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Kickoff '16: OCVarsity's preseason Top 25
Here we go with another high school football season.
Everyone wants to know, who are the top teams in Orange County?
With the start of the season only days away, here is how the Register ranks the county's top teams going into the 2016 season.
ORANGE COUNTY TOP 25
1. Mater Dei
What we know: The Monarchs have superb talent all over the field. They have depth, too. And a fine future, as well. The school’s 2015 undefeated freshman team has been called one of the better freshman groups ever in O.C. One of the ’15 freshmen played varsity – quarterback JT Daniels, who had a great season and can be expected to be even better this season. He has perhaps the best assortment of receivers in the county, featuring brothers Amon-Ra and Osiris St. Brown. The secondary, which features Arizona-commit Xavier Bell, UCLA-commit Quentin Lake (son of ex-Bruins greate Carnell Lake) and much-recruited Jalen Cole, will be outstanding. The linebackers are excellent, too. And, of course, there is their living-legend coach, Bruce Rollinson, and a veteran staff of assistants.
What we don’t know: The Monarchs’ offensive line has no seniors among the projected starting five. Size and skill is there, but a no-senior offensive line going against Trinity League defenses is not a preference. Now that everybody knows how good Daniels is at quarterback, opposing coaches are going to game plan to stop him, so the Monarchs need a solid running game to keep the pressure off of the sophomore. So we’re wondering whether the no-senior offensive line can help make that happen.
2015: 10-2 overall, 4-1 Trinity League (2nd place)
2. Mission Viejo
What we know: The Diablos offense will motor up and down football field like it did last year while it won CIF section and state championships. They averaged 42 points a game last year and could do something similar this year, thanks in large part to a great receiving corps that includes All-County first-team returnee Austin Osborne. The defense has some fast-and-furious types like linebacker Colin Schooler.
What we don’t know: All teams have some fear-of-failure to deal with. The Diablos might have more than most, trying to equal or at least come close to last year’s season of wonders. Quarterback Matt McDonald is replacing Brock Johnson - the Register’s offensive player of the year in 2015 - at quarterback. McDonald could be good but, as Mission Viejo coach Bob Johnson says, McDonald has yet to play a full varsity game.
2015: 16-0 overall, 4-0 South Coast League (1st place)
3. Orange Lutheran
What we know: If you like high-scoring teams, you will like the Lancers. With Austin Liles at receiver and running back Dominik Austin among the team’s many outstanding skill players, Orange Lutheran will put up points. The defensive backfield might be the county’s second best, behind Mater Dei’s. This team has a large collection of great athletes.
What we don’t know: No matter how fast the running backs and receivers are, they can’t be productive if the offensive line isn’t doing its job. Coach Chuck Petersen is concerned about the line’s lack of depth. Given that physical teams such as La Mirada and Centennial of Corona are on the Lancers’ nonleague schedule, having depth at offensive line could be critical to the team’s fortunes in the Trinity League.
2015: 6-6 overall, 2-3 Trinity League (3rd place)
4. Santa Margarita
What we know: New coach Rich Fisher has an extensive coaching background at the college level. So he might feel right at home with the Trinity League and its college-like football programs. The Eagles have plenty of college-prospect players on their roster, a couple of them transfers. Senior center Brett Neilon is among the best offensive linemen in Southern California, and Grant Calcaterra is an All-County-type of receiver.
What we don’t know: Fisher said selecting a starting quarterback won’t be happen until just before Santa Margarita plays Mission Viejo in the season opener. Richard Wagner, who last season played well at quarterback in limited opportunities, is in the running. With the new coach, it’s a transition year at Santa Margarita. That transition needs to be smooth given the Eagles’ difficult schedule, which includes playing Mater Dei in their league opener on Oct. 7.
2015: 5-5 overall, 1-4 Trinity League (6th place)
5. San Clemente
What we know: Quarterback Jack Sears is in position to have a terrific senior year. The Tritons also have highly productive running back Brandon Reaves, who is their version of Danny Woodhead or Darren Sproles – outstanding running the ball or catching a pass out of the backfield. Coach Jaime Ortiz has sold the Tritons on his “one town, one team” mantra. A team with that type of pride and its wealth of talent is dangerous.
What we don’t know: The Tritons dominated the Sea View League in recent years, but they move to the more-challenging South Coast League, which Mission Viejo has ruled comfortably for practically forever. The Tritons need to show they can maximize all of their talent and handle the mental factors that come with big games. San Clemente plays Mission Viejo in the final week of the regular season, and both teams could be 4-0 in league at that point.
2015: 11-3, 4-0 Sea View League (1st place)
What we know: Senior Tyler Lytle (6-5, 210 pounds), who is committed to Colorado, is the type of quarterback to build a team around. It is essential in the Trinity League to have a shutdown cornerback, and the Friars have one – Keith Taylor, who has committed to Washington. Coach Scott Meyer, who led Corona del Mar to three CIF-SS championships, goes into his second season at Servite more comfortable with the school and the league. And, of course, Servite often makes up for any talent deficiencies with great team spirit.
What we don’t know: Lytle had trouble staying healthy last year, so there is a bit of concern there. The offensive line might not be on a par with the offensive lines at other Trinity League schools.
2015: 4-6 overall, 2-3 Trinity League (3rd place)
7. Villa Park
What we know: Senior Nick Sipe (6-4, 205), who has a Howitzer-like arm and a commitment to Purdue, is one of the top quarterbacks in Southern California. He will have good targets and a strong offensive line. The Spartans should be solid on defense, too. The Spartans return Navy-committed linebacker John Stamos, last year’s Crestview player of the year, and defensive lineman Shane Darsow.
