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Prep football: Area of the aerial

Santa Clarita Valley’s history of prolific passing teams has resulted in record breakers

Posted: November 15, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: November 15, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Canyon's Drew Wolitarsky recently broke another state receiving mark.

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Early in the second quarter last Friday of Canyon’s 42-9 win over San Luis Obispo, Cowboys wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky caught a 6-yard screen pass to break the state’s all-time prep receptions record.

Soon after the news broke, former Valencia quarterback Michael Herrick took to Twitter and commented about how special it was to have two of the most prolific high school football players in the state’s history be from the same valley.

He was right.

And on top of how special it was, it’s also pretty rare.

Herrick, who played for the Vikings from 2003-2005 owns the state’s passing records for yardage (11,022), attempts (1,278) and completions (808).

Now Wolitarsky owns record for receptions (277) and receiving yards (5,110), passing former Taft High (2000-2002) and USC star Steve Smith, who had 271 catches and 4,486 yards in his high school career.

Wolitarsky is now second in state history with 52 receiving touchdowns — 14 behind Earvin Johnson of Cathedral (1998-2000).

He is fifth nationally all-time in receiving yards and 10th in receptions.

The man who writes the state record book, CalHiSports.com editor and publisher Mark Tennis, put it in perspective.

“That’s pretty rare,” Tennis said. “Not just the Santa Clarita Valley, but the San Fernando Valley area in general and toward Ventura County, it’s been the epicenter of passing.”

There are theories as to how two of the most prolific prep football players could come from the same valley — a valley of just six high schools.

And all of the theories provided for this story really talk to the reputation of football in the Santa Clarita Valley.

Valencia head coach Larry Muir, who took over as Valencia’s offensive coordinator in 2003 — Herrick’s sophomore year — and became Vikings head coach Herrick’s senior year, said the numbers explosion in the Santa Clarita Valley emanates from a chief rival.

“I’m going to have to revert back to Hart. They were one of the leaders in the state of California,” Muir said. “They helped bring the passing game to the Santa Clarita Valley and Southern California.

“They were years ahead of everybody with the passing game with what they were doing. People start to pick up what people are having success with. I’m not going to lie — a lot of our stuff was based off their stuff.”

And Valencia has had success with the passing game over the last decade.

Valencia quarterback Alex Bishop (2009-2010) left school with a 69 percent completion percentage, which put him in the state’s top-10 all-time. As a junior, he completed 74.6 percent of his passes, which puts him at third all-time.

Current quarterback Sean Murphy has three games with at least five touchdown passes this season.

And Hart, which for years went away from its classic passing quarterback and more toward the dual threat, is back to a standard passer in sophomore Brady White.

And the Indians are winning again.

When you look at the state record book, a lot of Hart names pop up in the passing records.

As of the seventh edition of the CalHiSports record book, which came out in 2009, Kyle Boller ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in a season (1998, second, 4,838), touchdown passes in a season (1998, third, 59) and most completions in a season (1998, eighth, 290).

Other Hart quarterbacks — Ryan Connors, Kyle Matter, Sean Norton and Tyler Lyon also appear on single-season record lists in the top 20 in categories such as touchdown passes in a season, completions in a season, attempts in a season and most consecutive completions.

All those Hart names have been pushed down the list and Tennis speculates that the days of Herrick’s and Wolitarsky’s records might be limited because of what is being done at Folsom High.

In 2011, Folsom senior Tanner Trosin passed for a state record 5,185 yards and completed a record 360 passes.

Folsom sophomore Jake Browning has 4,147 passing yards and is 296-for-445 this season and is on pace to shatter Herrick’s records.

“Most of these records will be shattered by these kids in Folsom. It’s just like watching (the University of) Oregon,” Tennis said.

Wolitarsky is safe for now as Folsom junior wide receiver Troy Knox is at 140 catches and nowhere close on receiving yards.

Folsom appears to have two playoff games left and will need some help to get into a state regional game.

Knox would need a monster season next year to pass Wolitarsky.

But for now, the Santa Clarita Valley can brag about its records and celebrate the reasons for them.

Tennis said another reason why the kids in this valley have been so successful with these aerial marks is because of the coaching.

“It’s a pretty remarkable achievement for that area,” Tennis said. “You can point to the coaching, the great unbelievable coaches who have been there — the Herrington brothers, Harry Welch. Larry Muir has continued to match what those have done. It’s a real credit to coaching and great players. There are those who don’t set records like a Shane Vereen, who’s in the NFL, and the kid from Hart, Delano Howell. It’s just a really good place for skill players — defensive backs and wide receivers and running backs and quarterbacks. And the competition is part of it with the teams competing for league championships and bragging rights.”

Canyon head coach Rich Gutierrez alluded to that same point in his answer.

“I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to say just skills. This community just breeds football,” he said. “And don’t get me wrong, this community breeds athletics across the board. But if we’re talking football, this place has always been a football mecca. It goes back to the great coaches who built the community. ... The philosophy of hardcore football, it goes back to the ’60s and ’70s. I’m passionate about it because I grew up out here. I remember feeling that same vibe.”

And one can’t deny the players and their will.

Wolitarsky is far and away the most prolific wide receiver for a multitude of reasons.

Starting as a freshman and showing he could hang early helped. Playing with two passing quarterbacks in Jonathan Jerozal and now Cade Apsay also helped.

Gutierrez said he doesn’t get the feeling that Wolitarsky was ever driven by numbers, but it was hard to deny the smirk on Wolitarsky’s face coming into the season when he was asked about the possibility of breaking the records.

Gutierrez also said you have to credit the senior for staying healthy — that he worked endlessly in the weight room to build the strength to withstand a football season, especially when teams were gunning for him.

Muir pointed out how Herrick was so intelligent and someone who came along at the perfect time to absorb what Valencia was trying to do with its offense.

So there you have it — the coaches, the competition and the kids.

That’s why the Santa Clarita Valley is the area of the aerial.

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