____________________________ RATES       _______________________________ RATES ________________________

Socialize

2022 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Gahr hopes that its new field, league will bring brighter days to program

By Loren Kopff

@LorenKopff on Twitter

GAHR GLADIATORS

1-9 overall last season, 1-4 in the San Gabriel Valley League, fifth place

16-31 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Greg Marshall (20th season, 91-101)

Lost 11 seniors from 2021 roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

2022 schedule

Aug. 19BYE

Aug. 26​  Valley Christian (7-3 overall last season)

Sept. 2​  Heritage Christian (5-6)

Sept. 9​  Garden Grove (7-4)

Sept. 16​  Santa Ana Valley (2-8)

Sept. 22​  @ Crean Lutheran (1-9)

Sept. 30​  @ Bellflower (2-7)

Oct. 6​​  @ Cerritos (5-6)

Oct. 14​  Firebaugh (1-9)

Oct. 21​  @ Norwalk (6-5)

Oct. 28​  Lynwood (3-7)

It goes without saying that the pandemic hurt everyone in one way or another. For the Gahr High program, it hit pretty hard last season when the Gladiators had to cancel a home game against Mayfair High to begin the season, then cancelled road games against Heritage Christian High two weeks later and Warren High late in the season. While Gahr was able to play an unscheduled contest withValley Christian High to conclude the season, very little went right for head coach Greg Marshall and the team he assembled in his 19th season.

“It was a Covid season,” he said. “We never really even got started because of Covid. We had 17 kids the first week of practice. So, everybody is out, then we get them back and then we get Covid again. We shouldn’t have even played the Garden Grove game because we had some kids come back that day.

After the cancellation of the Mayfair game on Aug. 20, Gahr hosted North Torrance High the next week before cancelling the Heritage Christian contest. Six days later was the trek to Garden Grove High. Marshall says he has a much healthier team now than he did at this point a year ago, but the program has lost some players who have moved out of the area or for academic reasons.

“We had a lot of sophomores playing last year,” he added. “We have some holes that we’re trying to fill here. But the numbers are good and we’re just going to be inexperienced. We just are.

But that was last season and this season, the program can look for what it thinks can be better days ahead as the Gladiators are in the Mid-Cities League of the new Suburban Valley Conference, a merger of the San Gabriel Valley League and Suburban League. Then, the school is getting field turf installed at Dr. Hanford Rants Stadium along with a new all-weather track surface. While the team will play the first couple of home games on the road, Marshall can finally smile at what he sees in the near future for his program.

OFFENSE

Gahr had its worst season since going winless in the 2001 campaign and was shutout bad in its first five games. The Gladiators only scored against Lynwood High on Oct. 14 and against V.C. in a 34-14 contest. Junior Ethan Whiteman, who played the first few games last season at the lower levels before blowing out his knee, has been tabbed the team’s starting quarterback with senior Tyvon McGirt as his backup. Gahr was planning on someone else to be the starter, but because of grades, Whitman, who is more of a running quarterback, won the job by default, according to Marshall.

Juniors Kalen Montgomery (running back) and Noah Taylor, who will be used more of an H-fullback, are slated to be the top ground gainers while McGirt, who will also see some carries, and Evan Spurlin-Renfroe will be the top two receivers. Marshall has also moved some downlinemen down to the tight end position, including senior Anthony Rodriguez and junior Calvin Thomas.

The rest of the offense rounds out with senior left tackle Tristen Contreras, junior left guard Giovanni Orona, junior center Izaya Samonte, senior right guard Marcell Frazier and senior right tackle Jason Jackson.

“I think the offense is going to be better,” said Marshall. “They’ll have a better opportunity because we’re playing more equal competition, I think. I think that our games, whoever we’re playing, are going to be like us, look like us; probably will have similar issues.

I just think we’ve had practice time and we’ve had the same system,” he later said. “When you put something in and it stays in, you can adjust a little bit without revampingthe whole thing [and] the kids understand it. It has to be better because it can’t get any worse.

Despite the offensive struggles of last season, Marshall wasn’t disappointed at all, citing that his starting quarterback transferred out the week before camp started, plus the two weeks of the Covid issues.

DEFENSE

In the seven games played on the field, Gahr allowed over 50 points three times and over 40 points two other times.Less than two weeks before Gahr’s season opener, Marshall didn’t know which way he was going to go when talking about his defensive line. He did say Rodriguez and senior Tuini Mataele will start at the end positions withContreras and Frazier, the latter being a nose guard, also being two-way players.

