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2022 Football Preview-New Coach, Attitude & League Await Valley Christian as Team Faces Daunting Schedule

 

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

VALLEY CHRISTIAN DEFENDERS

7-3 overall last season, 3-0 in the Olympic League, first place, lost to Ramona High 42-13 in the Division 8 first round playoffs. 38-20 overall last five seasons. Head coach: Nick Walker (first season). Lost 13 seniors out of 36 from 2021 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2018

2022 schedule

Aug. 19 El Dorado (8-4)*

Aug. 26 Gahr (1-9)

Sept. 2 Aliso Niguel (4-6)

Sept. 9 Chino (7-4)

Sept. 16 @ Artesia (2-9)

Sept. 23 BYE

Sept. 30 Hertg. Christian (5-6)

Oct. 7 Ont. Christian (6-3-1)

Oct. 14 @ Aquinas (10-6)

Oct. 21 Big Bear (9-2)

Oct. 28 @ Villg Christian (9-2)

*Record last season

Valley Christian High’s football program has always been rich in tradition, having posted 17 winning seasons since 1998 and missing the playoffs four times in that span. But the program is embarking on its fifth head coach since 2017 as Nick Walker takes over the top duties. Walker, who was hired on Apr. 10, spent the last two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Canyon High in Santa Clarita, but this will be his first head coaching gig anywhere.

“Man, it’s a dream come true, and when you look at the trajectory of what’s going on in high school football, you don’t have continuity and coaches staying long,” said Walker. “For me, it was more or less the tradition here and the winning percentage in the last 10 years, which gave me an idea that maybe the coach wasn’t the continuity part, but the culture was, and the kids were. So, it really drew me to Valley Christian. As my first head coaching job, I don’t think I could be in a better place anywhere.”

Walker added that he knew about V.C. just by asking around, especially with head coach Richard Broussard of league rival Village Christian High. In fact, Walker was about to take the defensive coordinator position at Heritage Christian High, another league rival before Valley Christian hired him a week later.

The immediate reaction of the players was that they wanted someone who cared, according to Walker, and someone who just wasn’t about teaching football, but was about someone who was going to be at V.C. and see them through the process.

“When I met with them for the first time, it was like, we want coaching and we want guys who want to be here long term and understand us and get to know our families and be a part of us,” said Walker. “The rumor was head coaches come at 4:30 and practice started at 3:00. For me, I can be here at 1:00.”

Discipline is huge for Walker because if you have it, he says you’re going to run the play correctly, you’re going to work hard and make sure you get the job done. In fact, the motto this season for the Defenders is refuse to lose and his expectations are to at least get to the third round of the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, which would be the semifinals.

One of the early noticeable points for the Defenders is that they are young and built for the future. There are only 10 seniors on a squad of 36. And, on a personal note, Walker is dedicating this season to his 16-year old nephew who has Hodgkin lymphoma.

“For me it’s going to be a dream come true to be a head coach; to walk out on that field and lead these young Christian men and teach them the game of football through Christ,” said Walker. “It’s all going to be different for me. My excitement is up there, and I don’t want to outcoach myself and lose the game. But I am going to be fired up and ready to go.”

OFFENSE

The program has shown more times than not in the past that it can pile up the points. The Defenders scored at least 35 points in every game in between their opening-season loss and their playoff loss. However, they had to forfeit a 45-0 win against Santa Rosa High in their second contest.

There is a competition going on for the starting quarterback position between sophomore Keiran Edmundson, a transfer from Cypress High, and senior Kaden Struiksma. Both present different qualities as Struiksma is a mobile quarterback while Edmundson is a pocket passer, according to Walker. Both are sharing the reps and both have had their share of ups and downs over the past few months.

The backfield will be very experienced with the explosiveness of senior running back Major Brown (49 carries, 485 yards, five touchdowns in six games last season) and sophomore running back Josiah Apisala (16 carries, 134 yards). Also in the backfield will be junior Dylan Sawai, who will be the H-back.

“He creates a dynamic that we can have a two-headed monster,” said Walker of Brown. “[Apisala] will carry the load with Brown being the change of pace.”

