_____________________________ ST. NORBERT CHURCH           RATES ________________________


HS FOOTBALL PREVIEW: John Glenn seeking upper portion of Suburban League, Norwalk aims for top spot

By Loren Kopff



4-6 last season, 2-4 in the Suburban League, fifth place
Head coach: Ray Niemann (third season, 6-14)
Lost 14 seniors out of 41 from 2011 opening day roster
Last time made the playoffs: 2002
2012 schedule
Aug. 24 Santa Ana Valley (7-4 last season)
Aug. 31 Pioneer (1-9)
Sept. 7 Bassett (1-9)
Sept. 13 Laguna Beach (10-3)
Sept. 21 BYE
Sept. 28 Cerritos (0-10)
Oct. 5 Bellflower (7-4)
Oct. 12 @ La Mirada (8-5)
Oct. 19 Mayfair (7-4)
Oct. 26 @ Norwalk (3-8)
Nov. 2 @ Artesia (1-9)

For the past three seasons, two under head coach Ray Niemann’s watch, John Glenn has finished either tied for fourth place in the Suburban League or one spot lower. Last season, the Eagles were off to a 3-2 start before tackling the meat of its schedule where they were manhandled by Bellflower, La Mirada, Mayfair and Norwalk. This season, Niemann believes he has the team that can break a nine-year playoff drought. Glenn’s experience should be a positive sign, especially with the reigning league Offensive Player of the Year, senior running back Steven Reed. It was the first time in about 20 years that Glenn had someone win that award.
“The game that haunts me is the Bellflower game,” Niemann said. “We could have done some things defensively that could have changed the outcome of that game too. We’re on that borderline of being good and being ugly. I remember one coach saying, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to beat you by 50 or you’re going to beat us by 50’.”
The Eagles lose former quarterback Anthony Escobar and his 1,708 passing yards to graduation but have a pair of seniors and a sophomore to fill that void. Replacing Escobar as the starter will be Deven Galindo with Rene Gaytan as his backup. Gaytan’s younger sophomore brother, Victor, is the future signal caller for the next couple of years. Galindo and his backups will have no shortage of targets to throw to as Glenn is well stocked with senior wide receivers Ceasar Arzate, David Newman, Albert Trujillo and Cyrus Villena as returners. Villena led the Eagles last season with 45 receptions, 755 yards and seven touchdowns. Arzate checked in with 19 catches, 183 yards and a touchdown.
But where the Eagles will excel will be with the ground game, led by Reed, who cashed in with 1,560 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Joining him will be junior Angel Rochin and sophomore Dominic Enriquez. Junior Antonio Lucero, who picked up 147 yards last season and scored twice, is currently injured and may not play this season.
“He’s better this year than he was last year,” Niemann said of Reed. “His gear changing is a lot better, so he’s more dynamic. He’s starting to understand how to anticipate the blocks. So he sees the whole field and not just what is happening in front of him. He knows where to go and where to finish off.”
The weakness of the offense will be up front as Glenn returns only one lineman-senior right tackle Jorge Zamudio. Seniors Sal Cruz, Ceasar Sosa and Felipe Vasquez are in the mix for spots on the offensive line.
“We’re walking a thin line right now,” Niemann said. “We’re trying to get the right combination together.”
Early on last season, Glenn’s defense was allowing the offense to stay in the games as the Eagles allowed 12 points in the first half through the first five games. However, all of that changed in the second half of the season when Glenn allowed at least 46 points in four straight games.
“We were doing okay and our kids were learning what they were supposed to be learning,” Niemann said. “But once we started to get to the heavy hitters [in league], I found out that the kids’ contact courage wasn’t at the level I thought it would be.”
Cruz, Vasquez, Zamudio along with junior Anthony Uribe and sophomore Trevon Holloway will occupy the line while the secondary will be loaded with Arzate, Galindo, Gaytan, Lucero, Newman, Reed, Trujillo and Villena. Niemann added that the emphasis of the secondary will be to get “those speed demons over to the ball”.
Senior Abel Landa is the only experienced returning linebacker.
Glenn won’t have to worry about putting on its white road jerseys until Oct. 12 when the team travels to La Mirada. But the Eagles will be tested in at least three of their four non league games. Niemann says he expects to see a St. Paul High School-type of offense, one with a power game, when his team faces Pioneer, which won just one game in 2011. Glenn has won two in a row over Artesia and has scored 96 points against the Pioneers in the past three meetings. But the Eagles have lost at least 14 straight to La Mirada and Mayfair, 11 straight to Bellflower and nine straight to Norwalk.
3-8 last season, 3-3 in the Suburban League, fourth place, lost to West Covina 38-8 in Southeast Division first round
Head coach: Jesse Ceniceros (fifth season, 29-20)
Lost 20 seniors out of 43 from 2011 opening day roster
Last time missed the playoffs: 2006
2012 schedule
Aug. 24 @ Cabrillo (7-4 last season)
Aug. 31 Diamond Bar (4-6)
Sept. 7 @ Warren (1-8-1)
Sept. 14 Whittier (5-5)
Sept. 21 @ La Mirada (8-5)
Sept. 28 @ Artesia (1-9)
Oct. 5 @ Mayfair (7-4)
Oct. 12 Bellflower (7-4)
