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Foothill League football: Diminishing returns

As parity continues to grow, the Foothill League could fall further behind the Marmonte next year

Posted: December 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 13, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Canyon wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky will be among the top returning players next season in the Foothill League. Wolitarsky was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2011.

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In the short run, the Foothill League doesn’t come out smelling like roses.

When it comes to the CIF-Southern Section Northern Division playoffs, the Marmonte League rules all other leagues. Or at least it has in recent years.

The past four Northern Division finals (including this year) have involved two Marmonte teams.

Meanwhile, the Foothill is experiencing more parity than it has ever seen since becoming an all-Santa Clarita Valley league.

That was evidenced by the fact that two teams — Valencia and Saugus — split the title this year, yet the third- and fourth-place teams — Canyon and Hart — ended up making it deeper into the playoffs.

“I still believe there is enough talent in Santa Clarita that we can complete with (the Marmonte) league and some of those teams,” said Valencia head coach Larry Muir. “Year in and year out, I don’t know, but I think as a league, as this young talent develops, you’re going to see a lot of improvement.”

The last time a Foothill team competed for a CIF title was Hart in 2007.

Whether or not the Santa Clarita Valley can compete with the upper echelon of the Northern Division remains to be seen.
For now, the league’s coaches are embracing the recent trend toward an equal level of play.

“I think it’s a good thing,” said Saugus head coach Jason Bornn. “I think from a parent’s perspective, it’s a good thing because who wants to go watch a game where you already know the winner? That’s kind of boring.”

Valencia

2011: 6-5, Foothill League co-champions, CIF-Southern Section Northern Division first round

A difficult preleague schedule and the challenge of replacing two of the SCV’s top offensive players from the previous year left Valencia with a less appealing record, but that didn’t stop it from winning at least a share of its third straight league title.

The Vikings accomplished what they did largely because of the defense, which is a unit that will lose several key players to graduation, including Foothill League Player of the Year Ryan Gorman and Defensive Player of the Year Billy Shipman.

Valencia has plenty of reloading ability from the junior varsity and freshman teams, though, and it has an array of players returning on the offensive side of the ball.

Quarterback Sean Murphy improved throughout his junior year, and Muir expects big things from him with a varsity season under his belt.

“I thought he did a great job. He got better as the year went on and I think he’ll just build off that for next year,” Muir said of the senior-to-be. “He got a lot of experience and he learned a lot.”

Murphy will be surrounded by varsity experience at the skill positions with running backs Jake Solley and Michael Carter coming back along with the team’s top two wide receivers in junior Tedric Thompson and sophomore Malik Townsend.

“I think you’ll see a lot of explosiveness from the offense next year,” Muir said.

Saugus

2011: 7-4, Foothill League co-champions, CIF-SS Northern Division first round

Head coach Jason Bornn is the first one to bring it up when explaining Saugus’ co-league title.

“On paper, we’re co-champions with Valencia, but on the field, we’re in third place,” Bornn said, referring to his team’s Oct. 14 matchup against Canyon that was ruled a Saugus victory due to a forced forfeit.

In reality, the Centurions lost the game 51-28 before the CIF ruled it a forfeit later in the season.

Next year, Bornn would prefer to win league the old-fashioned way, which will likely start with the surplus of defensive talent coming back in 2012.

“We’ve got quite a few returners,” Bornn said. “I think we did well with playing a lot of young guys and I think that’s going to serve us well for the next few years.”

The obvious loss for the Centurions is quarterback Jared Carbajal, who was one of the league’s top rushers.

Bornn said the frontrunner to replace him is Chris Hamilton, who spent his freshman season playing defensive back this year.

On the defensive side, Saugus has three sophomores who played significant time returning as juniors in Austin Davenport, Dakota Taylor and Steven Kwak.

Saugus also brings back senior-to-be Denley Rodriguez, who was voted as this year’s Foothill League Lineman of the Year.

Canyon

2011: 9-3, Foothill League third place, CIF-SS Northern Division second round

OK, so the Jonathan Jerozal-to-Drew Wolitarsky connection was one of the best quarterback-to-wide receiver tandems the valley has ever seen.

At least one piece of it is coming back in Wolitarsky, this year’s Foothill Offensive Player of the Year.

The first order of business for the Cowboys will be to replace Jerozal, and junior-to-be Cade Apsay is the frontrunner to do so.

