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2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Norwalk strides to be a tougher team after an early exit in the postseason

By Loren Kopff
@Loren Kopff on Twitter

 

NORWALK LANCERS

7-4 overall last season, 4-2 in the Suburban League, third place, lost to El Rancho High 42-26 in the Division 9 first round

41-18 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Otis Harrison (third season, 12-10)

Lost nine seniors out of 59 players from 2016 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2006

2017 schedule

Aug. 25           El Rancho (5-7 overall last season)

Sept. 1            @ Long Beach Jordan (4-6)

Sept. 8            @ Bell Gardens (2-8)

Sept. 15          Dominguez (1-9)

Sept. 22          @ Bellflower (2-8)

Sept. 29          John Glenn (2-8)

Oct. 6              @ La Mirada (11-3)

Oct. 13            Mayfair (6-5)

Oct. 19            @ Cerritos (2-7)

Oct. 27            BYE

Nov. 3             Artesia (6-4)

It’s one thing to play high school football. Then there’s the way that Norwalk High head coach Otis Harrison would like to see his players approach the game, which is for the love. Despite a 7-4 season in 2016, which included the school’s 10th straight trip to the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section playoffs, Harrison said he is trying to get the players to reestablish the love for the game.

“What went right is we had a pretty good offseason lifting,” Harrison said. “For me, at 7-3, I feel like we left some things out there. Training and coaching guys how to have a championship program takes a lot of work. I’m really hard on myself and I just know we have to get a lot tougher.

“Every night, you have a play call that makes a difference,” he continued. “For the most part, you have to have guys who love the game of football. There’s two types of brave guys that I’m finding out; guys who are brave enough to stay out there and play and guys who are brave enough to take it to them.”

Harrison added that he knows that no one can revamp a program in two years unless the program is already built. Among the major problems last season, Harrison admitted there were guys lining up the wrong way and not even asking the quarterback for clarity. On top of that, the team had a high number of penalties, even in blowout victories. But Harrison is quick to say that the penalty situation was twofold.

“That was by far one of the worst officiating seasons I’ve been privy to in my life,” Harrison said. “We had enough stuff wrong with ourselves. Coaching had more to do with the wins last year than players just wanting to go out there and play hard. So, I want to look like the other coaches where I know I’m getting at least the best out of everybody. That’s what really bothers me.”

OFFENSE

As has been the case for the better part of the last decade, the Norwalk offense will center around a Penny. This time, it’s junior quarterback Brionne Penny, whom Harrison believes can be the best quarterbacks in the state. The 6’3”, 190 lb. signal caller runs a 4.5 flat and last season, passed for 764 yards and threw seven touchdowns, but added another 306 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

“We’ve extended some things to extenuate some of his talents,” Harrison said. “He’s matured in the offseason and he’s really looking forward to [the season]. I think what makes a difference in a lot of these kids’ lives is when they actually do start talking to colleges and hearing from them. It gives you motivation; you’re not feeling like it’s wasted. You get to see some of your fruits of your labor. That’s been him this offseason.”

Senior A. J. Morales and junior Jonathan Armas will backup Penny. The running back department will be handled by seniors Daniel Faamatau (217 yards, two touchdowns last season), Josh Martinez (290 yards, three touchdowns) and Andrew Navarro (320 yards, five touchdowns), with senior Etieni Valele as the fullback. Freshman Warren Tayou, who hails from Cameroon and stands at six feet, 200 pounds, won’t get to see the varsity team this season but is one in the program to keep an eye on for the future.

Senior Billy Moore, who was limited to 174 yards in just four games, is coming off an ACL/MCL injury and will start on defense at strong safety rather in the backfield. Harrison said he is a little reserved about playing him at running back because he is so valuable on defense and plus, the Lancers are stocked with other options in the backfield.

Senior Jonathan Tovar, junior Tyrese Allen, a transfer who is related to Penny, is a highly skilled receiver, according to Harrison, and Martinez are among Penny’s top targets this season.

Up on the offensive line will be seniors Gabe Guzman or Matthew Hurtado at left tackle with the other playing on the right side, Valele at left guard when he is not carrying the rock, senior Jordan Rodriguez or sophomore Nathan Ramos at center and sophomore right guard Franklyn Flores.

