Last season, Lakewood handed Poly its first Moore League loss since 1994. Both schools are ready to battle for the top spot in
Last season, Lakewood handed Poly its first Moore League loss since 1994. Both schools are ready to battle for the top spot in the league on Oct. 8. (Jeff Gritchen Staff Photographer)
  • RELATED STORY: Poly's Defensive Revival

     

    Lakewood High last season did what no other Moore League football team had been able to do since 1994 - beat Long Beach Poly in a league game. When the Lancers defeated the Jackrabbits, 21-14, on Oct. 9 at Veterans Stadium, they embarked on a Super Bowl-like celebration.

    It was as if no one associated with Lakewood wanted to leave the field, as if they wanted to cherish the feeling as long as possible.

    But that was 2009. It's a new year and Poly might be primed to take back the league championship.

    Meanwhile, the Lancers will be trying to repeat, and teams like Millikan and Wilson will be trying to make a return trip to the CIF Southern Section Pac-5 Division playoffs. Compton has high hopes, Jordan has a new coach and Cabrillo will be trying to get its first win of any kind since 2007; the Jaguars have gone 0-10 the past two seasons.

    Here's a closer look at the seven-team circuit, which begins play this week:

    LAKEWOOD LANCERS

    Coach: Thadd MacNeal

    Last year: 11-2, 6-0 (first)

    Key returners: Alley Long, RB, 5-8, 180, Sr.; Rashad Wadood, DB, 5-10, 180, Sr.; Darius Powe, WR/DB, 6-2, 180, Jr.; Theo Sheridan, OL, 6-2, 265, Sr.; Kelly Harpham, OL/DL, 6-3, 255, Sr.; Eric Wright, OL, 6-3, 250, Jr.; Torian Wright, OL, 6-6, 280, Sr.; Todd Barr, DE, 6-22, 265, Sr.; Jordan Roberts Dupree, DL, 6-2, 245, Sr.;


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    Nick Ellis, DL, 6-2, 220, Sr.; Jake Phillips, OL, 6-6, 245, Sr.; Ryan Cummings, LB, 5-10, 205, Sr.; Rahim Cassell, LB, 6-2, 215, Sr.; Kevin Medearis, WR/DB, 6-1, 180, Sr.

     

    Key newcomers: Tyler Schultz, QB, 5-11, 175, Sr.

    Outlook: With three-year starter Jesse Scroggins gone to graduation, senior Tyler Schultz will be the one trying to fill Scroggins' big shoes at quarterback. Schultz was a three-year starter on the junior varsity and had a combined record of 29-1. But this is not the JV.

    Still, Coach MacNeal is convinced Schultz will be able to lead a team that last season not only won the league title, but made it to the semifinals of the Pac-5 playoffs.

    "He sat behind Jesse and waited his turn," MacNeal said. "He's a 4.0 (GPA) student. Very smart, quick release. He's obviously a winner. I think he'll run our offense real well. I think he feels that if he runs our offense and gets it to our playmakers, he's going to have a great season."

    Schultz was smart enough to watch Scroggins perform.

    "I figured I learned a lot from him," Schultz said. "I'm just basically going to come out and take it game by game, play by play and just do what I do. If we all do what we do, there are not a lot of teams who can beat us."

    It'll help that four linemen return to the offense.

    "We've got the best offensive line we've ever had," MacNeal said, "so I think that's going to help everybody." Wright has committed to UCLA.

    Although Lakewood lost some solid receivers to graduation, MacNeal raves about Powe.

    "He will be the best guy around," MacNeal said.

    Running backs Long and Wadood figure to give Schultz a nice one-two punch in the backfield.

    Wadood, who has committed to Arizona State, also will start in the secondary of a defense loaded with talented players. Wadood is the only returner in that backfield, but Powe and Medearis will shore up that department.

    The linebacker corps features the likes of Cassell, who has a soft commitment to Florida, and Cummings. Barr, who is very highly recruited, anchors the line.

    It all makes for one outstanding football team. But will it be good enough to hold off Poly for a second consecutive season? Barr is convinced of it.

    "I feel the pressure is more on Poly because everybody's calling it (last year's win over the Jackrabbits) a fluke, saying it was a one-year thing," said Barr, one of the top defensive lineman prospects in the nation. "So they're expecting them to come back and beat us, which we know in our hearts is not going to happen. The work we put in this summer is something that I don't think most teams do."

