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The Age of Excellence: Foothill football, down but not out

After years of championship appearances, Foothill League football has grown quiet but could rebound

Posted: December 28, 2009 10:26 p.m.
Updated: December 29, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Despite the efforts of running back Steven Manfro (33) and Valencia, the Foothill League failed to make a CIF championship game appearance again in 2009. But that doesn't mean the league won't rebound.

 
For an area like the Santa Clarita Valley, which has a rich football tradition, the last couple of years have been a little rough.

Since Canyon’s incredible run to the 2006 state championship, no Foothill League team has won a CIF title.

Worse yet, only one team — Hart in 2007 — has played for one.

The last three CIF-Southern Section Northern Division champions have hailed from either Ventura County or the Marmonte League. For argument’s sake, Westlake will be included as a “Ventura County” school, seeing as how it’s right inside the border of Los Angeles County.

In that light, the football power seemingly has shifted west.

Or has it?

“I think it’s probably a bump in the road,” says Valencia athletic director and former head football coach Brian Stiman. “Sometimes other areas have a good run for awhile and start getting rolling. You’re seeing it in the Marmonte League. ... I don’t think the Santa Clarita Valley is far behind.”

Some numbers support that theory.

The Foothill League is 14-10 against Ventura County in the playoffs since the Northern Division formed in 2006.

Of the 16 total semifinalists in the four years of the division, seven of them have been from the Foothill League.

On the other hand, some numbers contradict that theory.

Six of the eight Northern Division championship game participants have hailed from Ventura County.

In 2009, the Foothill League went 3-12 against Ventura County teams, and all three of those wins were thanks to Valencia.

A poor record like that might indicate a power shift.

But Jim Benkert, who coached Westlake to a 14-0 season and its first Northern Division championship this year, has a different take.

“I think every year is just a little different deal from the standpoint of your talent base,” he says. “I think opening (Golden Valley and West Ranch) has changed the enrollment numbers. With the new schools and the new boundaries there’s much more parity.”

Indeed, enrollment numbers are down for traditional Santa Clarita Valley powers like Hart, but that hasn’t stopped the Indians from making the playoffs.

Todd Therrien, whose St. Bonaventure teams dominated the Northern Division in 2007 and 2008, has a similar viewpoint.

“I know every time a new high school opens in the Santa Clarita Valley, each school takes a hit,” he says. “If you spread Golden Valley’s kids and West Ranch’s kids among other schools, you’re getting about five or six dynamite players for each team.”

Stiman says there’s been an adjustment period for Santa Clarita Valley teams since the schools opened.

He also says the growth in Ventura County’s population the last few years has brought more talented kids through those programs.
While he was the head coach at Valencia, Stiman saw a great deal of talent come through his program.

He had teams in a CIF championship game in 1999, 2001 and 2004, although those teams were in a different division than the Ventura County powers.

From 1998-2007, there was at least one Foothill League team in a CIF championship game, which begs another question.

Have the last two seasons been disappointing, or are expectations too high?

“You can’t look down on the fact that you had a Santa Clarita Valley team in the semifinals the last couple of years,” Stiman says. “Instead of reflecting on the negative, I think the better question would be, ‘When was the last time a Santa Clarita Valley team wasn’t in the semis?’”

Stiman says people need to remember how difficult it is to reach a CIF championship game, which involves factors such as injuries, timing and luck.

Benkert and Therrien also feel matchups are a key component.

For instance, Therrien says that his team benefitted by facing a banged-up Saugus squad in the 2008 Northern Division semifinals, and that the game would have been different had the Centurions been healthy.

Benkert says he’s glad his team didn’t have to face Valencia in this season’s playoffs. The Vikings beat the Warriors by 29 points in the 2008 postseason, and Therrien says that Valencia is a bad matchup for Westlake.

By the same token, Therrien says Moorpark is a bad matchup for Valencia, and the Musketeers have ended Valencia’s season in convincing fashion the past two years.

“I don’t think SCV football is down,” Therrien says. “I think they’re right there with the top teams in the Marmonte League.”

Benkert also says that other areas of the Northern Division have been affected by new schools opening, and that his own football program was hurt initially by the opening of Oaks Christian back in 2000.

Next season, Oaks Christian and St. Bonaventure will join the Marmonte League, boosting its membership to 10 teams, at least six of which are consistent winners.

But that doesn’t mean the Foothill League will stay down.

Benkert and Therrien both praise Santa Clarita’s youth football program, and Benkert notes the outstanding freshman teams this past season at both West Ranch and Valencia.

Stiman says the best way for the Foothill League schools to rebound is to keep doing what they’re doing.

“I see the kids in our valley are strong,” he says. “They’re well-coached, well-drilled, well-disciplined. You’ve got great teachers of the game doing it. Just keep doing what you’re doing and it’ll happen.”

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