Head coach Rich Gutierrez said Apsay has the size to go along with the talent and leadership skills similar to his older brother Coley, a current senior and two-sport athlete at the school.

The family trend continues with upcoming linebacker Beau McMartin, who is the brother of former Cowboys linebacker Blake McMartin, a member of the 2006 state championship team.

Beau McMartin and Cade Apsay are two of many promising players produced by a quality junior varsity squad.

“You also have a JV team that’s coming up that’s real comfortable with winning, so the overall competition is there,” Gutierrez said. “It’s just a matter of getting in the weight room and getting after it.”

Canyon mixes in plenty of returners as well, including nearly the entire offensive line, namely two-way lineman Juan Rodriguez.

Alongside Wolitarsky will be returning wideout Brenden Stach and another incoming senior, running back Daniel Castro.

Between all the returning talent, Gutierrez said the league’s title is up for grabs.

The league is stacked with talent top to bottom, he argued.

“You can say the Pac-5 and all those tough divisions, but locally, I think the Foothill League is one of the best in Southern California,” Gutierrez said.

Hart

2011: 8-4, Foothill League fourth place, CIF-SS Northern Division second round

The playoff drought for Hart ended at one year.

After making the playoffs in 30 straight seasons before missing out in 2010, a new streak can now begin for the Indians, whose future looks bright.

“We’re going to be OK but it’s the Foothill League, and just like this year, any team could go out there and win on any day,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington.

For starters, Hart looks to bring back four of five offensive linemen and quarterback Connor Wingenroth, who earned the full-time starting position midway through the season.

Wingenroth will compete for the job with future sophomore Brady White, who led the huddle for the freshman team this season, Herrington said.

No matter who’s under center, he’ll have wide receivers Trent Irwin, Wes Fitzpatrick and Davis Koppenhaver as options in the passing game.

Though not as many players will return on defense, Hart has enough all-around talent to boost its chances in a well-balanced league.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Herrington said. “I think right now the league is having a little bit of turnover.”

West Ranch


2011: 5-5, Foothill League fifth place, no playoffs

This season may not have ended happily for the Wildcats, but a strong showing from the JV program and a good balance of young and experienced players bode well for next year.

Starting quarterback Gerrit Mouw took his licks during his first crack at the varsity level, but head coach Sean O’Brien expects things to get easier for him as a senior.

The team’s junior quarterback next year looks to be Gage Tynan, who started all 10 games for the JV team this season.

He’ll have three linemen returning and, if all goes as planned, a healthy receiving corps after Rawston Redick was sidelined for his entire junior season with a knee injury.

Another target will be wide receiver Isaiah Guzman, who arrives from the JV team next year as a junior. He’s the brother of Josh Guzman, a 2011 All-Santa Clarita Valley first-team wideout.

At running back, the Wildcats will have a tall task in replacing Jeff Coprich, but Marc Collins and Zahr Lyttle will both come in with varsity experience next season.

“Everybody graduates seniors, but we’ve got a good stable of juniors coming back and our JV team is really good,” O’Brien said.

On defense, two more juniors coming up from the JV level look to boost the linebacking corps in Brighton Plush and Trevor Aleshire, who O’Brien called all-purpose defensive players.

Golden Valley

2011: 1-9, Foothill League sixth place, no playoffs


Coming off a difficult season, Golden Valley will also face the task of replacing its starting quarterback, running back, top wide receiver and a few key defensive players who were all seniors this year.

On the bright side, head coach Robert Fisher is headed into his second year at the helm and his first full-length offseason after former head coach Andy Campbell resigned just weeks before the start of this season.

“Kids know that I’m not going anywhere,” Fisher said. “They know that I’m going to be around and they’re ready to put in the time and effort and they’re ready to go to work.”

Among the returners are wide receivers Chase Lewis and running back Ryan McNerney.

Sean O’Kelley is another player that will come back as a senior next year with the chance of playing quarterback.

Other than that, it’s going to be a team full of juniors short on varsity experience up and down the roster.

“It’s going to be a lot different next year,” Fisher said. “You’re going to see a lot of new faces.”

Two of those faces coming up from JV are future two-way players Mike Beckett and Terry Tamura, but Fisher said the main benefit of the newcomers will be to add depth to the offensive and defensive lines.

Despite the fact that the Grizzlies won just a single game last year and are still without a Foothill League victory, Fisher and other league coaches agree that the team is closer than ever to getting over the proverbial hump.

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