    Cassell echoed that sentiment.

    "Basically, the fact is we want it more," he said. "We come out here every day during the summer and practice as hard as we can and basically leave our heart on the field. Like he (Barr) said, no other team does that besides us. That's the winning factor, point blank."

    MacNeal was asked if there is pressure on him to provide Lakewood and its supporters another victory in this rivalry.

    "Well, first, I've never thought of it as a rivalry because we haven't won enough games," he said. "I've felt we play them competitively. But until you win a bunch of games, it's not a true rivalry. But I don't want to downplay what a big game that is and how both communities and schools love that game, especially our school. Our players love that Poly game.

    "But going into the job, I wasn't thinking about beating Long Beach Poly. I was thinking making us a contender in the Pac-5 every year. When that game comes in Week 6 or 7 - whatever it is - it's going to be fun. And then that's all I'll think about."

    Interestingly, MacNeal believes Poly should still be the league favorite, its fall from the throne last season notwithstanding.

    "We saw them this summer and we know their personnel very well," MacNeal said. "They're going to be really, really good. They're going to be a big force in the Pac-5 - the whole conference - let alone the Moore League. So I would say Long Beach Poly would be the favorite and then we're going to compete and challenge them."

    Lakewood and Poly will play Oct. 8 at Veterans Stadium.

    POLY JACKRABBITS

    Coach: Raul Lara

    Last Year: 7-5 (6-6 on the field), 4-2 (tied for second)

    Key returners: Michael Teo, DL, 5-10, 235, Sr.; Corey Waller, LB/DE, 6-2, 210, Sr.; Josh Fasavalu, LB, 5-10, 210, Sr.; Matthew Rowe, LB, 6-2, 220, Jr.; Salamo Fiso, 6-0, 200, Jr.; Kameron Jackson, DB, 5-9, 158, Sr.; Dabness Atkins, DB, 5-8, 165, Sr.; Randall Goforth, WR, 5-10, 160, Jr.; Josiah Blandin, WR, 6-4, 185, Jr.; Richard Smith, WR, 5-8, 150, Jr.; Earnest Pettway, TE, 6-4, 228, Sr.; Nemo Stefanovic, OL, 6-1, 255, Jr.; Phillip Mose, OL, 6-4, 305, Sr.; Kameron White, RB, 5-10, 170, Sr.

    Key newcomers: Chaiyse Hales, QB, 5-10, 200, Jr.; Gregory Hayes, WR, 6-2, 175, Sr.; Donald Byrd, WR, 5-9, 175, Sr.; Deion Calhoun, DE, 5-11, 200, Sr.; James Nelson, DB, 5-11, 195, Sr.

    Outlook: With hardly any returning players heading into last season, Coach Lara said if anyone in the league was going to get the Jackrabbits, they better do it then because this season would be a different story. Well, Lakewood did hand Poly its first league loss last October after 80 consecutive victories dating to 1994. But don't look now, Poly is back.

    Actually, the Jackrabbits were back at the end of last season.

    Poly lost by just three points in the quarterfinals of the Pac-5 playoffs to eventual champion Servite - which also won a state bowl game - and were it not for a controversial pass interference call that went against the Jackrabbits late in that game, they might have at least made it to the semifinals.

    "We were playing real well at the end," Lara said. "If it wasn't for the P.I., we win that game. Last year was a year we knew we were going to be playing a lot of young kids. The schedule we had was one of the toughest in Southern California, one of the toughest in California, period, in the nation. I knew we were going to struggle.

    "We just didn't know who could play. If you look at the group we started with, we ended up with a different group at the end. A lot of the younger guys started at the end because they were more athletic than the older guys. Now with all those guys coming back, it's a big thing for us."

    Poly has seven full-time starters returning on both offense and defense. The key to the offense will be quarterback Hales, who saw limited action last season playing behind Dylan Lagarde and then Chris Leachman after Lagarde transferred to Los Alamitos. With no less than five talented wide receivers as well as tight end Pettway, if Hales can get them the ball, it could be all over.

    "We're asking our quarterback to manage the offense because we believe he has a lot of weapons," Lara said. "Manage the offense and get the ball to our weapons and make something happen."

