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2012 Hart football preview: Hype or truth?

Can today’s Hart live up to the prestige of the past?

Posted: August 28, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: August 28, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Hart is out to win its first Foothill League football title in five years, and maybe more than that.

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There was a time when this was a normal feeling for a Hart football team getting ready to start the season.

It’s that general aura of expectation and hype surrounding the program.

Calpreps.com has Hart as the 42nd ranked team in the state, higher than any other Foothill League team, and the latest CIF-Southern Section poll has the Indians as the top ranked team in the Northern Division.

It’s not even close to a new feeling for a program like Hart, but it’s one that hasn’t been around in a while.

“I think we have some pretty good talent,” said Hart head coach Mike Herrington. “Overall, I think it’s the best team we’ve had in the last five years or so.”

Five years ago was the last Hart team to reach a CIF championship, where the Indians lost to St. Bonaventure in the Northern Division final.

It was the 13th time the Indians played in a CIF title game.

With so many capable, experienced players coming back this year, the attention has naturally shifted to the traditional powerhouse of Santa Clarita Valley football.

“You don’t pay attention to it very much,” said junior wide receiver Chase White. “You just kind of ignore it and delete all your media stuff so you’re not getting involved in all that getting it in your head because it’s going to take you out of your game psychologically.”

Part of the preseason hype may also stem from Hart’s 2011 finish.

That included a last-minute win over eventual league-champion Valencia and another dramatic win over Palos Verdes three weeks later in the first round of the Northern Division playoffs.

Though the Indians lost to division champion Westlake in the next round to finish the season 8-4, it marked a shift in the right direction for a team that had struggled in recent years.

This year is a different story, with nearly the entire offense still in place, including all-around talent Connor Wingenroth.

Similar to last season, Wingenroth is in a competition for the starting quarterback job, this time with promising sophomore Brady White.

Eventually, Wingenroth earned the starting nod last season as he proved his dual-threat capabilities at the position, passing for 1,739 yards 14 touchdowns and eight interceptions while rushing for 637 yards and 10 scores.

“We’re going to try to get him the ball as much as possible, whether he’s throwing it, running it, catching it, whatever we can,” Herrington said of Wingenroth.

In one way or another, Herrington said both White and Wingenroth will play this season.

They’ll have plenty of help with the team returning four of five starting offensive linemen — John Perkins, Austin Lee, Blake Porter and Erik Stafford.

Also coming back is sophomore wide receiver Trent Irwin, who led the team with 50 catches for 785 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

He’ll lead a group of young, but talented wideouts.

Just about the only spot on offense that isn’t a sure thing is running back, where now-graduated Dylan Edwards leaves a vacancy for players like Antoine Holmes to step in. Expect to see Wingenroth also lined up in the backfield from time-to-time.

“I think we’ll be real good,” Irwin said. “(We’ll) spread it around. I don’t know if we’ll run a ton. We might just rack up some stats and a lot of points.”

Another all-around loss from last year is Tim White, who will be missed equally on both sides of the ball.

Tim White was a downfield threat as a wide receiver and he was named All-CIF as a defensive back on the Southern Section Northern Division team.

With both Tim White and former safety Aaron Porter graduated, the back end of Hart’s defense will have to count on the experience of players like Austin Murillo and Wingenroth, who is also likely to start as a cornerback.

Murillo picked off a team-high three passes last year.

Senior linebacker Griffin Scott is one of just four returning defensive starters, and he’ll anchor a group of young backers who Herrington said he’s been impressed with.

On the line, Hart will count on two-way players like Lee and Perkins to contribute. Otherwise, it’s a unit that lacks experience.

Right off the bat, the Indians will be tested in Friday’s season opener against Calpreps state No. 22 Tesoro High of Rancho Santa Margarita.

Before reaching league play, Hart also takes on CIF-Central Section power Ridgeview of Bakersfield to cap off a three-game road trip to start the season.

In all, Hart will rack up 433 miles of traveling before it plays its first home game.

It all should reveal very quickly how much of the 2012 Indians are hype, and how much is reality.

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