Last season, the Lancers scored at least 20 points nine times with two of their four losses by a single point. Harrison believes this season’s offense is even better than the one in 2016, which scored 314 and those who have followed Norwalk football for the past decade knows that the Lancers can score in bunches.

“I like it better because the average size of every single guy is at least 250 pounds,” Harrison said. “So, even if you run the wrong way, that tends to move people a little bit more than guys that weigh 185. And I really appreciate them for giving me everything they have.”

DEFENSE

Except for a 62-0 loss to La Mirada High and a 42-26 setback to El Rancho in the playoffs, the Norwalk defense held its own for the most part, yielding under 20 points seven times. Hurtado and Rodriguez are the top two guys on the line while Valele (33 tackles last season) will play both linebacker and some tackle because Harrison says he wants the defense to be faster.

Faamatau (30 tackles, five sacks) and Martinez (40 tackles, two sacks) will play outside linebacker with junior Jonathan Armas will be at one of the end spots, and senior Mario Parks at the other end. Senior Mark Vera will also see some time at linebacker.

Navarro will be the other safety alongside Moore with Allen and Tovar as the cornerbacks. Senior Joseph Rodriguez, who started eight or nine games last season, is also back at safety and will play in the box a lot, according to Harrison.

SCHEDULE

On paper, the first six games look very good for the Lancers and a 6-0 start would go a very long way. But Harrison isn’t thinking that way, noting that the team split with El Rancho last season with the home team losing. All non-league opponents are the same as that of last season with Norwalk making a return trip to Bell Gardens High, a team it blasted 41-0.

“We can’t base anything off of last year because everybody is trying to be better,” Harrison said. “Nobody goes into the offseason saying, ‘let’s get worse’. So, I don’t think we can go, ‘we beat them last year’. We can’t go like that. It has to be one game at a time. El Rancho beat us the last time and I think it will be a great barometer to see where we think are. I like the schedule because all the teams have good coaching staffs.”

Norwalk has gone 4-2 or better in Suburban League action in eight of the last 10 seasons, including the last five. The middle of the league slate will be a test to see if the Lancers can make a strong statement not only in the league, but in the division. Over the past 19 seasons, the Lancers have a combined 14 wins against Bellflower High, La Mirada and Mayfair High while they have defeated the other three league teams 40 times. The two wins Norwalk has over La Mirada since 1998 have both been on the road (2008, 2013).

HOMECOMING

It would only be fitting that the final game, potentially, that Norwalk and John Glenn High play against each other in the regular season would be Norwalk’s homecoming game. The two longtime city rivals, who play for the Mayor’s Trophy, may not see each other on the gridiron after this season as Glenn will begin a new chapter next season in the 605 League.

“Well it sounds like it is, to me,” Harrison admitted on this being the final game between the two. “I think I might be a little different. I feel so bad for public high schools in general. My affinity for public high schools goes way beyond even our rivalry. You start looking around at a lot of leagues that have lost rivalries because of demands on preseason games being tougher or because they’ve left [leagues]. I think it’s going to be monumental because this league has been established as it has been for at least the past 15 years.”

Norwalk has heavily dominated this rivalry, winning 14 straight with six shutouts and other three games in which the defense allowed single digits. Last season, the teams played to a scoreless first quarter and the game was tied 7-7 at halftime. Norwalk, which has won four straight homecoming games and nine of its last 11, would finish with a 46-14 victory. This will be the fourth time the rivals have met on Norwalk’s homecoming but the first since 2002, a 14-3 Glenn victory.

DIVISION 9

El Rancho, Long Beach Jordan High and Mayfair are in the same division as the Lancers and the team will face five other opponents in lower divisions. Had Norwalk defeated El Rancho in the first round last season, it would have hosted eventual Division 9 champion Valley Christian High.

“I know very little about the division because I really don’t understand how they’re made up,” Harrison said. “I just think we have to play who’s in front of us. That’s all I can really say because I’m sure there’s a team in Division 9 who should be in Division 4 and I’m sure there’s a team in Division 4 who should.be down there with [a team in a lower division].

“The biggest thing that I have is I have to see every phase,” Harrison later said. “So, this year I’m not coming out with any predictions or anything. I know both sides can be better. I want to see the plays get in quicker, I want to see us be more efficient and I don’t want to punt the ball unless we got at least one first down.

 

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