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Tarbabes Sports

2010 Moore League Preview (LB Post)

Posted Friday, August 27, 2010 by Calvin Bryant
Football 2010 Season Preview! Moore League Prepares For Kickoff
by Ryan ZumMallen | Sports Book | 08.26.10 |
 
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Long Beach Poly quarterback Chaiyse Hales throws a bullet while head coach Raul Lara looks on. Photo by Ryan ZumMallen.

As Long Beach prepares to head into the 2010 Moore League high school football season, here’s what we know for sure:

Lakewood is the favorite, and Long Beach Poly will be very good.

That’s about it. Every other team has unanswered questions, every other team is in a state of transition, every other team is a wildcard. When asked, every coach in the Moore League agreed that as reigning champions, the Lakewood Lancers should be the favorites to repeat this year. But perennial powerhouse Long Beach Poly will not sneak up on anyone this year and everyone with even a passing interest in high school football has already circled their October 8 showdown on the nearest calendar. Lakewood and Poly will likely be the class of the Moore League and have the opportunity to be two of the best teams in the state.

“I look at Lakewood and Poly as the two teams that have proven themselves as bona fide big time programs,” said one Moore League coach. “It’s anybody’s race after that.”

So why is everyone talking about a team that hasn’t won a game in two seasons?

You read that right. The Cabrillo Jaguars have not earned a victory since 2007, yet they’re one of the first Moore League teams brought up by every coach. Part of that may be that most teams in the league aren’t as strong as they usually are, but in head coach A.J. Luke’s third season at the helm of Cabrillo, we’re starting to see signs of a team that is ready to emerge from the shadows.

"This is my first year seeing commitment, committed players," Luke says. "It's a new day for Cabrillo."

A longtime assistant at Poly and architect of some of that school’s all-time great teams, Luke began recruiting believers the second he donned a Jaguars visor and many are betting that his confidence will pay off this year. Pulling some of his Poly connections, Luke brought in former Jackrabbit and USC star running back Hershel Dennis and other pros to work out with his players over the summer. “It helped them see what it takes to be successful,” Luke says. “Those guys inspired our players to work hard and get better in the offseason.”

One of those players is returning quarterback Derek Stewart, who threw for more than 1,500 yards as a sophomore last year. Expect even bigger numbers this year as speedster Donavan Cruz may be one of the league's top wideouts and Luke says that four of his receivers are at least 6-foot-4, and they're all fast. The Jaguars will look to left tackle Lance Manusina to lead a much improved offensive line and standout linebackers Ari Faaiu and Deandre Gardner to anchor a ferocious defense. Cabrillo still has questions hanging around the secondary with a lot of youth and possibly even some freshmen seeing playing time, but the tools are in place.

Now all he has to do is get those same players accustomed to the taste of victory. Once they get the first win out of their system, Luke believes that others will follow. Spirits are already higher than ever, both on the field and off. When he first came to Cabrillo, Luke had 18 players named academically ineligible. Last year, that number was down to 3. This year, he hopes his prediction of zero will stick. Luke and his coaches have stressed the team mantra of C.I.A. – Character. Integrity. Accountability. – and it’s made his players better athletes and, most importantly, better people.

But will they be able to get over the hump and compete for four quarters against the Comptons, Millikans, Wilsons and Jordans of the league? It’s impossible to say at this point, because it’s impossible to know what any of these teams is capable of. Compton has huge questions at depth, Millikan is relying on a lot of youth, Wilson is revamping the offense and the Jordan Panthers have a new coach and practically a new everything else, too.

“We’ve even got new helmets,” jokes first-year head coach Thomas Barnes. Stepping in for former head coach Scott Meyer, who now runs the Wilson defense, Barnes raised eyebrows this offseason by adding former UCLA assistant and Compton Centennial head coach Eric Scott as offensive coordinator. But what will Scott have to work with? Jordan is sorting out its skill positions and Barnes says the team’s biggest strengths are both the offensive and defensive lines. It’s imperative that the young team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. “Oh, we have to,” Barnes says.

But once the ball is snapped, Barnes is still figuring out who it's going to, and is waiting for his standouts to emerge. "My favorite guy is the guy who just made a great play," he says. Barnes is certainly excited about recent Washington commit Siosifa Tufunga, one of the Moore League's best offensive linemen at tackle. The 6-foot-3, 300 pound Tufunga will protect quarterback Hudson Romaine and coach Barnes likes the effort from receiver/safety Dontae Shipman. "I think they'll play four quarters and really go hard," Barnes says. "We don't have a choice."