Contreras, when he’s not on the line, will be one of the linebackers along with junior Brendan Martinez and Taylor, who will split time at weak inside linebacker and Thomas, who will occupy the outside strong position. The secondary will be handled by safeties McGirt and Montgomery and cornerbacks Spurlin-Renfroe and sophomore Markell Slaughter.

We lost some guys off the defense last year, and I think these kids have been working really hard,” said Marshall. “I think Tristen will probably end up being a true linebacker; I think he’ll make a lot of plays. And the corners with Markell and Evan…they’re going to be legit corners. Once again, everyone has an opportunity to know what they’re supposed to be doing and why they’re there. They have a position, and they understand the scheme.”

For Gahr not to duplicate the defensive woes of allowing over 40 and 50 points, Marshall said the offense has to score early and keep the ball moving so the defense isn’t on the field as much.

SCHEDULE

Thanks to the merger of the SGVL and Suburban League, there are four schools the Gladiators don’t have to worry about for the time being. Gone from the schedule are games against Downey High, whom Gahr went 1-18 against since 1998. Don’t expect to see Dominguez High anytime soon, as the Dons won 15 of 20 games against Gahr since 1998. For added measure, scrapped from the docket are former league rivals Paramount High and Warren, who combined to defeat the Gladiators 27 out of the past 38 meetings.

Now, Gahr is in its best comfort zone, at least on paper, in a long time playing the likes of Firebaugh High and old SGVL holdover Lynwood. Mix in newcomers Bellflower High and Norwalk High and the Gladiators have a chance to finish in the middle to the top of the Mid-Cities League.

“I’ve got to believe we have a great shot versus Lynwood and Firebaugh,” said Marshall. “Rather than having to play up for five games, I think we’re really going to be challenged for two and we need to play well for two. We can go 3-1 [in league], 2-2 [or] 4-0 if we’re lucky. It would be really tough for us if we were in the San Gabriel Valley League this year.

The first four games of the season are home games however the Valley Christian and Heritage Christian contests will be on the road as Gahr’s new field turf surface won’t be ready in time.

“I’ve got to believe the Valley and Heritage games will be whoever plays best, wins,” said Marshall. “It’s not going to be like, ‘we might be over our heads’. I think all our games are going to be just football games. Garden Grove might be a little bit of a step up. I know Santa Ana Valley has a pretty good running back. But once again, is it like the schedules we’ve had in the past? No. If we stay healthy and have consistent quarterback play, I think we can be in all those football games.”

Since 2002, Gahr has a 6-1 record against V.C. and the program won three games against Norwalk from 2003-2005 when it was a freelance team. A week after the league opener against Bellflower, whom the Gladiators have won three straight games against, the city rivalry with Cerritos High is renewed. The Gladiators have won 14 of 20 meeting since 1998 including the last 13 against their ABC Unified School District rivals. The last time they faced each other was in 2017 and Gahr easily handled the Dons 48-0. During the 13-game winning streak, Gahr posted seven shutouts and held Cerritos to just one touchdown in five other games.

“The kids are excited about that; everyone is excited about that,” said Marshall. “It’s just a shame we haven’t done that for a couple of years. Win or lose, you want to play your rival. They were losing [to us] but they were still good. Was there a better game for them to play? I don’t understand. But that’s their choice.

The problem is our kids don’t even know what that game is like,” he continued. “I think it’s going to be good for [the city of] Cerritos kids. They have a game where the city is interested in, and a lot of people are going to come out and see it. How could you not have that game?”

Marshall believes that with the team he has this season, a 5-5 record would be a good season, but a 6-4 mark would be great. If the Gladiators can sweep Firebaugh and Lynwood and get at least a win against either Bellflower or Norwalk, both of whom run the double wing offense, that would put Gahr in a great position to claim second place.

HOMECOMING

In a rare occasion for high schools, Gahr’s homecoming game will be its last home game of the season. Out of all the old SGVL opponents, Gahr has had the most success against Lynwood, going 13-6 against the Knights since 1998, including the last six in a row. Gahr’s homecoming game last season was against V.C. and the Gladiators have lost their last three homecoming contests and seven of the last eight. This will be the fourth time since 2008 Gahr has had Lynwood for its homecoming opponent, winning every outing.

Have a comment?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.