What we don’t know: Villa Park is in a high-quality playoff division (Division 3) that includes Buena Park, Edison, La Mirada and Palos Verdes. The Spartans’ nonleague schedule is not terribly challenging, but that’s partially because in the Century Conference they, like the other Crestview teams, must play the four teams in the conference’s second-tier, North Hills League.
2015: 12-1, 3-0 Crestview League (1st place)
8. La Habra
What we know: Receiver Prince Ross was a second-team All-County selection last year when the Highlanders won the CIF-SS Southwest Division championship. Linebacker Camron Rivas was the Freeway League’s defensive player of the year. There will be other all-league and All-County players and another league championship for La Habra this year. Coach Frank Mazzotta, a superb big-game coach, keeps this program at the top.
What we don’t know: The Highlanders will miss All-County quarterback Eric Barriere, but how badly remains to be seen. Keeping a team hungry after winning a CIF-SS championship can be a challenge for any coach. It will be interesting to see how La Habra does this season in a higher playoff division (Division 2) that also has San Clemente, Oaks Christian of Westlake Village and Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks.
2015: 13-2, 5-0 Freeway League (1st place)
What we know: This will be Dave White’s final year as Edison’s coach. The Chargers have played their tails off for him season after season. No way will they let him down this season. With six returning starters on offense, Edison should be dynamic, as usual, on offense.
What we don’t know: The best game plan in the world can’t operate efficiently if the offensive line is struggling. The Chargers have a standout center, Mike Saffell, but the other offensive linemen lack his varsity experience.
2015: 7-4 overall, 5-0 Sunset League (1st place)
10. Buena Park
What we know: The Coyotes had been closing the margin between themselves and league rival La Habra for a few years, but that margin seemed big again after the Highlanders beat them 48-14 last year. Buena Park looks like La Habra’s chief challenger again. The large assortment of talent includes senior receivers Jeremiah Hawkins (45 receptions, 775 yards in 2015) and Taariq Johnson (34 catches), both of whom committed to Cal during the summer. Buena Park has seven returning starters on a defense that will again be quick and attacking. The Coyotes might be 7-0 when they play at home against La Habra on Oct. 21.
What we don’t know: Buena Park lost outstanding quarterback Zach Taylor to graduation, so the Coyotes will have a new player at a critical position. The Coyotes might need to run the ball better and more often this season.
2015: 10-3, 4-1 Freeway League (2nd place)
Quarterback Matt Robinson is good. Whether there is sufficient support around him remains to be seen. 2015 record: 7-3
12. Corona del Mar
Other Southern California quarterbacks might be getting more college recruiting interest, but the Sea Kings’ Chase Garbers is right there with all of them. 2015 record: 9-3
The Titans are one of the more graduation-depleted teams in the county. They will miss the playmaking and game-changing skills that Devon Modster gave them at quarterback last season. Still, there is enough talent on the roster to win enough games to make the playoffs. 2015 record: 9-3
14. Los Alamitos
This will be a season of transition for the Griffins who have a new coach, Ray Fenton, who moved from Fountain Valley. Fenton replaces John Barnes, the county’s all-time leader in wins. The Griffins face an early challenge with a season opener against Long Beach Poly. 2015 record: 5-6
15. El Toro
The Chargers are favored to win the Sea View League, which, as usual, will be a very good league. 2015 record: 5-6
16. Newport Harbor
The Sailors might not have as many offensive playmakers as they did a few years ago, but they will always play hard for Coach Jeff Brinkley, so Harbor must be respected. 2015 record: 4-6
This might be the team that turns out better than most people expect. Myron Miller is back as the Tillers’ coach, and everyone knows what play the Tillers will run with him on the sidelines. But few opponents can keep that play from working. 2015 record: 8-3
18. Capistrano Valley
Quarterback Kevin Brown is ready for a fine senior year, and the Cougars should be better on defense than they were last year. 2015 record: 5-5
19. Fountain Valley
This program was a mess a few months ago. The coach they hired to replace Ray Fenton, resigned within a few weeks. Jimmy Nolan is now the Barons’ coach. 2015 record: 7-4
20. Trabuco Hills
The Mustangs might have trouble winning a playoff berth in the South Coast League, but they would be a playoff team in most of the other O.C. leagues. 2015 record: 3-8
As they often are, the Warriors should be Corona del Mar’s top competition in the Pacific Coast League. 2015 record: 6-5
22. Brea Olinda
The Wildcats look like the best team in the North Hills League, and when the playoffs arrive they might be the team to beat in Division 8, too. 2015 record: 8-6
With eight returning starters on defense and dual-threat quarterback Josiah Norwood, the Warriors are set for a terrific year. 2015 record: 5-6
24. Laguna Hills
With 14 returning starters, eight of them on defense, the Hawks might make a run at the Sea View League title. 2015 record: 8-4
The Mariners have 14 returning starters, and a couple of transfers will make big contributions. 2015 record: 6-4
ON THE BUBBLE
26. Brethren Christian
The county’s smaller private schools are improving their athletic programs at a rapid clip. Perhaps the best of a the group is Brethren Christian, which opened eyes with some fine performances in summer passing leagues. 2015 record: 11-2.
The Tigers’ calling card for decades under Coach Mike Marrujo was their team unity and fortitude. Marrujo retired after last season, but expect Valencia’s heart and resiliency to continue under Shawn Racobs, who had some tough teams when he was coach at El Dorado. 2015 record: 11-1
Quarterback Bobby Garcia leads what could be a volcanic offense. 2015 record: 6-4
29. Huntington Beach
A new coach, Brett Brown, inherits a team with six returning starters on defense. 2015 record: 3-7
30. Aliso Niguel
After being a pass-oriented team in recent seasons, the Wolverines will have more of a ball-control style. 2015 record: 3-7
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