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O.C.'s hot topics going into the 2015 football season
ANAHEIM – Scott Meyer looked ready for a day at the beach instead of an evening on the gridiron on a recent afternoon, some three hours before a 7-on-7 passing league at Servite High.
When the new Servite coach emerged amidst the near ceiling-high stacks of boxes in the football offices, he donned a black Friars T-shirt – not the Columbia blue shade he wore at Corona del Mar – along with a pair of shorts and sandals.
Like his attire, Meyer’s demeanor was laid-back.
He chuckled when chatting about his team’s upcoming schedule, though he noted it was recently ranked the hardest in the country.
“I told the kids, ‘That’s part of the reason you come to Servite,’ ” Meyer remarked. “If we want to be the best, we got to play the best. It’s one heck of a schedule.”
Like every great competitor, the Trinity League’s newest front man is ready for the challenge at hand.
But before Servite or any other school in Orange County plays its first game under the lights, they’ll have to go through the grind of training camp – the foundation of every season.
With Monday marking the official start to the football season – teams who play their season opener on Aug. 28 can hold their first practice - we take a look at the five biggest questions heading into the 2015 campaign.
1. How will the area’s coaching changes affect the county’s overall landscape?
Coaches retire, resign and relocate every year. But it’s hard to recall an offseason with as much turnover among the county’s most successful programs.
Servite, Trabuco Hills and El Toro all finished last season ranked in the county’s top-10 poll, with the Mustangs even winning the CIF-SS Southwest Division championship, but all three lost their coaches during the offseason. A.J. Gass left Servite and Tony Henney departed Trabuco Hills - both took coaching positions elsewhere - and Robert Frith stepped down as El Toro’s coach to become its athletic director.
Now Meyer (Servite), Joe Silvey (Trabuco Hills) and Mike Mayoral (El Toro) find themselves leading three of the county’s premier programs.
And with Meyer accepting the Servite job, Corona del Mar – a program that has gone 50-6 and won three CIF championships in the past four seasons – also has new leadership. Dan O’Shea, the team’s defensive coordinator, takes over as head coach alongside Kevin Hettig, the Sea Kings’ associate head coach.
“Over the last five years or so, the outside pressure put on high school coaches appears to be harder than ever,” O’Shea said of the recent turnover. “Football is a year-round sport now and there’s an incredible amount of pressure put on coaches time-wise.
“Administrators are focused on wins and losses as opposed to the process. … It’s a tough combination, so the Bob Johnsons and Dave Whites of the world are unique.”
Trabuco Hills, El Toro and CdM hired new coaches from within their programs. Because of that continuity, expectations remain high at all three schools.
“I don’t think you can put a pricetag on it,” O’Shea said of having stability within a program. “It can be really discouraging for a young kid when coaches are telling them to work their tail off every day and then leaves. But there’s continuity between our staff and our kids. They know us, trust us and, from all instances, respect us. We didn’t skip a beat and that’s a testament to Scott as much as anybody.”
Meyer would appear to have the greatest challenge ahead. The Friars’ schedule features four straight nonleague road games - against Bishop Amat of La Puente, De La Salle of Concord, Edison and Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas - leading up to the always daunting Trinity League slate.
“We’re trying to build that trust with them (the players) and make this the best year possible,” Meyer said, noting that Servite’s seniors are on their third varsity head coach in four seasons. “But we said way back, we got to shoot for winning the Trinity League, a CIF championship, have a team GPA of 3.3 or better, and have fun doing it all.”
2. Can this year’s batch of O.C. quarterbacks be better than the 2014 class?
Last season’s collection of quarterbacks was a special bunch, so much so that 2014 was often referred to as “The Year of the Quarterback” throughout Southern California.
Sam Darnold (San Clemente) and Travis Waller (Servite) signed with Pac-12 schools and represented Orange County in the U.S. Army All-American Game. Nick Brown (Rancho Alamitos) tossed 52 touchdowns to smash the county record.
The 2015 class appears capable of topping those lofty accomplishments.
Headlining this year’s group of top signal callers are KJ Costello (Santa Margarita), Devon Modster (Tesoro) and Patrick O’Brien (San Juan Hills), all of whom have committed to play for major Division 1 programs next season.