    Hales threw just 27 passes last season, completing 10. But Lara believes he has the physical ability to get the job done.

    "He is kind of like a gunslinger," Lara said. "He has a little chip on his shoulder, which I like. He understands what we are trying to do with our offense."

    White figures to be the top running back, and Lara said there are several young backs he is excited about.

    The Jackrabbits are loaded on defense, too. With the likes of Waller, Teo and linebackers Fiso, Rowe and Fasavalu, Poly's defense was outstanding over the last month of last season.

    Lara has won four CIF titles during his tenure-in 2001, '04, '07 and '08. He said his 2001 team was the most talented team of the four, with the '04 team not far behind.

    "Comparing the four years we won the championship, they (current players) remind me of the very talented group of 2004," Lara said.

    "Not as talented as 2001, but they are in that area. We just can't mess it up, make sure we take care of business. ... Can we be better than 2001? We'll see. That is why we are so excited at Poly."

    Lara sized up the league.

    "Lakewood is the defending champions, they have a lot of guys coming back," he said. "From what I understand, they have some good players who came up from the lower levels who should do good, too. ... If I just had to pick, it would be Lakewood, us, Millikan and Compton."

    So, even with all of his talk about how strong this year's Poly team is, he still believes the Lancers should be the league favorite?

    "They are the returning champs, they should be," he said.

    WILSON BRUINS

    Coach: Mario Morales

    Last Year: 6-5, 4-2 (tied for second)

    Key returners: David Lowe, DB, 5-11, 175, Sr.; Jede Fue, LB, 6-0, 230, Sr.; Preston Allred, DB, 5-10, 185; Sr.; Daniel Ludwig, LB, 5-10, 200, Sr.; Brett Harper, QB, 5-10, 180, Jr.; Xavier Larry, OL, 5-11, 215, Sr.

    Key newcomers: Chase Allred, LB, 5-10, 205, Jr.; Jovan Magallon, DE, 5-11, 220, Sr.; Chris Gaumer, NG, 5-9, 195, Sr.; Garion Manning, WR, 5-8, 155, Sr.; Keith White, RB, 5-10, 230, Sr.; Jeff Gray, OL, 6-4, 295, Jr.

    Outlook: Harper started at quarterback as a sophomore - he threw for 1,250 yards, 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing 49 percent of his passes - so he brings a full year of experience into this campaign. He's also grown a couple of inches.

    "Obviously, the taller you are the better vision you are going to have; he has done a good job with vision," Morales said. "But a lot of that has to do with knowing how to read defenses. He's not just guessing. He knows where to throw the ball and he has real good instincts."

    Morales said he has spread his offense a bit more so Harper can also get out and run more than he did last season when he rushed for 165 yards and five touchdowns. Running back White, a transfer from Poly who did not play last season, should play a big part in the running game as well.

    "Keith is a pretty physical guy," Morales said. "We expect him to make an impact."

    Morales said Manning also figures to come in and make some noise at wide receiver.

    "He catches the ball real well," Morales said.

    Without much in the way of varsity experience on the line, Morales said its ability to develop into a cohesive unit will have the biggest bearing on the success of the offense.

    Although there aren't a lot of returning starters on defense, Morales is convinced its work ethic will pay dividends.

    "We feel really good about our defense, even though we don't have a lot of varsity experience," he said. "Our guys have done a really nice job of competing and playing at a high level."

    As for the league, Morales expects Lakewood and Poly will once again battle for the title.

    "After that, I think it's wide open," he said. "I think anyone can fall into the category of three through seven. I think we are right in the mix. It's going to be interesting as the season goes along."

    MILLIKAN RAMS

    Coach: Kirk Diego

    Last year: 6-5, 3-3 (fourth)

    Key returners: Sam Taylor, LB/FB, 5-11, 215, Sr.; Kody Robison, DL/OL, 6-2, 230, Sr.; Marty Robinson, DL/OL, 5-11, 245; Jr.; Zachary Taves, OL/DL, 6-5, 270, Sr.; Aamil Muhammad, WR/DB, 6-2, 185 Sr.