Oct. 19 BYE
Oct. 26 John Glenn (4-6)
Nov. 2 Cerritos (0-10)
Partly because Norwalk had one of its most brutal non league slates in recent memory and partly because it had a young team, the Lancers stumbled to their worst record since 2005. However, head coach Jesse Ceniceros managed to win the games he needed to in the Suburban League and take his team back to the playoffs. But if it wasn’t for a pair of back to back one-point overtime losses to Mayfair and Bellflower in the middle of the season, Norwalk would have played for a league title on the last game of the regular season. Now, the Lancers are more experienced and ready to contend for a league title.
“It was a long season for sure,” Ceniceros said. “It wasn’t just those two games. But coming into the season, we just didn’t have a very good offseason. We didn’t have very good leadership with our senior guys and I think we kind of let that slide away from us before our season even started.”
Norwalk had 43 players when it hosted Los Alamitos in its first game last season. But one year later, Ceniceros is projecting around 34-35 players for its first game at Long Beach Cabrillo.
Norwalk got off to a slow start last season, scoring 14 points each against Los Alamitos, Cypress and Colony, and only six against St. Paul. But the team is much stronger because of its double wing set led by junior Rashaad Penny, the youngest of the three Penny running backs to have passed through the program within the past five years. Penny rushed for 748 yards and scored 12 touchdowns as a sophomore. He also scored on kickoff returns of 99 yards against Artesia and 95 yards against John Glenn.
“Rashaad is probably one of the best athletes that I’ve ever coached,” Ceniceros said. “He had an offseason that was amazing. He’s doing some stuff out there that…he’s going to be picked up [by a NCAA college]; I think he’ll sign after his junior year.”
Ceniceros added that Penny is more of a natural style runner and is a lot faster than his older brother Elijhaa, who graduated in 2010. Returning in the backfield is senior Bryan Sullivan. Senior Malcolm McAllister, who transferred from Maryland late last season, will be the fullback.
One major change in the offense centers on the quarterback position where senior Jacquise Hooper takes over. Hooper was the second leading rusher on the team last season with 509 yards on 80 carries. Backing him up will be junior Angel Diaz.
“He’s an athlete, he’s fast, he can run and he can throw,” Ceniceros said. “He just adds another little wrinkle to our offense. He’s going to make things happen.”
The tight ends will be senior Eduardo Limon, who was the left guard last season, and sophomore Rodrigo Sanchez, who stands at 6’ 3”, 280. The offensive line will be handled by senior left tackle Andy Rivera, senior right tackle Isheiko McLaine and junior right guard Louie Hernandez, who was the center last season. The other two positions will be filled by junior Aaron Armendarez and sophomores Dillon Faamatau and Gabriel Silva, who is 6’4”, 330.
“We’re just a year older,” Ceniceros said. “Last year we took some bumps and bruises. We were really young. We’re smarter overall than we were last year.”
Norwalk allowed 165 points in its first three games last season and surrendered nearly 400 points overall. That number shouldn’t be as high in 2012. Faamatau, Hernandez, Limon and McLaine will be the top guys on the line along with junior nose guard Xavier Feury, the younger brother of McAllister. The latter was also a nose guard late last season and runs a 4.7, 40-yard dash. The secondary will be headlined by senior David Nicholas, junior Nicholas Fernandez, Hooper, Penny and Sullivan while the top linebackers will be senior Michael Mora, junior Matt Ortega and Armendarez.
“Where we’re different from last year is we’re confident,” Ceniceros said. “We’re confident because of the experience that we have. What I love about this year is we’re flying under the radar. Nobody is saying anything about us. That’s fine.”
Gone is Los Alamitos, which outscored the Lancers 104-14 the last two seasons. Missing from the docket is Cypress, which beat Norwalk by a combined score of 75-20 the past two seasons. And the Lancers, who beat St. Paul 24-21 in 2010 also dropped the Swordsmen after they routed Norwalk 48-6 last season. The first four games are more respectable for the team Norwalk will field this season with only Cabrillo advancing to the playoffs. The league title may be decided as early as Sept. 21 when Norwalk visits La Mirada. The Lancers have knocked off the Matadores once in the past seven meetings at Goodman Stadium, which came in 2008 in a 41-24 decision. The back end of Norwalk’s schedule is more favorable with three straight home games and a bye. Still, the Lancers are only 8-6 against Artesia and 7-7 against Cerritos since 1998.
“It’s not as tough as the last two years,” Ceniceros said of his non league slate. “But again, we’re playing a Division I team in Cabrillo. We have Warren out of the San Gabriel Valley League, which had a strong team for a few years.
“Every year, [making the playoffs is] our goal,” Ceniceros added. “Like I tell the kids, the first 10 games is preseason for us. Once we get to the postseason, then that’s the real season for us. That’s something that they’ve really bought into and they believe in.”