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October, 2009 - Issue #60
In the past five years, four schools have won Foothill League football titles. That's how competitive things have become.

"It's to the point where an injury or two could be the difference between finishing fourth or winning the championship," says Canyon coach Chris Varner. "Teams are that close."

Here are the six contenders, in order of last year's finish.

SAUGUS
Entering last year without any returning defenders, Saugus was expected to struggle. Oops.

Having proven people wrong with a league title, Saugus will now attempt to do it again despite replacing superstar quarterback Desi Rodriguez and tailback Ryan Zirbel. "They're saying the same thing as last year, that we're going to fall on hard times," says Centurions coach Jason Bornn. "That's great. It just gives us a chip on our shoulder."

Among those with the shoulder chips are receivers Manny Padron and Jonathan Aguirre, offensive linemen Tony Divis and Brian Faussett, defensive lineman Melqui Lemus and linebacker Adrian Cruz, the Centurions' six returning All-Foothill League players.

As for the shoe-fillers, quarterback Zach Gauthier, a strong-armed, fleet-footed, albeit inexperienced senior, will take over for Rodriguez. Tyler Watt and Devin Gustaveson, both sophomores, will receive chances to take over for Zirbel as the tailbacks.

VALENCIA
As for the most likely team to dethrone Saugus, it's a no-brainer. "You'd have to be nuts if you don't pick Valencia to win it this year," Bornn says. "They're loaded. They return a ton of kids and these kids coming back are great."

Valencia returns 13 starters including All-League receiver/defensive backs Zach Tartabull and Brock Vereen, offensive linemen Nolan O'Sullivan and Nick Oliva, defensive linemen Kevin Rush and Kevin Carrington and linebacker Rocky Maldonado.

Then there are the newcomers. Quarterback Alex Bishop proved himself last season, winning three games as starter. He'll be handing it off to an intriguing new weapon in junior tailback Steven Manfro. "He's a good one," says Valencia coach Larry Muir. "No doubt about it."

HART
For the first time in Hart coach Mike Herrington's 20 years, Hart failed to win a playoff game last year. It's no coincidence he's also never had a defense allow as many points. "By Hart standards the defense was horrible," Herrington says.

The good news is that All-League safety Ty MacArthur returns. The not-as-terrific news is that the Indians have had to break in an entirely new set of starting defensive lineman. They're also working with an entirely rebuilt offensive line.

But there are positives. Third-year tailback Jake Stephens and receivers MacArthur and All-Leaguer Blake Borland give Hart stability at its skill positions for incoming quarterback C.J. Reyes. "C.J. throws a really good ball," Herrington says. "We expect great things."

CANYON
Canyon won the state Division I championship in 2006. It hasn't played a playoff game since.

"That's the goal, finding a way into the playoffs" Varner says. "Last year we were two points from having 11 games instead of 10 (a two-point loss against third-place Hart)."

The strength will come in the trenches. Returning All-League offensive lineman Shane Moniz and All-League defensive lineman Gavin Schelske lead deep, talented units. Returning offensive lineman Nick Sotos, receiver Shane Habberstad, safety Tyler Miller and defensive back/receiver Drew Davis should provide additional stability.

Quarterback is a different story. Sophomore Jonathan Jerozal is a newcomer. "He's a hard worker with some nice tools," Varner says of last year's freshman team quarterback. "He's got a really good arm and I think he's going to do a good job."

WEST RANCH
The 1972 Miami Dolphins featured a defense that played well together despite an absence of any recognizable stars, hence their nickname, the No-Name Defense. West Ranch is taking that to the extreme.

"We have the no-name defense, the no-name offense, the complete no-name team," says new Wildcats coach Sean O'Brien. "Nobody's ever heard of anyone on our team." One of the reasons for the lack of name recognition is the lack of experience. Only two players, tailback Zak Snell and safety Branden Pistone, saw significant time last season. There's also another reason. "We're hungry to get into the conversation when people talk about which teams can win a league title," O'Brien says. "We can't get there until we beat one of the top four teams."

GOLDEN VALLEY
If West Ranch is hungry, Golden Valley is nearly starving.

New coach Andy Campbell inherits a team that has never won a league game. Why'd he take the job?

"We want to make history," Campbell says. "When I met these kids I could see hunger in their eyes. They needed someone to follow. Being that guy gives me great joy."

There's reason for hope. Joseph Figueroa, the league's leading tackler last year, is back at linebacker. In Jimmy Hughes, the Grizzlies are also the only team in the league with a returning quarterback.
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