The Millikan Rams find themselves in a similar boat this season. Head coach Kirk Diego is pleased with the progression of Christian Ybarra, his senior southpaw quarterback. But their biggest strength is on the line, thanks to a dedicated group of players who belong to “The Dinner Club.” It’s a way for players to bond and push each other in the offseason, joining together for weight training sessions and then dinner. “This year we had more guys in the Dinner Club than ever before,” Diego says, and as a result, it's the strongest offensive line that he's had at Millikan. “They’re just great, hard-working kids, probably the most dedicated I’ve ever had.” In recent years, however, Millikan hasn’t been the luckiest when it comes to injuries and the bug could bite again this year. Many players will pull double duty on both offense and defense and a lack of depth should have Rams fans concerned.

But Diego is excited about several of his guys who, in the typical Diego mold, have no quit in them. "One of our strengths," he says, "Is nobody cares who gets their name in the paper." Well then I would like to apologize to the following players: junior center Marty Robinson who may be the best player on a very good line; blazing kick returner Aamil Muhammad; middle linebacker Sam Taylor and 6-foot-5 receiver Jeremiah Blandin. Watch for these guys, along with Ybarra, to march the Rams into battle this year.

Same goes for the Wilson Bruins, who have speed and a promising returning quarterback in Brett Harper, but will rely on a lot of youth and two-way players. Even Harper is nursing a sore twisted ankle, though he says it’ll be fine when the Bruins open up at Huntington Park. No kidding. Harper couldn’t be more excited about the prospect of opening up the new spread offense that Wilson will unveil this year, and head coach Mario Morales believes his team has the speed at receiver to take advantage of Harper’s undeniable talents. They'll also count on improved junior linemen Xavier Larry and Daniel Ludwig to protect him On the other side, defensive coordinator Scott Meyer will try to pick up where he left off after building an impressive squad at Jordan High over the last few seasons, counting on guys like cornerback David Lowe to lead the attack.

"We keep preaching to play at a high level and be football tough," Morales says. "If we can do those two things consistently we'll be able to work out of any situation." No one doubts that Wilson has the ability, but do they have the depth to excel in the Moore League?

Take that last sentence and substitute the word “Wilson” with “Compton” and boy, we could debate all day. The league’s most explosive offense is also it’s most unpredictable, mainly because the Compton Tarbabes have been plagued by injuries that derailed otherwise promising seasons in recent years. Head coach Calvin Bryant’s squad is thin at certain positions again this year, but with his quarterback and star tailback returning and some new foils in his offensive scheme, Compton could certainly be sitting atop the leaderboard at season’s end.

“If we do what we’re supposed to do and we’re able to play solid defense, I think we’ll be difficult to defeat,” Bryant says. “But we haven’t been able to put on that kind of performance yet so I guess I can’t say that.”

While Compton hasn’t always been able to stay full throttle for four quarters, their unique offense is as dangerous as any within a 50-mile radius. Bryant clings to the Double Wing T offense, using misdirection to create open holes for his blazing running backs that regularly rack up 200+ yards per game. Bryant has another star in junior Roger Jones (pictured right) who was hampered by injuries last year but is ready to be the feature back, and with quarterback Tremell Sneed back and healthy, Bryant even promises to add some passing plays to his arsenal.

“We’ll be a little bit more balanced [offensively], as well as what we normally do,” Bryant explains. “I’m never going to go away from the success that [the Double Wing T] has brought - the notoriety and the scholarships, the kids doing good things. Why would I?”

The man creating those holes for the running backs is also Compton’s defensive captain, fullback and linebacker Tony Austin. The linebacking corps is the Tarbabes’ greatest asset, Bryant says, and Austin is the reason. Watch out for Compton if the thin squad can stay healthy and execute Bryant’s intricate offense.

But it’s no secret who we’ll all be watching this season. Long Beach Poly and Lakewood are without a doubt the two titans, and while we know next to nothing about most teams in the Moore League, we know an awful lot about these two squads. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly this season, they’re deep. Very deep. Like, Poly has eight explosive receivers and Lakewood could field two completely equal defenses. They do differ in a few ways, however.

For one, Lakewood head coach Thadd MacNeal understands that his Lancers will be targeted since they come into the season as reigning champions, but is coaching his team through the offseason as though they’re still underdogs. “We always feel like we’ve got a chip on our shoulders,” MacNeal says. “Like we have to prove ourselves in every practice, every game.”

