South Sequoia League Preview For 2008

Posted on August 13, 2008

Preview by Zach Ewing
Prep Sports Writer for the Bakersfield Californian

Bakersfield Californian Prep Sports writer Zach Ewing ran a series of blogs in early August providing his insight and thoughts on the upcoming 2008 football season in the South Sequoia League. The following is his analysis, in part, on all six league teams.

#1 Tehachapi Warriors

Are you one of those people who can't believe it'll be high school time in three mere weeks? In Alaska, they've already started. I know most of us can't wait for game days to get here, but that seems a bit early even for me. Of course, with the weather and light restrictions you've got as it becomes fall and then winter, you can see why they're trying to get it out of the way.

Speaking of cold weather, I'm looking forward to a couple of chilly, hot-chocolate-loving big games up on the mountain. Of course, the two games that will make or break Tehachapi's season are on the road this year.

Coach: Steve Denman (27th year)

2007 record: 12-1 (5-0 SSL, 7-1 home)
Average points: 33.0
Average points allowed: 13.8
Average rush yards: 278.0
Average rush yards allowed: 127.6
Average pass yards: 63.8
Average pass yards allowed: 95.5
Best win: Tehachapi 17, Taft 3
Worst loss: Santa Maria-Righetti 21, Tehachapi 19

Key players: Adam Mullen, sr, RB/DB; Josh Strauss, sr, RB/DB; Garrett Coontz, sr, WR/LB; Derek Lange, sr, RB/LB; Kurtis Knudson, sr, QB

Key losses: Franky Rodriguez, sr, WR/DB (to injury); Kelly Lorenz, RB/DB; Ehren Ochsenrider, QB/DB; Alek Talilulu, RB/LB; Jonathan Perrien, OL/DL; Louie Olofson, WR/DL; Jeff Waldram, WR/DB

Offense: The now-vaunted Wing T offense Tehachapi runs up on the mountain had pretty humble beginnings. When Denman and the Warriors moved from the Southern Section's Desert Inyo League, where they were one of the biggest schools, to the Central Section's South Sequoia League in 1992, they became one of the smallest in their league. Denman's solution was the Wing T, an offense that uses speed and angles to offset a bigger opponent. Of course, Tehachapi has grown by leaps and bounds in the past 15 years. But the coaching staff — and the town — fell in love with the Wing T and the success it brought, so Tehachapi still runs it. It's even more formidable now that the Warriors have the athletes and size to match the scheme. Mullen, Strauss and Lorenz (who has since graduated) combined evenly for more than 3,000 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns last year. Four of five linemen are also back.

Defense: Despite popular opinion, Tehachapi does not return its entire team from last year, though it might seem that way on defense. Koontz, Strauss and Lange all started on D as sophomores and again last year, so this defense is nothing if not experienced. Losing Franky Rodriguez for the year to a knee injury doesn't help matters in the secondary, but scoring points on the mountain against the Warriors' 4-4 defense isn't going to be easy again.

Outlook: A school steeped in tradition broke a four-year drought with a league title last year, and they added a Division III section title to boot. Whether Tehachapi can repeat that performance this year is going to depend on whether the Warriors can find players to plug in at the few holes they have. Kurtis Knudson has Ehren Ochsenrider's big shoes to fill at quarterback, as do defensive linemen at three spots. Another question mark is a schedule that includes back-to-back road games at Taft and Bakersfield Christian (in what could be a Halloween classic) at the end of October. Surviving those two will be a monumental task. But don't underestimate a Denman-coached team. His buzzword is chemistry and his teams always seem to have plenty of it.

Quotable: "I think if you look at it, Taft and Bakersfield Christian have more coming back than us overall. But you know, at this point, we don't even talk about the league." — coach Steve Denman

Prediction: 9-1, 4-1 SSL

#1 Taft Wildcats

Coach: Steve Sprague (fifth year)

2007 record: 12-1 (4-1 SSL, 7-0 home)
Average points: 29.7
Average points allowed: 9.8
Best win: Taft 19, Foothill 7
Worst loss: Tehachapi 17, Taft 3

Key players: Ben Savaii, sr, OL/DL (all-state center calhisports); Cody Shirreffs, jr, RB/LB; Loren Kolb, sr, WR; Blake Emberson, jr, RB/DE; Ioane Savaii, jr, OL/DL; Lio Maino, jr, DL

Key losses: Kyle Taylor, sr, RB; Dalton Botts, QB; Jesse Tafoya, WR; Ricky Romo, RB; Dylan Niblett, TE; Steven Spoonemore, LB; James Hiracheta, RB/DB; Andrew LeClair, WR/DB

