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Loren Kopff’s 2023 Football Preview-Improved, Experienced Gahr Squad Eyes Rare Outright League Title

By Loren Kopff • @LorenKopff on Twitter


3-7 overall last season, 3-1 in the Mid-Cities League, tri-champions

11-34 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Greg Marshall (21st season, 94-108)

Lost 15 seniors out of 44 players from 2022 opening day roster

Last time made the playoffs: 2019

2023 schedule

Aug. 18           BYE

Aug. 25           @ Valley Christian (6-8 overall last season)          

Sept. 1            Ocean View (2-8)

Sept. 8            @ Garden Grove (10-2)                                            

Sept. 15          @ Santa Ana Valley (9-3)                                          

Sept. 22          Crean Lutheran (10-2)                                  

Sept. 29          Bellflower (11-3)                                                        

Oct. 6              Cerritos (5-6)                                                             

Oct. 13            @ Firebaugh (2-7)

Oct. 20            Paramount (1-9)

Oct. 27            @ Lynwood (9-5)                                                       

On paper, this has the makings of a special season for Gahr High, even though the Gladiators won three games last season, all coming in the inaugural Mid-Cities League. Despite tying Bellflower High and Norwalk High for the top spot, Gahr lost the coin flip and sat home while Bellflower was playing for the CIF-Southern Section Division 11 championship and Norwalk was playing a 12thgame. Injuries curtailed the Gladiators early in the season and had to revamp their game plans on the fly.

“We had lost a lot of kids from the year before for whatever reasons,” said Gahr head coach Greg Marshall. “We knew going in [last season] it was going to be rebuilding [season] because we had a lot of first time players, which is fine. But I think the biggest thing was the competition that we ended up playing was a lot better than I thought it was. I think [almost] every team we played made the playoffs and won a playoff game, except for Cerritos. They should have won theirs. We were playing good teams and we were down.”

Marshall also has a chance to pick up a milestone victory as he six wins away from reaching 100 for his career at Gahr. In his time at Gahr, Marshall has won at least six games in a season seven times, the last coming in 2017 when the Gladiators finished 8-3 and came in third place in the defunct San Gabriel Valley League. Marshall has guided the Gladiators to the playoffs just five times with his best season coming in 2007 when Gahr won 10 games and advanced to the semifinals.

“I should,” said Marshall when asked if he gets his 100th victory this season. “I was talking to Mark Williams, who is the old Lynwood coach and is going to come back and coach with me. All I want to get is one CIF championship because we did all that work in the San Gabriel Valley League playing those teams and coaching our ass off and no one appreciated how tough that was. He asked me, ‘you guys are in a better league now, right’? And now it’s possible.”


Gahr scored just 160 points last season, but 102 came in the last three weeks against Firebaugh High, Norwalk and Lynwood High. But all major components from last season return this season, bigger and better with senior Frank Williams leading the way at the quarterback position. Williams was in the secondary last season where he had 15 tackles and a sack. Last season’s quarterback, senior Ethan Whiteman, goes back to his original position on defense as a linebacker. Sophomore Roman Acosta will be the backup to Williams.

Senior Kalen Montgomery, who wasn’t supposed to be a starting running back last season, shined with his 75 carries, 564 yards and five touchdowns.  He is expected to be the focal point in the backfield and Marshall believes he can be a 1,000-yard running back this season. Montgomery, who had never been a running back before last season, has a clue of what he is doing, according to Marshall, and as he put it, ‘should have a good year’.

But the talent doesn’t end there as Gahr is stocked and loaded with its skill players and all of them can and will catch the ball along with running the pigskin.  Seniors Evan Spurlin-Renfroe and Noah Taylor (26 carries, 92 yards) and junior Markell Slaughter will complement Montgomery and will be wide receivers at times. Last season, Montgomery caught a pair of passes for 36 yards. Spurlin-Renfroe (19 for 173 yards and two touchdowns) and Taylor (11 for 84 yards and a touchdown) were productive. Senior Calvin Thomas, a tight end, sophomore Alexander Gutierrez and Acosta will also be called upon to be on the receiving end of some passes.

Junior left tackle Alejandro Duenas, sophomore left guard Marc Saldana, senior center Izaya Samonte, junior right guard Cameron Frossard, and senior right tackle Jonathan Mathai will round out the offense. If necessary, senior Brendan Martinez or junior Isaiah Portillo will fill in at right guard, according to Marshall. 

“We didn’t lose anyone, which is great,” said Marshall. “I think we can throw it [and] run it. We have multiple running backs and multiple receivers, so I think offensively, we should be pretty explosive.

