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2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW – Lancers in a good position to make a deep playoff run with new league, experienced backfield

 

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter

 

NORWALK LANCERS

6-5 overall last season, 2-2 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to Woodbridge High 24-21 in the Division 12 first round playoffs

17-30 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Ruben Guerrero (second season, 6-5)

Lost 15 seniors out of 53 players from 2021 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

2022 schedule

Aug. 19           @ San Marino (3-6 overall last season)

Aug. 26           La Canada (6-4)

Sept. 2            @ El Monte (4-6)

Sept. 9            South East (6-5)

Sept. 16          John Glenn (3-7)

Sept. 23          El Rancho (9-2)

Sept. 30          BYE

Oct. 7              Lynwood (3-7)

Oct. 14            Bellflower (2-7)

Oct. 21            Gahr (1-9)

Oct. 28            @ Firebaugh (1-9)

After three straight losing seasons, including going 1-4 in the shortened 2021 Covid spring season, Norwalk High rebounded to go 6-4 in the regular season last season before falling to Woodbridge High by a field goal in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 12 playoffs. The season went as expected for Ruben Guerrero, who was in his first season as the head coach.

“I was pleasantly surprised; we did expect to do well with the kids that we had,” said Guerrero. “That last one…you talk about the ones that got away, that one got away from us. We’re still smarting from it; we’re still hurting for it and we’ve kind of used it as motivation to do a lot better this year. We’re just looking to rebound and put our best foot forward this coming year.

The major change for the program is that it will no longer compete in the Suburban League, which merged forces with the San Gabriel Valley League. Also, the Lancers figure to be much better with an experienced club as the team was filled with a lot of juniors last season. Guerrero says the team and coaching staff is fired up with the level of experience that’s returning. A lot of the seniors have been in the program for all four years.

“This will be the second turn at how we run things, how we do things, the expectations that we have and so far, they are meeting all of it,” said Guerrero. “It’s a real treat.”

Regardless of what division the Lancers are put in at the end of the regular season, Guerrero feels his team has a good opportunity to make a deep run in the playoffs. He would also like to give thanks to all the support that the Norwalk community gave the program last season as well as his coaching staff. Guerrero would also like to thank the site and the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District for the support and simply send a shoutout to the City of Norwalk and all the rallying it has done around the program.

OFFENSE

Returning as the starting quarterback will be senior Caden Barnhill, who has grown leaps and bounds as a person and as a football leader, according to Guerrero. He continued to say that without divulging too much, the only thing people have yet to see out of Barnhill will come from the new plays the coaching staff has put in to boost him up as a player and to not only elevate his game, but to elevate Norwalk High football.

“[The players] really rally behind him, and he really is able to captivate the team’s attention,” he added. “It’s a real treat to see as a teacher, as an educator and as a coach, the real treat about all this is seeing the growth of people. And he has grown.”

Barnhill attempted only 10 passes last season, completing six of them and throwing three touchdowns. His backup will be junior Rylee Sosa, who has been with the program since he was a freshman and has gotten a lot of reps throughout the offseason and in seven on seven competitions.

The staple of Norwalk’s offense has been the double wing and as always, the Lancers will have a plethora of running backs to go to, led by senior David Herrera (1,312 yards last season, 19 touchdowns), who was injured against La Mirada High and missed the last two games of the season. Also carrying the pigskin will be seniors Michael Mueller and Adrian Ramirez, junior Anthony Rodriguez and sophomore Ezra Mueller. Because of the nature of the offense, don’t expect Barnhill to throw a lot. But when he does, his targets will be any of the running backs, plus senior tight ends Christian Lopez and Jason Lopez.

One area of concern on the offensive line is at left tackle where senior Victor Cruz and sophomore Anthony Lemus are competing for the starting gig. Junior left guard Angel Lima, senior center Jonathan Ortega, sophomore right guard Papo Leiataua and senior right tackle Daniel Vasquez will complete the line.

In all six victories, the Lancers scored anywhere from 35 to 62 points but in the five losses, Norwalk couldn’t get past 22 points, and in three of those losses, the team scored 10 points once and seven points the other two times.

“This season will be different because we have a lot of experience with running our offensive system,” said Guerrero. “We have four out of our front seven who are returning, so they have a good handle of our offense. And they’ve been able to coach up the younger kids. Now, they ran the system as well on frosh/soph, so they’re familiar with it when they come [to varsity]. The experience level, I would say, is going to be what’s going to be different.”

He went on to say the Lancers are a step ahead of where they were last season in terms of the offensive system.

DEFENSE

In five of the six victories last season, the Lancers showed why they can be at the level the program was from 2012-2015 when Norwalk went 29-8. The team allowed 21 points and shutout a pair of opponents. In the other win, the defense gave up 20 points to South East High. However, in the five setbacks, the Lancers allowed anywhere from 24 to 35 points.

“My concerns just revolve around putting a better showing out there than we did last year,” said Guerrero. “That was probably one of the areas that maybe we could have done better last year.”

Up on the line will be seniors Trino Ramirez and Leiataua in the middle and senior Jesus Cervantes on the right side with junior Johnathan Anguiano on the left end. The secondary stacks up with Herrera and Ramirez as cornerbacks and senior Jesse Barrientez and Michael Mueller as the safeties while seniors Noah Ayala, Daniel Castillo, Gabriel Guerrero and Nelson Vasquez and junior Jesse Lopez all in the mix for the linebacking duties.

SCHEDULE

After finishing in third place in the Suburban League five times in the last seven seasons and in fourth place the other two seasons, the Lancers are probably glad they don’t have to worry about La Mirada or Mayfair High because of the merger. Those two football programs will be in the Gateway League while Norwalk will be the favorites to win the Mid-Cities League of the Suburban Valley Conference.

“Ultimately, I think what [the athletic directors] were trying to do when they got our leagues together was group teams together where they could be successful,” said Guerrero. “We think that we can be successful in our new league and where we’re standing. I think that’s probably what’s given us the most motivation.”

Before league play begins, the Lancers have rematches with San Marino High, which beat them 34-22 last season, South East, a 62-20 victory, the annual Mayor’s Cup game with John Glenn High and a home game with El Rancho High, which easily defeated Norwalk last season 34-7.

“We’re looking at each [opponent] individually,” said Guerrero. “San Marino got us last year, so we’re not putting anything past them; past any of these opponents. But we feel very confident about where we’re at now as compared to last year. Each one of those opponents brings a different aspect to the table. So, we’re just going to take it one step at a time and put our best foot forward.”

The schedule seems to be favorable by the time the Lancers get to their bye week, then all signs point to an undefeated league slate based off the records of those opponents from last season. It also doesn’t hurt that Norwalk goes on the road three times.

“I’m very happy about it because with our new facilities last year, we really enjoyed playing at home,” said Guerrero of the number of home games. “To see that we have that many home games, that’s huge for us. We really think highly of that. We’re very appreciative of that.”

HOMECOMING

The first game in the new league will be Norwalk’s homecoming contest and against a school

it has not faced in at least 25 years. On top of that, Lynwood High is the only school from the now defunct SGVL it has not faced over that same time span. The Knights have had six straight losing seasons and the last time they went to the playoffs was 2008.

Norwalk slammed Bellflower High 49-8 in last season’s homecoming game and since 1998, the Lancers have lost nine homecoming games, three of them coming to Bellflower.

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