Offense: It’s probably best to say this up front: Taft lost a LOT from last year’s Division IV Central Section champions. Gone is three-year starting quarterback Dalton Botts (and you don’t see three-year QBs much anymore), gone is 1,700-yard rusher Kyle Taylor, and gone are so many of the studs who made last year special for Taft. But this is a case of reloading. The Wildcats don’t even have that many seniors on this year’s squad, but their pro-style, I-formation, pound-you-into-submission sets is still going to work because the offensive line is huge — averaging about 260 pounds and with Ioane Savaii tipping the scales at 310 at one tackle spot — and the talent in the backfield is still there. Shirreffs will go both ways this year after being mostly a linebacker last season, and he’ll carry the rushing load.

Defense: Sprague’s no idiot (his record at Taft will tell you that), and he’s ready to shift his defense for a league schedule that contains high-volume passing teams (Shafter, Bakersfield Christian), pro-style teams (Arvin) and traditional run-heavy teams (Tehachapi, Wasco). But the base package is a 5-2, because on the defensive line too, they grow ’em big over in Taft.

Outlook: One thing Taft does need to find in the preseason is a starting quarterback. Last year’s backup, Austin Kindred, and JV starter Hunter Liljiroos are the two most likely candidates. If one of them can begin to fill Botts’ shoes, Sprague said the Wildcats will pass more because getting Kolb, a possible Division I talent, involved will be beneficial — as will adding some balance to the offense. That’s a bigger question mark than either BCHS or Tehachapi among league favorites, but Taft has another advantage. Both the Eagles and Warriors have to come to Taft. In Sprague’s four years here, his teams have beaten Tehachapi twice in Taft and lost twice on the mountain. Does that mean the Wildcats can sweep and take home their first league title in four years? I’m going to say they split those games (I reserve the right to change this, but maybe beat BCHS and lose to Tehachapi?). Either way, Taft is a heavy (no pun intended) favorite to win D-IV again.

Quotable: “We like to take our big line and pound a big back up in there. People say it’s a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense, but we’re a little better than that. I like to say maybe six yards and a cloud of dust.” — Taft coach Steve Sprague

Prediction: 9-1 (4-1 SSL)

#1 Bakersfield Christian Eagles

Clearly the biggest high school football offseason story in Kern County was the arrival of Derek Carr. Long rumored to be coming home to Bakersfield, Carr left behind a 13-1 team at Sugar Land-Clements in the Houston area to play in the city where his older brother, David, played for Stockdale before starring at Fresno State and becoming the Houston Texans' No. 1 overall draft pick.

But Derek Carr didn't choose Stockdale, or Liberty, or Bakersfield High as was discussed and re-discussed. Instead, he chose Division V school Bakersfield Christian, already a section champion. The move means the Eagles are heavy favorites in the section again, and makes them a serious threat to run the table against mostly bigger schools in the South Sequoia League and reach a CIF state-championship bowl game. Can they make it? Time will tell, but here's a preseason glimpse ...

Coach: Doug Barnett (fourth year)

2007 record: 11-2 (3-2 SSL, 6-1 home)
Average points: 36.7
Average points allowed: 17.9
Best win: Bakersfield Christian 35, Fowler 34, OT
Worst loss: Taft 42, Bakersfield Christian 14

Key players: Derek Carr, sr, QB; Jake Peterson, sr, QB/WR; Christian Taylor, sr, RB/DB; Colby Herron, sr, WR; Marcus Hall, sr, WR/DB; Curtis Doyle, sr, OL/LB; Ryan Boschma, sr, OL/DL; Shawn Garrett, sr, RB/DB; Aryton Oliver, sr, TE/LB

Key losses: Morgan Howes, sr, DL; Ryan Clanton, OL/DL; Josh Gallington, K/P; Keith Hough, WR/DB; Mitch Illingworth, WR/DB; Jamestate Peterson, LB

Offense: There¹s a lot said about Bakersfield Christian¹s spread offense: It¹s explosive, it¹s fun to watch, it¹s pass-happy. Well, two out of three ain¹t bad, I guess, but, prompted by Barnett, I¹ll set the record straight on the last one. A spread offense (and this goes for what they run at Utah, Florida, Missouri, etc.) doesn¹t have to be pass-happy; you can run plenty, too. Christian Taylor is a prime example — he gained almost 1,700 rushing yards last season with — get ready for this — 27 touchdowns. Of course, the Eagles are going to pass, too. With Derek Carr — you saw his brother David throw a TD pass for the New York Giants the other night in the NFL preseason — moved in from the Houston area, BCHS can move the ball through the air, too. Carr won the starting QB job within in a week of summer camp at BCHS, allowing Jake Peterson to move back to his natural position, wide receiver. The offense in two words? Scary good.

