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2012 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Valley Christian looking to get off to stronger start

By Loren Kopff

4-7 last season, 3-1 in the Olympic League, tied for first place, lost to Azusa 35-14 in the Mid-Valley Division first round
Head coach: Erick Streelman (sixth season, 31-26)
Lost 19 seniors out of 44 from 2011 opening day roster
Last time missed the playoffs: 2010

2012 schedule
Aug. 24 BYE
Aug. 31 Duarte (6-4 last season)
Sept. 8 @ Bishop Diego (11-2)
Sept. 14 Mayfair (7-4)
Sept. 21 @ Ontario Christian (8-3-1)
Sept. 28 Northwood (3-7)
Oct. 5 Rancho Christian (first varsity season)
Oct. 12 @ Village Christian (5-5)
Oct. 19 (HC) Heritage Christian (2-8)
Oct. 26 @ Maranatha (8-3)
Nov.2 Whittier Christian (7-5)

It was somewhat of a case of ‘it’s not how you start but how you finish’ for Valley Christian last season. The Crusaders lost their first four games and five of their first six but rebounded and played for an Olympic League title in their last game of the regular season. Head coach Erick Streelman purposely put together a tough slate for the month of September and the reviews were mixed.
“We had a really tough preseason and that kind of beat us up a little bit,” Streelman said. “You work so hard in the offseason and then you come out and you lose, and you lose and you lose…it gets mentally draining.
“I think it made us a better team,” he later continued. “I think it made us better coaches. I think we, as a team, discovered what we were good at last year. We, as a coaching staff, did a pretty good job of adjusting our game plan with the talent that we had. One of the hardest things about coaching high school football is every year, your personality of the team changes.”
The four victories last season were the fewest in well over 15 seasons but on the other hand, the Crusaders had at least a piece of the league title for the second time in three seasons and fourth time since 2002. Now, with another challenging non league schedule and an experienced group coming back, V.C. is hoping for better results.
Again, because of the likes of Campbell Hall, Mayfair, Northwood, Ontario Christian, St. Bernard and St. Joseph (Santa Maria) on the docket before league action began, the Crusaders managed to score just 28 combined first quarter points through the first seven games last season and Streelman would love to avoid that this season. Patrick Avila returns as the first string quarterback and comes off a season where he threw for 1,824 yards and 16 touchdowns. His backup will be junior Kendahl Jordan, who was the junior varsity signal caller last season.
V.C. had roughly 400 more yards through the air than on the ground in 2011 and both Avila and Jordan will have no shortage of receivers to throw to. Returning are seniors Liam Bestian, Brandon Bynum (44 receptions, 461 yards, eight touchdowns), Walter Dyer, Clayton Granch, Caleb Miller, Anthony Paul and sophomore Kyle Westra. Granch was Avila’s backup last season and will be one tight end this season while Dyer moves from left tackle to be another tight end. Westra becomes a third tight end and was on the j.v. squad last season. Streelman said that Bynum and Paul will be the top two targets.
The running game will feature new guys as the team doesn’t return a running back from last season. The leading candidates will be senior Sebastian Malpica, who was a wide receiver last season and juniors Joseph Martinez and Daryl Richardson, who played right guard last season. The Crusaders also brought in Michael Douglas, a transfer from Serra.
Last season, the Crusaders averaged nearly 25 points a game but were held to 14 points or less five times, all losses. Because of Dyer and Richardson moving to their new positions, the Crusaders will have an entirely new offensive line with Austin Guerrero as the left tackle. Next to him will be senior Stephen Cousineau followed by junior Michael Huchel (center), junior Ryan Amato (right guard) and sophomore Joseph Castanos (right tackle).
It seemed like the scoreboard lights were blowing out last season with all of the points that were being put up, mostly by V.C.’s opponents. The Crusaders allowed at least 30 points eight times including a season-high 63 to St. Joseph (Santa Maria). Streelman said the weakness was the defense being beat on long passes. But he says he’s very confident of his front seven this season.
Dyer and Granch will hold down the defensive line along with seniors Mike Limon and Rodney Van Den Berg, whom Streelman says will be the anchor situated in the middle. Bynum, Jordan, Malpica and Paul are the top guys in the secondary while the main linebackers will be Cousineau, Westra and junior Jeremy Stanley.
The Crusaders will forgo playing in week zero and instead will play 10 straight games without a break. After its home opener against Duarte, V.C. hits the road for three tough games which will tell a little something about the team. The Crusaders haven’t faced Duarte since 2007 and are 5-0 against the Falcons since 2000. The Bishop Diego game will be V.C.’s normal weekend bonding getaway. The program hasn’t faced the Cardinals since 2004. Rancho Christian is a new school which will field its first football team while Heritage Christian is the former Los Angeles Baptist. The homecoming game will be against Heritage Christian, the fourth time since 2004 it has been against the former L.A. Baptist program. The Crusaders are a combined 8-1 at home against their two home league opponents this season and again, the league title could come down to the last game of the season.
“Our preseason is going to be tough but I think they’re all winnable games for us,” Streelman said. “The wild card in that preseason is Rancho Christian. I don’t think there’s an easy game on that schedule.”