Heritage Christian High will be the first for the Gladiators in at least 23 years.

“Sunny Hills and Garden Grove are going to be major tests,” Marshall said. “We saw enough of North Torrance; we scrimmaged them last year. It’s like, ‘oh, they look like us’. Heritage Christian, we got on the phone and had that conversation…we’re both in the same place. So, those two games, I think, will be competitive. Then as we go into Garden Grove and Sunny Hills, we’re starting to step up to league-type schools and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Once San Gabriel Valley League play begins, it will be another big test to see if the Gladiators can crack the top three needed for an automatic playoff berth. They make their even-numbered year visit to the city of Downey where they have not defeated Downey High since at least 1998 and have two wins against Warren High, a 54-21 win in 2012 and a 21-7 victory four years later. Since 1998, Gahr has a winning record against one league team-Lynwood High in which it holds a 13-5 advantage. Against the other four league opponents in over that same time, Gahr has a combined 17 victories.

“This year it’s going to be Downey and Warren at the top of the league,” Marshall said. “Dominguez had some kids come in, I think, so they’ll be pushing [for third place]. I think Paramount is kind of down and Lynwood didn’t even have a football team last year. We’re going to probably be in the bottom half, realistically, going in. The top group is almost unmanageable for us this year. But then we’re going into a conference the year after, so I’m okay. Let’s get through this year playing those guys and hope I never have to play them again.”

HOMECOMING

If there is a homecoming game this season, Lynwood would be the opponent and it would be one of the best chances for the Gladiators to pick up a victory. In addition to the Gladiators defeating the Knights 13 times since 1998, they have not lost to Lynwood in their previous three homecoming meetings going back to 2008. Overall, the Gladiators are 9-10 since 2001 when hosting a homecoming game. But in the last six games, three each with Paramount and Warren, Gahr has been outscored 287-144, winning once (2017) and losing in the last outing to Warren, 51-0, on Oct. 25, 2019,

In closing, Marshall said a successful season, which has always been the case, will be the kids having a positive experience rather than winning or losing.

“It’s about creating memories,” Marshall said. “If they can have a good memory of this; of going through this challenge, then it’s positive; it’s good. That’s what high school sports is supposed to be about. I’m confident they’re going to have a good experience and create some good memories from this whether we win or lose.”

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