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Loren Kopff’s 2023 FOOTBALL PREVIEW – Cerritos banking on its defense to take care of the offense, win another 605 League title

Cerritos high school logo, don

July 26, 2023

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


5-6 overall last season, 3-0 in the 605 League, first place, lost to Colton High 42-41 in the Division 13 first round playoffs

18-28 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Demel Franklin (first season)

Lost 10 seniors out of 39 players from 2022 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2019

2023 schedule

Aug. 18           Buena Park (3-7 overall last season)

Aug. 25           @ Woodbridge (5-6)             

Aug. 31           Portola (4-8)                           

Sept. 8            BYE

Sept. 15          West Torrance (5-6)              

Sept. 22          @ Westminster (10-2)

Sept. 29          Chino (6-6)                             

Oct. 6              @ Gahr (3-7)

Oct. 12            John Glenn (2-7)

Oct. 19            @ Artesia (1-8-1)

Oct. 26            Pioneer (4-7)                          

Demel Franklin has been associated with Cerritos High football since 2017 when he was the head coach of its freshman/sophomore team. Now, Franklin embarks on his first coaching gig at any varsity level. He replaces Brad Carter, who put the Dons program back on the map with a career mark of 13-13 in two full seasons, plus the shortened Covid season. Before that, the program had won 13 games from 2013-2018 under three head coaches.

“It’s something that I actually dreamed of and worked towards,” said Franklin. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to come to fruition. I did my time, paid my dues and the opportunity presented itself. I’m more than grateful.”

Before coming to Cerritos, Franklin had coached at Beckman High, Bellflower High and Costa Mesa High. Since Franklin has been at Cerritos the past several seasons, the transition to head coach is the easiest anyone can have because he knows and has coached many of the 2023 varsity players. If that’s not good enough, Franklin has also been the president of the Cerritos Steelers youth football organization, and a coach there, where some of the high school players began their football days.

Franklin hopes to keep the Dons perched at the top of the 605 League where they have won nine straight league contests after going winless in league action the previous four seasons. To put that into perspective, Cerritos won a combined nine Suburban League games from 2005-2015. Last season was the second straight 5-6 campaign with a first round loss in the CIF-Southern Section playoffs. The program had not had consecutive playoff seasons since 2000-2001.

“I think what went right was those kids worked their butt off,” said Franklin of last season. “Whatever we asked them to do, they did. They showed up, whether it was really hot, really cold, early [or] late. We kept changing our workout program and they kept showing up.

“What didn’t work out was injuries took a toll,” he continued. “We just didn’t have any depth, so once you lose a starter, it was like, ‘wow’. You lose three or four starters, now you have backups in, and it just took its toll. We could never get back in front of the eight-ball.”


The Cerritos offense scored 277 points last season, including 128 in the last three games against Pioneer High, John Glenn High and Colton High. Last season’s quarterback was Jake Bautista, who completed 52 of 80 passes for 673 yards and five touchdowns. He has since transferred to Long Beach Jordan High and now, senior Julian Morales, sophomores Jacob Hoosac and Justin Sagun and freshmen Alexander Laurin and Uriah Archie are in the mix to be the next starting quarterback.

Franklin said it is a concern that those five vying for the quarterback spot don’t have any varsity game experience and you don’t know what they’re going to do when the lights go on or when the game time is big. 

“But that’s what I get paid to do, so we’re going to figure it out,” he added. “If that means we’re going to be three yards and a cloud of dust, then that’s what it is. We’re going to make sure we put some points up so we can have a chance to win these games.” 

Last season, the Dons were fortunate to have four solid ground gainers and when one or even two went down with an injury, the others would step up. Two of those four-senior Josh Park (58, 271, three touchdowns) and junior Dikshanta Adhikari (50, 217, four touchdowns)-are back this season. They figure to get even more touches as last season’s leading rusher, junior Kalib Moran (149, 799, 14 touchdowns), has also transferred out. 

If Cerritos is going to be more of a passing team this season, Adhikari (18 receptions, 155 yards, one touchdown) and Park (14 receptions, 254 yards, one touchdown) will be the focal points. Joining them will be senior Diego Martinez and juniors Ruben Castro and John Lim.

Franklin said the team has done a lot of pass-catching throughout the summer, getting into a lot of seven-on-seven tournaments so the players can develop their hands at the same time. He added that the program has a new strength conditioning program, spearheaded by Tyrone Pulley.

Vying for the left tackle position is possibly senior Willian Peterson, who was the right guard last season. Franklin says there is still some shuffling of players on the line and that they will go with the best five guys. In the mix for left tackle will be sophomores Chidubem Ozoagu, a transfer who stands at 6’2”, 256 pounds, and Devion Stinson. Peterson will also be contending for the right guard job while at left guard, it figures to be Nathanael Marcroft, a 6’2”, 275 pound sophomore. Rounding out the remainder of the line will be junior center Jonathan Avendano or junior center Luis Lopez, while Stinson could also move to right tackle. Junior Raiden Resurreccion is another candidate to be a lineman.