Costello, a Stanford commit, and Modster, an Arizona commit, are both third-year starters who will likely rewrite their school’s record books this season. O’Brien was a self-described "unknown" last spring before putting together an eye-opening performance at a Nike showcase event.
O’Brien was also one of 18 finalists for the Elite 11 Quarterback Competition, but fell just short of joining Costello in the prestigious showcase.
“Through the offseason, he’s really raised his own stock,” San Juan Hills coach Aaron Flowers said of his Nebraska-bound QB. “He focused on making himself a great football player.”
Add to the mix Mission Viejo senior Brock Johnson, who led the Diablos to a CIF-SS title in 2014, and the South Coast League could boast the deepest quarterback collection in the county.
Lj Northington (Orange Lutheran), Jack Telenko (Los Alamitos), Eric Barriere (La Habra) and Zach Taylor (Buena Park) add to the county’s overall depth, as each senior is a multi-year starter who put up huge numbers as juniors.
3. Who are some of top transfers that will make instant impacts?
Two of the county’s top passing offenses – Santa Margarita and Buena Park – return their starting quarterbacks, but who will the Eagles’ Costello (3,123 yards) and the Coyotes’ Taylor (3,549 yards) throw to?
The Eagles graduated players who accounted for 71 percent of their receiving yards from 2014, while the Coyotes said farewell to 87 percent of its aerial production.
New Eagles receiver Dylan Crawford is the latest game-changer to step into the Trinity League fold, pairing with Costello for what could become the county’s most devastating 1-2 punch. The 6-1, 185-pound senior is regarded as the county’s No. 2 overall recruit, trailing only the guy who will be throwing him the football.
Following a 1,000-yard, 13-touchdown junior campaign at St. Francis of La Canada, Crawford racked up scholarship offers from Michigan, Miami, Oregon, Stanford, USC and UCLA among others.
At Buena Park, Jeremiah Hawkins (Yorba Linda), Elijah Bynum (Orange Lutheran) and Elijah Gates (Alemany of Mission Hills) give the Coyotes a trio of two-way playmakers that has Coach Anthony White excited about the prospect of ending La Habra’s Freeway League dominance.
“If you give the ball to everyone, you can’t key on anyone,” White explained.
Mater Dei wide receiver Osiris St. Brown showed flashes of brilliance at Servite in 2014. He gives the already-loaded Monarchs another weapon.
And after doing a little bit of everything for Estancia a season ago and being named the Orange Coast League MVP, Dylan Laurent hopes he can transition seamlessly into Los Alamitos’ offense.
4. Which schools appear likely to bounce back in 2015?
Orange Lutheran might have been the best 4-6 team in the nation last year. The Lancers lost four games by four points or less to some of the state’s best programs (Centennial of Corona, Servite, Santa Margarita and JSerra).
With Northington and six other starters returning on an offense that averaged 35 points in 2014, Coach Chuck Petersen’s squad should be able to win the close ones this go-round, putting the Lancers back in playoff contention.
Another team returning the bulk of its offense is Sonora in the Freeway League. The Raiders finished 6-4 in 2014 and were disappointed when they missed making the playoffs.
Senior running back Jacob Fimbres is an early favorite to claim the county’s rushing title after a 1,600-yard junior campaign. With the team’s offensive line in tact, Fimbres and Sonora could be tough to keep out of the playoffs this November.
5. Do the drought or new practice restrictions have coaches concerned?
The practice restrictions do not.
New state law limits schools to a max of 90 minutes of full-contact during the week. But as several coaches have voiced, teams rarely – if ever – come close to 90 minutes of full-contact once the season starts.
As for the drought, which has forced schools to curtail watering, it appears the issue is more of a concern in the northern part of the county where there’s a higher concentration of grass fields and fewer artificial turf surfaces.
As Sonora coach Paul Chiotti put it, his team “is coping with it.”
“I actually just sent an email over to the district expressing some concern about the fields being watered,” he continued. “If we’re putting the emphasis on player safety, you want to make sure the fields are in good condition and that we’re not practicing on hard surfaces.”
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