Defense: This is definitely where people point to BCHS as having a weakness. Well, compared to the offense, that¹s probably true. But the Eagles have some definite athletes here, too. Marcus Hall — a first-team Californian All-Area basketball player ‹ will move to an outside linebacker/rover position because Bakersfield Christian has added a bit of depth to its secondary. Hall, Barnett said, could be unstoppable coming off the edge. That should help the Eagles¹ 4-4 scheme get some more pressure in the backfield, something that¹ll be vital to avoid shootouts every week.

Outlook: Bakersfield Christian went from 4-6 in its first year in the SSL to 11-2 last year with an exhilarating Division V Central Section championship. Can they make another leap forward this year to win the league and possibly make a state bowl championship game? It¹s possible, especially with the Eagles¹ schedule. An undefeated season against the likes of 2006 state champ Westlake Village-Oaks Christian, Taft and Tehachapi would certainly impress the CIF. But let¹s not get ahead of ourselves. BCHS wasn¹t particularly close to beating either Taft or Tehachapi last year, and Oaks Christian (with Joe Montana¹s son Nick) is a powerhouse. Injuries would also pose a serious problem for a small school. But, if the Eagles can stay healthy and hold their own in the trenches, where the Wildcats and Warriors got them last year, it could be a magical year. Otherwise, Carr, Peterson, Hall, et. al., are talented enough for another section title and to threaten for the SSL anyway.

Prediction: 8-2, 4-1 SSL

#4 Arvin Bears

Coach: Edgar Mares (eighth year)

2007 record: 3-7 (1-4 SSL, 2-4 home)
Average points: 13.6
Average points allowed: 28.1
Best win: Arvin 14, South 7
Worst loss: Garces 48, Arvin 0

Key players: Noel Lopez, sr, QB/K; Daniel Gonzalez, sr, RB/KR; Jose Flores, sr, FB/LB; Edgar Contreras, sr, WR/DB; Travis Hicks, sr, OL/DL; Baltivar Martinez, sr, OL/DL.

Key losses: Eric Castro, WR/DB; Israel Velasquez, OL/DL; Fernando Rosales, DB; Joey Caraballo, RB/LB

Offense: In contrast to the coaches who subscribe to their particular system no matter the circumstances, Arvin will be versatile with the ball, switching up formations depending on opponents and its own personnel. This year, that means mostly an I-formation with a tight end, though the Bears will often line up in the shotgun as well. This has as much to do with a talented offensive line as it does with quarterback Noel Lopez, whom Mares calls “our best athlete.” Of course, Mares also said Lopez had some attitude problems last year, and that that’s got to stop if Arvin will revert to its 2006 SSL championship form.

Defense: The Bears have used a 5-2 defense in the past but, with a shaken-up defensive staff, may use more of a 35 look this fall. That scheme will minimize big plays — could be important with Arvin’s schedule — but it could be difficult for the defense to make big plays, too. One guy who will be counted on is Luis Tamayo, who Mares said is small for a linebacker but a bulldog with a nose for the ball.

Outlook: This is a very tough call to make. Two years ago, Arvin came from nowhere to win the SSL title, and the same year they had a league champion JV team — full of players who are seniors now. They have experience and enough talent to compete and the right non-conference schedule to prepare them for a grueling SSL slate. Can they pull off another surprise and win the league? I don’t think so. But if Mares can get the team’s attitude turned around (last year, he said there was too much junior-senior jealousy), it’s not out of the question that Arvin could knock off one of the league’s three Central Section champions. My final verdict? More like ’06 than ’07, but with a tough schedule, it won’t be enough to shock the county again.

Quotable: “Our goal is to improve each week. We play against Bakersfield teams in the (non-league) season, so hopefully when league rolls around, we’ll give those guys a game and maybe surprise them.” — coach Edgar Mares

Prediction: 5-5, 2-3 SSL

#5 Wasco Tigers

Coach: Russ Prado (second season)

2007 record: 5-6 (2-3 SSL, 2-3 home)
Average points: 21.9
Average points allowed: 32.2
Best win: Wasco 42, Arvin 34
Worst loss: Dos Palos 41, Wasco 7

Key players: Justin Richardson, sr, OL/DL; Johnathan Wemberly, sr, RB/DB; Frankie Hinojosa, sr, QB; Chad Whitaker, sr, OL/DL; Nick Sanchez, jr, OL/DL

Key losses: D’abrae Dugan, RB; Ricky Rodriguez, RB; Ben Fulwyler, WR; Ross Wymer, QB; Keith Fenderson, LB; Edgar Rodriguez, DB

Offense: The first think you’ll notice when you look at Wasco’s offense is that the lineman don’t look like lineman. Prado said his o-line is anchored by a big center, but that guards weigh about 155 and tackles about 170. That’s going to hurt you bigtime in most offenses, so the Tigers use a double wing scheme that’s based on speed and angles. And don’t roll your eyes. Wasco racked up more than 3,500 yards of offense last year, including 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing from Dugan. Who fills his big shoes this time around? My money is on Wemberly or Hinojosa.