According to Walker, one of the most dynamic wide receivers who will cause a lot of problems this year will be senior Nick Bozanic, who led the Defenders with 27 receptions for 333 yards and scored six times. Three other top wide receivers along with Bozanic will be seniors Casey Bouma (six receptions, 199 yards, three touchdowns), whom Walker has tagged the X-factor, Micah Maurer and freshman Jaden Hernandez.

Playing left tackle will be sophomore Tupu Toloai while there is a battle at left guard between junior Tyler Hayes and sophomore Noah Klistoff. Junior Jack Van Hofwegen will be the center with the right side of the offensive line held down by either Hayes of Klistoff at guard and junior Grant Hefner, coming off a knee surgery after playing last season with a torn ACL, at tackle.

“We have the opportunity to be successful,” said Walker. “It can go one or two ways, but we have the opportunity to be successful. With our schedule strengthening this year from last year, we need to be able to block. Whichever quarterback we have, we need to be able to get the two reads at least. If we don’t get that, we’re in trouble.

“I don’t know what the outcomes will be; I have no predictions at this point,” he continued. “But I do know that we can go 1-9, or we can go 9-1.”

DEFENSE

The Defenders did not allow two opponents to score on them last season and allowed single digits in two other games. Only St. Paul High in the first game and Ramona High in the playoff game scored more than 26 points against V.C. On the right end of the line will be Toloai with senior Johnny Miller or Sawai situated on the left end. Right now, Hayes and Van Hofwegen are projected to be in the middle. One possibility could be moving Maurer at one of the ends and moving Miller to the inside.

Brown and Bozanic will be the starting cornerbacks with senior Ryan Bouma being the strong safety on the right side and Hernandez the strong safety on the left side with Casey Bouma locking down the safety position. Apisala and Maurer are slated to be the lone linebackers as Walker will run a 4-2-5 defense.

“We’re nasty, I’m telling you,” Walker said of his defense. “I’m a defensive guy, so I’m going to preach up my defense. But my offense is awesome, too. Don’t get me wrong. Do we have some kinks to work out offensively? Yeah. Are we ready defensively? Yeah. With the returning secondary, that’s probably the hugest thing that’s going to help us. Because I can stop the run, but I need to be able to know I can stop the pass, too. Our defense is going to win us some games this year and may even shock some people because of it.”

SCHEDULE

V.C.’s defense will be put to the test in the first game as it hosts El Dorado High, a new opponent for the program and a playoff team from 2021. The game against Gahr would have been on the other side of the 605 Freeway, but a new field turf surface is being added to Gahr’s playing facility. Following the road contest at Artesia High, the Defenders will take a week off before entering action in the new Ironwood League as the Olympic League is no more for football purposes with the five members were placed into other leagues.

“I can see us going 1-4 in the preseason, and I can see us going 4-1 or 5-0,” said Walker. “I can see that legitimately. El Dorado is good team, Gahr is on the up and up and they’re moving in the right direction. Alison Niguel…they can get it too and I know they can go.”

While Heritage Christian and Village Christian are old Olympic League rivals whom the Defenders easily handled by 36 and 41 points respectively last season, the Defenders will find a tougher task with defending CIF-SS Division 7 champion Aquinas High and Big Bear High. Aquinas, which scored 532 points last season, also went to the state playoffs where the Falcons lost to Vanden High 14-13.

“I know Aquinas is going to be tough, definitely,” said Walker. “I’m not even going to sugarcoat that. When you look at the trajectory, they’re just going to reload. They’re going to be stronger than ever. You just have to understand what their game plan is and how to stop it. Can you stop it? I don’t know; I don’t know if you can stop it. But we’re going to darn sure try. We’re going to put our best foot forward. We are going to hang with them.”

HOMECOMING

V.C.’s longest running rivalry has been Ontario Christian High and now, the rivalry has been amped up even more because the two schools are in the Ironwood League. It owns a 13-6 record against the Knights since 1998 and faced Ontario Christian for its 2009 homecoming game, a 35-24 victory. The Defenders knocked off the Knights 35-21 last season and in homecoming games over the past 22 seasons, V.C. is 20-2 on the big night, scoring over 30 points 15 times, over 40 points 10 times, over 50 points five times, over 60 points four times and over 70 points once.

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