    Key newcomers: Justin Dobard, LB, 6-4, 220, Jr.; Shane Lackman, LB, 6-3, 190, Jr; Chris Ortiz, DL, 5-11, 250, Jr.; Bobby Mata, DB, 5-9, 170, Sr.; Angel Garcia, DB, 5-11, 170, Sr.; Christian Ybarra, QB/DB, 6-1, 175, Sr.; Josh Brown, WR, 5-9, 182, Sr; Jeremiah Blandin, WR, 6-4, 185, Jr.

    Outlook: Longtime coach Diego said he has "563 guys playing both ways." He was kidding, but he was serious when he said the work ethic his players showed during the offseason and now in practice has been very encouraging.

    "We're a really good team, and by that I mean a bunch of guys who really don't care who gets credit for what they're doing," Diego said. "Their offseason was probably one of the very best we've ever had as far as commitment in the weight room. They have worked hard and deserve whatever good things can happen to them."

    The biggest key on offense will be the play of quarterback Ybarra.

    He saw limited action last season behind Alden Darby and Paul Slater, throwing for 73 yards and one touchdown. Diego said Ybarra has the tools, now he just has to put them to good use.

    "We've had some pretty good quarterbacks come through here the past several years," said Diego, who mentioned Jake Holtz as one of them. "Christian may have the strongest arm of all of them. He makes throws that some of the others couldn't make."

    But, Diego said, Ybarra needs to use that strength smartly.

    "The only scary thing is, like a lot of the strong-armed quarterbacks, they think they can zip the ball in there no matter what," Diego said. "He has to sometimes go to the next guy. When he makes a poor throw, he is the first guy to know: 'Oh, I should have gone to my second.' I just tell him, 'Pretend you throw as hard as I do and go to the second or third guy.'"

    Diego said Ybarra also runs the ball well, and is making a lot of audibles.

    "If we can get the protection and catch it when he (Ybarra) throws it, he has a chance to have a good year," Diego said.

    Taylor will lead a contingent of about four players who will run the ball. But Taylor might have a bigger impact on defense.

    "We think he is going to be a tremendous linebacker," Diego said of Taylor, who had 74 tackles, 1 2 sacks and one interception last season.

    COMPTON TARBABES

    Coach: Calvin Bryant

    Last year: 4-5, 2-4 (tied for fifth)

    Key returners: Melvin Lewis, DL/OL/TE, 6-3, 275, Sr.; Tony Austin, LB/FB, 5-11, 205, Sr.; Garrett Sialoi, OL/DL, 6-1, 230, Soph.; Tremell Sneed, QB/S, 6-2, 170, Jr.; Brandon Bagley, DB/WR, 5-10, 160, Sr.; Lalotoa Laumea, OL/DL, 6-4, 240, Jr.; Roger Jones, RB/DB, 5-8, 170, Jr.; Marcus Jones, DL/OL, 6-0, 255, Sr.

    Key newcomers: Deonte Dixon, RB/DB, 5-10, 190, Soph.; Devonte Dixon, LB/FB, 5-10, 195, Soph.

    Outlook: The Tarbabes had high hopes heading into the 2009 campaign, but injuries - in particular those to Sneed and star running back James McConico - slowed the Compton express tremendously. But with a healthy Sneed back in the fold, as well as running back Jones - who did his best Al Bundy impression by scoring four touchdowns in a 39-28 loss to Dorsey last September - Coach Bryant is optimistic about his double-wing offense.

    "Sneed is very vital," Bryant said. "Everybody knows that - not only at quarterback, but at safety. The key to our offense is that we have speed. We're not going to be as big, but our advantage is that we will be quicker."

    All of Bryant's eight returning starters will play iron-man football as the numbers are low - only 36 names grace the roster - but Bryant likes the team's prospects for success because of the talent of those players.

    "When we have those kinds of returners in the program, we normally get some results," Bryant said. "We are looking to be able to compete this year. Not looking ahead, just playing one game at a time."

    The most intriguing newcomers are the sophomore Dixon twins. With both running the ball as well as toiling on defense, Bryant expects them to make their presence felt.

    "They will have an immediate impact and normally (sophomore) guys can't do that in our program," Bryant said.

    Like Poly coach Lara, Bryant believes Lakewood should be favored to again win league because it is the defending champion.

    "It's Lakewood's year until somebody proves otherwise," he said.