Defense: This is where Wasco is counting on improvement. As you can see, the Tigers gave up some 430 yards a game last year, a number that has to come down if they have a chance in the loaded SSL. And so, as Prado puts it, “we made a bunch of changes.” Gone is Wasco’s 4-3 scheme from a year ago; in its place is a 30 stack (3-5-3) defense that allows Wasco’s linebacking corps — one position where it has some depth — to flourish in whatever role is needed from game to game. There’s also a new defensive coaching staff in town. Of course, the downside here is that with just three down linemen, it could be hard to penetrate against a smashmouth attack, like Tehachapi’s or Taft’s.

Outlook: There’s no doubt an enthusiastic Prado is doing everything he can to continue the improvement that saw Wasco go from 3-7 in 2006 to 5-6 in Prado’s first year — and going from winless to 2-3 in league play. Toying with the defense is a great step. Of course, there’s also the matter of replacing some offensive talent, and things can’t regress on that side of the ball. Either way,the SSL is just as good, if not better, this year than it was last, and a late-season road trip to Taft, Arvin and Tehachapi is ominous. The Tigers will be hard-pressed to to improve on their .500 regular season, though I wouldn’t be surprised if they rise up and give us an upset or two, especially at home (look out, Bakersfield Christian).

Quotable: "We did a bunch of things this summer (passing league, big-man camp), ... and the first string looked really good. But we don't have too much depth. Staying healthy is a key component for us this year." — Wasco coach Russ Prado

Prediction: 5-5, 1-4 SSL

#6 Shafter Generals

Coach: Manuel Garcia (fifth year)

2007 record: 1-9 (0-5 SSL, 0-5 home)
Average points: 9.4
Average points allowed: 30.4
Best win: Shafter 17, HIghland 14
Worst loss: South 41, Shafter 12

Key players: Rene Medina, jr, WR/LB; Grey Gaffner, sr, QB/DB; Julio Espinoza, jr, OL/DL; Wyatt Wilson, jr, WR/DL; Eduardo Perez, sr, OL/DL

Key losses: Ty Thompson, WR/DB; Jeremy Couch, QB/DB; Joseph Ames, RB/LB; Nick Ballengee, QB/WR; Clint Kirschenmen, WR/LB; Felipe Limoones, OL/DL; Alex Thompson, OL/DL

Offense: Shafter, as Garcia will tell you, “wants to see the ball in the air.” The Generals employ a spread passing attack (think Mike Price at UTEP or even Paul Golla at Bakersfield High but with more passing). A big key here, of course, is to have the right quarterback throwing the ball. Two years ago, when Shafter was 7-4, Mickey Polley was definitely the right guy — he threw for 2,176 yards and ran for 619 more, accounting for 20 touchdowns. Last year, Jeremy Couch and Nick Ballengee struggled to keep to that pace. But Garcia thinks this year’s quarterback, senior Grey Gaffner, is smart and talented enough to be another Polley.

Defense: Ironically, Garcia runs a 4-4 defense designed to stop opponents’ running games first. That makes sense, considering the SSL’s longtime powers, Taft and Tehachapi, have been running it down the gullet fo ryears. But Garcia might want to come up with something different against Derek Carr and Bakersfield Christian.

Outlook: Even after hitting near rock-bottom last year, the Generals are very young. There aren’t many seniors, and Garcia readily admits that his juniors — mostly first-year varsity players — need to grow up fast. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be a long year for a team that faces the gamut of North, Delano, South and Foothill in its non-league schedule and then has to deal with a league slate that includes three Central Section champions. Actually, I’ll amend that. With that schedule, it’ll probably be a long year even with improved skill and improved luck (injuries decimated Shafter last fall). The Generals’ passing attack will be fun to watch again, but the wins are still another year away.

Quotable: "We think (Gaffner) is the next Nicky Polly; that's what we're looking for." — coach Manuel Garcia

Prediction: 0-10, 0-5 SSL