“What I like [about our offense] is our versatility; our explosiveness,” said Franklin. “We can get into whatever. We can go empty, we can get into multiple tight end sets, we can go three backs. We can do anything that we want to do. What I’m not loving is our consistency. We’ll have a couple of good days, then start going downhill. If we can get consistent, I think we’ll be a player in this league for sure.”


Even though the Dons allowed 257 points last season, including six games of over 40 points, the defense had solid players who are back this season. Leading the way on the line will be seniors Jeremiah Bagaygay (69 tackles, eight sacks), Crawford (103 tackles) and Sam Marcroft (25 tackles, two and a half sacks), sophomore Bailey Crawford (32 tackles, five sacks), Nathaniel Marcroft, Ozoagu and Peterson. Joining them will be another transfer, sophomore Makai Ortiz from Gahr High. Franklin is quick to add that Cerritos will have depth on the line which is something the program has never had. 

“I preach depth at every position,” he said. “I never want the cupboard to be empty and we lose 12 seniors and all of them are starters and then we have a bunch of fresh guys coming in. so, the backups are going to [their] reps and we’re going to make sure [they’re] on par with the starters.”

In the secondary will be senior strong safety Gabe Gaudi (55 tackles) and Martinez (32 tackles) as the top returners. In the mix at free safety will be sophomore Michael Quibrantar with senior Tracy Carson and sophomore Elijah Washington as the cornerbacks. Junior Marnell Smith, whom Franklin calls ‘dynamic’ can play safety or cornerback and Castro can also play either position. 

If he is not on the line, Nathaniel Crawford, junior Devyn Chantha (27 tackles), Bagaygay and Mendoza are expected to be the top returning linebackers with sophomore Tyler Ky and Hoosac joining them at any time. Again, the depth Cerritos has will allow players to be interchangeable on the defensive side.

“I think any championship team is defensive-led, and I make sure that our team knows that the defense will take us where we need to go,” said Franklin. “Offense has to do their part, but the defense has to take care of them so we have a very aggressive nature. We’re very physical and we’re definitely in shape.”


The Dons will be tested throughout the season as six of their opponents went to playoffs last season, half of them losing in the quarterfinals. But only one team had a winning record in 2022, that being Westminster High, a Division 11 team. Franklin calls the season opener against Buena Park High somewhat of a rivalry game because of the proximity. He knows Buena Park’s head coach and among other things, is a physical team. Last season, Cerritos lost to the Coyotes 48-21 in the opener. The first three games of the season are a repeat of last season with the locations opposite of 2022. Coming out their bye, the Dons get into the teeth of their schedule and of those three, Cerritos faced Chino High, another Division 11 team, last season and lost 34-14. Even the longstanding city rivalry game with Gahr will be tough as the Gladiators were tri-champions of the Mid-Cities League. This might be one of the toughest non-league schedules Cerritos has had in the past couple of decades.

“It’s very important because that’s how we kind of gauge ourselves,” said Franklin. “It gets us ready for the playoffs because as you can see, the last two years in the playoffs, we came up short and in heartbreaking fashion. If we can get those challenges during the season, I can see who’s going to be ready for those challenges and who’s not so we can make those adjustments. So, by the time we get to that playoff game and so forth, if we make it, then I know what we have.”

When it comes to the league, Franklin says it’s going to be interesting because you can’t say you have film on them as he and Artesia High’s first-year head coach Connor Crook are coming from the lower levels and John Glenn High’s head coach is a rookie in Elijhaa Penny, a former running back in the National Football League. 

“In any sport, until the champion is knocked off, everybody is coming for you,” said Franklin. “Whether we have transfers in or out, people are still going to come for us. They don’t care if we have a new head coach. They don’t care if we have kids who haven’t been there before. They’re coming for us, and we have to be prepared for them.”


Cerritos was trounced by Troy High 49-6 in last season’s homecoming game and will draw Division 9 West Torrance High this season for the special game. This will be the fourth straight homecoming game against a non-league opponent and overall, the Dons haven’t had much success in such games. They have lost seven straight homecoming games, 10 of the last 11 and 15 of the last 18 games. Since 1998, Cerritos has been victorious in half a dozen homecoming games.


“I’ve put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself, my staff and our kids,” said Franklin. “This is something I’ve wanted and the fact that the administration has the confidence to put me in this position is great. I’m not going to let them down. I’ll make sure that I work very, very hard 

And those kids are going to work really hard. I think that we’re going to surprise a lot of people with what we do and how we do it. We’re going to be very, very disciplined.”