Long Beach Poly head coach Raul Lara has a slightly different approach.

“We’re shooting for a National Championship,” he says. “Now, to do that, you’ve got to win State, you’ve got to win C.I.F., you’ve got to win the Moore League.” It wouldn’t be unheard of. Poly is widely regarded as the nation’s premier program and has its share of banners, nearly adding a National Title in 2008. Lara thinks that this year’s team is as talented as any he’s had, and with 9 returning starters on each side of the ball, the Jackrabbits are as deep as they've been in years. Lara isn’t afraid to say that he plans to utilize that receiving corps through the arm of senior quarterback Chaiyse Hales. "We're definitely going to open up the offense this year," Lara says, pointing to receivers Gregory Byrd and Donald Hayes but adding that any of eight players could start at wideout this year. "When that group is clicking, watch out."

On defense, the speed of Poly’s secondary is downright frightening and linebacker Corey Waller (pictured right) is a likely candidate for League Defensive Player of the Year. Lara estimates that his offensive line will average out at 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds. It will not be difficult to motivate Waller and the rest of the Poly defensive attack. "They know what happened last year," Lara says. "There's a little redemption at stake."

Not that the Lakewood Lancers won’t have something to say about it. The running game will pace the offense with returning speedsters Allie Long and Rashad Wadood, who took advantage of teams that focused too much on current USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins last season. Stepping into Scroggins’ shoes is senior Tyler Schultz, who has excited MacNeal all summer with sharp accuracy and a great deep ball to receivers like Darius Powe. “If we stay healthy and really gel together I think we’ll be a playoff contender and be very competitive,” says MacNeal. “I believe on any given night we’ll be able to compete with anybody.”

Safe bet, especially with this defense. The Lancers will be led by the aptly-named Powe at free safety along with some of the region’s best linebackers in Rahim Cassell and Ryan Cummings. Lakewood is big, real big, up front and extremely fast in the secondary, even after losing quite a few seniors to graduation last year. MacNeal says that it’s been a smooth transition of plugging in players that are new to the Varsity because even if they didn’t get a chance to play last year, they practiced with an outstanding team that made a very deep playoff run. “They’ve already gotten reps with all the great players that have come through the program, so they can try to emulate it when it’s their turn,” MacNeal says.

It’s their turn now and Lakewood could have another season for the record books if everything goes according to plan. To keep the players from resting on the success of last year, MacNeal and staff try to create competition in every facet of practice. It develops your depth, he says, but also contributes to the Lakewood plan of feeling that you have to prove yourself every day, every drill, every play. That very approach is what could push Lakewood into the State discussion very early this season.

“Our team mantra has been: ‘doubt us’,” MacNeal says. “Doubt us and see what happens.”

*

A look at the numbers (in alpha order)

Cabrillo
2009 record: 0-10 (0-6)
First game: At Lincoln 09/04

First league game: At Millikan 10/01
Synopsis: Many believe this is the year that the Jaguars and their inspiring coach make their move.

Compton
2009 record: 4-5 (2-4)
First game: Monte Vista 09/03

First league game: Lakewood 10/01
Synopsis: They have the offense, but can they consistently execute and avoid injuries? If so, watch out.

Jordan
2009 record: 3-7 (2-4)
First game: L.A. Jordan 09/03

First league game: Poly 10/01
Synopsis: Questions swirl around the skill positions as Coach Barnes begins his building process.

Lakewood
2009 record: 11-2 (6-0)
First game:  Locke 09/03

First league game: At Compton 10/01
Synopsis: Reigning league champions enter season as favorites, an unfamiliar position, and may be just as stacked as last year.

Millikan
2009 record: 6-5 (3-3)
First game: Gahr 09/03

First league game: Cabrillo 10/01
Synopsis: Never have to worry about a Kirk Diego team showing up prepared and ready to fight until the final whistle.

Poly
2009 record: 7-5 (4-2)
First game: Bakersfield 09/02

First league game: At Jordan 10/01
Synopsis: Despite not being the favorite, Poly won’t sneak up on anybody this season, in the Moore League or otherwise.

Wilson
2009 record: 6-5 (4-2)
First game: At Huntington Park 09/03

First league game: At Millikan 10/08
Synopsis: Spread offense will put spotlight on Harper, while a new defensive era begins under the eye of architect

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