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Foothill League's Season Preview
Top-Recruited Stars Battle it Out for Local Football Title
October, 2005 - Issue #12
The seeds of this year's Foothill League football intrigue were sown under the Friday-night lights of Cougar Stadium last October.

Hart and Valencia fans will remember the moment well. Viking quarterback Michael Herrick, having just pushed his way into the endzone late in the third-quarter against archrival Hart, picked up his helmet off the COC turf and thrust it skyward on his way to a jubilant Viking sideline.

The touchdown accounted for the final points in Valencia's historic 29-10 victory. The win was the Vikings' first-ever over Hart in 11 tries - an eight-year span.

It also snapped Hart's 14-year, 65-game league win streak.

Valencia went on to capture its first league championship while Hart slumped to third. As Foothill League football goes, the world had turned upside down.

Fast-forward 11 months and what you have is a brand new football landscape in the Santa Clarita Valley. Graduated defensive lines. Departed all-league quarterbacks and tailbacks. Even a new head coach.

Yes, Herrick returns for his senior season, as does All-CIF junior tailback Shane Vereen. Hart standout quarterback Tyler Lyon is also back, along with Saugus signal caller Zach Summers.

But as far as continuity goes, that's about it, and the result is no one knows what's going to happen.

• Can Valencia defend its long-awaited league title?
• Can Hart regain the form that resulted in five CIF Southern Section titles in six years?
• Can Canyon, after three straight second-place finishes, take that final step back to the glory years of the first Harry Welch era?
• Can Saugus build on the 6-5 performance that earned the team an invitation to the playoffs?

Hart

The buzz heading into league season is that Hart may be the team to beat. Behind a revamped offensive line, Lyon is perched to show doubters why he is one of the most highly recruited prospects in the country.

Hart began making its case in the summer by winning several passing tournaments. Lyon looked sharp and, perhaps more important, he looked protected. Hart's offensive line of JT Hartmire, Jackson Smith, Brandon Takata and Jeremy Neff averages 265 pounds, the most of any O-line in the league. That's a welcome change for Herrington and, no doubt, Lyon.

"The biggest thing is we've got to protect Lyon," said Hart coach Mike Herrington. "We allowed three to four sacks per game last season, but we're more solid now. Tyler's more comfortable. It's going to be a big season for him."

And then there's the matter of Hart's wounded pride.

"The kids are really motivated," Herrington said. "They fell a little short last year and they're hungry to get it back."

At 6-foot-6, Lyon should have little difficulty finding his new favorite target, wide receiver Troy Yudin. The sure-handed senior hauled in 45 passes and eight touchdowns last year and appears recovered from an ankle sprain that sidelined him for most of the summer.

Sophomore Delano Howell will get the starting nod at tailback amid whispers he may be even better than brothers Keith and Dan, both of whom starred for Hart and are now playing college football.

Still, Herrington remains cautiously optimistic.

"Some people are saying we're back, that we're the favorites. But I don't know what they base that on," he said. "We won three passing league tournaments, but that doesn't necessarily correlate to the regular season. We still have a long way to go."

Valencia

The road to the Foothill League championship goes through Valencia, literally.

On October 28, the Vikings will welcome Hart to Paul Priesz Field to battle for league supremacy.

The defending champs are happy to have the home-field advantage, but that's not all they have. Not even close.

For starters, Valencia boasts perhaps the most prolific passer in California high school history in Herrick. The All-CIF field general threw for more than 4,000 yards last year and should break the state's all-time passing record this year.

Herrick admits he's "excited" about the record, but insists it's not his priority.

"It doesn't mean anything unless we're winning," he said.

If Valencia wins this year, it will do so on the strength and accuracy of Herrick's arm - that and the nimble feet of tailback Vereen, who amassed 32 touchdowns and 2,126 yards from scrimmage last year.

Missing from the Viking equation this year, however, will be most of a defense that surrendered just 15 points per game in 2004. Gone are eight starters, including All-League linebackers Torrey O'Brien, Anthony DeFilippo and Gary Cox, along with their 397 combined tackles.

Also missing is head coach Brian Stiman, who retired last season after leading the team to a 12-2 campaign and the CIF Division II title game.

In his place is former offensive coordinator Larry Muir.

"It's going to take a lot of dedication, a lot of heart for us to repeat," Herrick said. "Talent can only take you so far. You need passion and fire and we have that this year."

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the Hart-Valencia rematch will be the clash of Herrick and Lyon. Herrick has already committed to play at Mississippi next year, and Lyon has received offers from a number of high-profile Division I programs, including Notre Dame.

"To have two quarterbacks that are arguably two of the best in the country going to school five miles apart as the crow flies is incredible," said Canyon coach Welch.

Said Herrick of Lyon: "We don't hang out together, but we're friends. We respect each other. There's always competition, but that makes us both better. You want to play against the best, but you can't think 'I've got to be better than him.'"

Canyon

Don't count out the Cowboys. Yes, they lost All-League quarterback Will Brogan and tailback Justin Williams to graduation, but Welch and Canyon have rebuilt on the fly before.

Last year, Welch replaced another All-League backfield in Nate Longshore and Louis Montano and still managed to go 10-2. Expect similar results in 2005.

Tailback J.J. DiLuigi starred for the JV team last season and should carry the bulk of the load for Canyon, but senior Mike Montano will see his share of carries as well.

"Our JV team was great last year, but a good JV team versus the best in the Foothill League is tough," Welch said. "If our team's going to be good, the seniors are going to have to lead us."

At quarterback, Welch enjoys the luxury of two quality choices in senior Austin Civita and junior Ben Longshore. The pair split time during the summer passing league season and Welch admits he's prepared to utilize both.

Either way, he has high hopes for the backfield.

"In each of the last two years, we've had All-League quarterbacks and tailbacks," he said. "I kind of like that combination. I'd like to do it again."

On defense, the Cowboys will employ a corps of Tyler Hawkins, Nick Jurado and Matt Brown.

"I like our linebackers very much," Welch said. "Still, we're a very young and inexperienced team."

Also weighing against Canyon is the overall strength of the Foothill League. In many other Southern California leagues, the Cowboys might be favored. Not so in the SCV.

"I'd like to know any leagues that would put Saugus and Canyon in the middle," Welch said. "And Valencia and Hart - who's got two better teams in the same league? My prognostication? Valencia and Hart may do battle for a CIF championship and we hope to be a good team."

Saugus

The Centurions may not run the table in league, but they can be a good team as well. Bornn's team features a conservative, ball-control offense coupled with a stout defense. On their best day, they could knock off a contender.

Summers is back under center, and Ryan Purdy will start at tailback.

Look for Saugus' offensive line, which features 6-foot-3, 300-pound Ramsen Golpashin, to establish a running game. The Cents want to control the clock, then give Summers a chance to flex his accurate arm.

"I like our offensive line," Bornn said. "They're young kids, but they're strong, quick and they're very intelligent. Our defense is in its third year of running the program, and with skill position kids like (Summers) and (Purdy) returning ... those are our strengths."

Saugus hopes that formula will put them back in the playoffs, where they can improve on last season's first-round exit.

In any event, it will be enough to propel the Centurions over Burroughs and Burbank, which should settle at the bottom of the league in this, their final Foothill League season.

West Ranch and Golden Valley

West Ranch will field a JV team this season before joining the big boys next year. Golden Valley will play a freelance varsity schedule this year and will make the Foothill League an all-SCV affair in 2006.

You can expect even more fireworks when that happens.

In the meantime, the 2005 season should have enough fireworks to keep everybody entertained.
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