“Obviously, we couldn’t throw it last year and Kalen was learning,” he continued. “We were trying to find ourselves last year. But like I said, the competition was a little stiffer than what I thought it was going to be.”


For the first time since 2016, Gahr’s defense allowed less than 300 points as the Gladiators surrendered 218 points, and three opponents reached over 40 points against the blue and gold. If there is one weakness on this side of the ball, it’s the defensive line, which will be all new. Senior Giovanni Orona will occupy the nose guard position while Duenas and Mathai will rotate on the ends with Taylor and Thomas at the weakside ends. 

The secondary is solid with senior Ahmeer Barner, Montgomery (20 tackles), Slaughter (14 tackles), Spurlin-Renfroe (14 tackles) and Thomas (19 tackles) all back from last season and returning as linebackers are Martinez (38 tackles), Portillo (49 tackles) and Taylor (19 tackles). Others who are in the mix as outside linebackers will be Whiteman, who returns from his original position from 2021, seniors Gabriel Mariscal-Isleib and Royal Nwoso, who was a cornerback last season, and junior Ja’shon Wallace.

“The hole is the defensive line,” said Marshall. “If Kalen or Evan need a rest, we have guys who can come in. We’ll be fine; they don’t need to play the whole game. I think we can do a lot with [our secondary] dropping down. All our better teams, we’ve had really good tackling safeties and I think Kalen and Evan are going to do that for us.”


Once again, Gahr will go 10 straight weeks as its bye will be at the beginning of the season. The Gladiators will then open with Valley Christian High as they did last season, hoping to avenge a 42-9 defeat. Last season’s game with the Defenders was at their place as Rants Stadium was still getting its new turf put in. Gahr wore their home jerseys last season but not the case this season. Gahr replaces Heritage Christian High with Ocean View High but then the remainder of the schedule is the same as 2022 except for former San Gabriel Valley League member Paramount High, which falls from Gateway League to the Mid-Cities League. Norwalk, by virtue of defeating Bellflower and winning that tiebreaker among the three league champions, goes to the Gateway League. Only Firebaugh, Ocean View and Paramount did not advance to the playoffs and Bellflower (Division 11), Lynwood (Division 14) and Valley Christian (Division 12) reached the finals in their respective divisions. A strong start in the first five games before the league opener against Bellflower will go a long way.

“I think with this year’s team, if we go 2-2 or 3-1 [before Crean Lutheran High], that’s definitely something we can do,” said Marshall. “That’s the expectation; we shouldn’t be 0-fer. That shouldn’t happen. We have enough firepower and enough guys coming back. The quarterback situation, I think, is going to be fine.”

Gahr has lost two straight to V.C. after winning four straight in the series and Garden Grove High has won the last two meetings by a combined score of 69-0. When the Gladiators get to the city rivalry game with Cerritos High, they hope to return to the win column as last season’s 21-6 loss to the Dons ended a 13-game winning streak in the series. Marshall admitted he’s not happy playing Cerritos after having jumped into the league action. He would rather play the Dons either before league begins, or after playing the four league contests.

“I liked the old days when we played them earlier,” said Marshall. “The game after the big game is always trying to get your kids up for that.”

Gahr also had six official home games last season but did not play at Rants Stadium until its Oct. 14 game against Firebaugh. This season, now that the new turf is almost a year old, the Gladiators will get on the bus for just their five true road games. 

“We’re thinking, if everything goes right, league champs,” said Marshall. “If it goes well, we should get second place. I don’t know what Paramount has; with Paramount, you never know what you’re going to get. But we know what we’re going to get with Bellflower. We know what we’re going to get with Lynwood and Firebaugh.”


As was the case last season, Gahr’s last home game will be its homecoming game. Last season, the Gladiators eased past Lynwood 31-8, marking the first time since 2017 Gahr has won a homecoming game. The Gladiators have hosted Paramount for their homecoming five other times since 2000, the last coming in 2018 which resulted in a 55-45 loss. When the two played in 2006, Gahr edged the Pirates 30-29 in overtime in that homecoming win and since 1999, Gahr is 5-14 against Paramount. In homecoming games over that same time, the Gladiators have won 10 times. 


“The league championship thing…if we were in a different league, that wouldn’t be on my mind,” said Marshall on not winning a league title outright. “If we don’t win a league championship in the league that we’re playing in now for 20 years, yeah, that would be on my mind. But not winning one in the San Gabriel Valley League…even when we were good, we could beat one or two of the top teams. But beating all three of them [would be tough].

“We’re excited about it,” he continued on this season. “The kids like each other and they spend time around each other and I think those things are going to, hopefully, bring some good things to us.”