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Not the champs just yet

Posted: October 15, 2009 10:11 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2009 4:30 a.m.

After a dominating run through its pre-league schedule, Valencia football established itself as the front-runner for this season’s Foothill League crown.

When the Vikings, who are the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division’s No. 2 team host Canyon at 7 p.m. tonight at Dr. Paul A. Priesz Stadium in both teams’ league opener, they’ll get their first chance to prove it.

But Valencia (5-0) isn’t ready to claim any title just yet, and according to head coach Larry Muir, the potential spoilers are plentiful.

“Any team we’re playing on Friday night,” Muir said, when asked about potential obstacles. “Right now, it is Canyon,”

Despite coming into the contest winless, the Cowboys have a lot of weapons and a lot of motivation.

“I don’t think our kids are intimidated,” said Canyon head coach Chris Varner. “It’s never been the problem, ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t beat this team, we can’t do that.’ It’s a double personality that we have. We’ll look great at times. We’ll stop a team for negative yards for two downs, but then give up a third-and-12. We just have to make those plays.”

Muir has noticed what the Cowboys (0-5) bring to the table, namely in young talent such as sophomore quarterback Jonathan Jerozal and freshman wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky.

Jerozal is third in the Foothill League with 1,101 passing yards, while completing 90-of-144 throws with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

Wolitarsky has caught 23 passes for 441 yards — good for second in league — and three scores, while senior teammate Shane Habberstad has also recorded three touchdowns off 35 receptions and 339 yards.

“They are not an 0-5 football team,” Muir said. “They do a lot of good things on offense and their defense gets after you. They blitz from a lot of different angles.”

In fact, it is on defense that Varner said he had his biggest surprise of pre-league.

A rotating door of injuries has given guys like linebacker Robert Hooper and defensive back Steven Naillieux, who was pulled up from junior varsity prior to Friday’s 34-12 loss to Buena of Ventura, opportunities to make an impact on defense.

“They’ve learned that you can go in at any time,” Varner said of his team.

However, Valencia will put the young Cowboys to the test and will counter with junior quarterback Alex Bishop, who comes into the contest 72-of-93 with 16 touchdowns, only one interception and the second most passing yards in the Foothill League with 1,216.

Bishop is surrounded by talent, starting at wide receiver.

Muir said he has been impressed by junior wide receivers Max Rodriguez and Matt Nyberg, while also getting standout production from seniors Brock Vereen and Zach Tartabull.

Tartabull is third in the league with 378 receiving yards from 20 receptions and six touchdowns.

He has also recorded 13 tackles as a defensive back.

“I think he is one of the best two-way players in the state of California,” Muir said.

Meanwhile, junior running back Steven Manfro has been lighting up opposing defenses to the tune of 86 carries for 791 yards and 10 touchdowns to go along with 17 receptions for 219 yards and one score.

“I think we’ve done a very good job of being balanced so far,” Muir said. “I think consistently week-in and week-out we take what people give us. If things open up in the passing game we try to take advantage of that.”

Defensively, Kevin Rush and Ryan Wermich have anchored the Vikings’ defense.

And as the league season begins, both teams are keenly aware that while the records reset, it is important to build upon their prior experiences. “It’s not what comes at you, it’s how you react to it,” Varner said. “We’re hoping these kids understand that and they go out there and compete.”



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