    JORDAN PANTHERS

    Coach: Thomas Barnes

    Last year: 2-4, 3-7 (tied for fifth)

    Key returners: Marc Winrow, LB, 5-11, 223, Sr.; Raylon Widby, CB, 5-10, 170, Sr.; Justin Kynard, LB, 6-1, 180, Sr.; Jarell Wright, DL, 6-1, 267, Sr.; Siosifa Tufunga, OL, 6-3, 299, Sr.; Puaolele Leota, OL, 6-0, 245, Jr.; Fiamatai Togiaso, OL/DL, 6-1, 335

    Key newcomers: Dominick Bell, RB, 5-10, 195, Jr.; Justin Slaughter, RB, 5-11, 210, Jr.; Hudson Romain, QB, 6-0, Soph.

    Outlook: Barnes is in his first season at the helm, replacing Scott Meyer. Previously an assistant under Meyer, Barnes takes over a team that did not have a good 2009 as injuries to its best players proved very damaging. But Barnes takes a very positive attitude into his inaugural season as head honcho.

    "They are responding real well," Barnes said, when asked if he was getting what he wants out of his players. "They are working real hard and I am excited about the things they are doing right now."

    Jason Logologo (357 yards, 3 TDs), the Panthers' leading ground gainer a year ago, transferred to Mayfair. That puts tThe onus of the running game will now be on Bell and Slaughter. Bell had 58 carries for 250 yards and one touchdown in 2009. Jordan also will be starting a sophomore at quarterback in Romain. This from a team that scored only 151 points last season, an average of 15.1. But that doesn't sap Barnes' spirit.

    "They are learning the system real well," he said. "Anything can happen with these guys. They are young, but I think they are too young to know they shouldn't be doing some of the special things they're doing. We should do well."

    Barnes suggested things should get interesting when the league schedule comes around.

    "It's wide open now," Barnes said. "You always have the mystique that surrounds Long Beach Poly and then you have Lakewood that is on the upswing. I know Cabrillo has really improved and I've been hearing good things about Millikan as well as Long Beach Wilson.

    "We are all undefeated right now."

    CABRILLO JAGUARS

    Coach: A.J. Luke

    Last year: 0-10, 0-6 (seventh)

    Key returners: William Curley, DE, 6-2, 227, Sr; Alex Nauer, DE, 5-10, 190, Jr.; Vincent Nicholson, DL, 6-0, 270, Sr.; John Scanlin, LB, 6-1, 265, Sr.; Ari Faaiu, LB, 6-2, 255, Sr; Tashaun Young, LB, 5-11, 229, Jr.; Jehlon Davis, CB, 5-11, 175, Sr.; Derek Stewart, QB, 6-3, 185, Jr.; Donavan Cruz, WR, 6-3, 207, Sr.; Joshua Thomas, TE, 6-3, 211, Jr.; Andrew Foster, RB, 5-11, 189, Sr.; Lance Manusina, OL, 6-2, 336, Sr.; Obadiah Tauiliili, OL, 6-0, 260, Jr.; Situe Manusina, OL, 6-2, 249, Jr.; Alonzo Hansen, 6-2, 225, Jr.

    Key newcomers: Andrew Benn, WR, 6-3, 180, Sr.; T.J. Mataafa, DL, 5-10, 267, Soph.; Correy Waller Wilson, WR, 6-4, 196, Sr.

    Outlook: The Jaguars scored only 155 points while allowing 413 last season. But with seven returning starters on defense and eight on offense, they seem ready to get some victories here in 2010.

    "This team, it has been committed since day one," Coach Luke said.

    "This is the first time I've seen this much participation during the offseason. (Former Poly High standout) Hershel Dennis was working with our guys during the dead period. The commitment is finally kicking in at Cabrillo."

    Luke said the problem offensively the past couple of years has been keeping the line intact. He said it finally appears solid.

    "Our whole offense has jelled and we are hoping to become the most explosive team on offense in the Moore League."

    Besides returning all-league wideout Cruz, newcomers Benn and Waller Wilson give the Jaguars a tall receiving corps.

    "All our receivers are over 6-3," Luke said. "We are big on the receiving side."

    Luke seemed just as animated when speaking about his defense.

    "We are flying to the ball," he said. "We have lots of team speed."

    The prognosis?

    "I think we are about to turn that corner," Luke said.

    robert.morales@presstelegram.com