San Fernando Valley Varsity Football Preview : The Top Ten

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parimalrohitBY PARIMAL ROHIT

This week, MyDailyFind.com  takes a look at the Top 10 Prep Football Programs in the San Fernando Valley. 

San Fernando Valley Top 10 Prep Football Programs

(Max Prep State Ranking in parentheses)

  1. Notre Dame (4)
  2. Crespi (13)
  3. Alemany (47)
  4. Arleta (111)
  5. Taft (157)
  6. Birmingham (183)
  7. Harvard-Westlake (257)
  8. Sylmar (326)
  9. Chaminade (371)
  10. El Camino Real (374)

football350Teams Ranked 11-20

  1. San Fernando (508)
  2. Campbell Hall (601)
  3. Poly (627)
  4. Cleveland (639)
  5. Kennedy (663)
  6. Canoga Park (666)
  7. Village Christian (688)
  8. Chatsworth (755)
  9. Reseda (772)
  10. Granada Hills (780)

The Rest of the Field

  1. Grant (854)
  2. Panorama (897)
  3. North Hollywood (920)
  4. Monroe (923)
  5. Van Nuys (955)
  6. Montclair Prep (1022)
  7. Sierra Canyon (1027)

Team-by-Team Analysis (Top 10)

1. Notre Dame Knights (Sherman Oaks)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 7 at Klein Oak (Spring, Texas)  

Update : The Notre Dame Knights won big in Texas, defeating Spring (Texas) Klein Oak, 37-7, at the Kirk Herbstreit Varsity Football Series at Cowboys Stadium  in their first game of the season September 7.

2008 Record: 11-1

Key 2009 Games: Taft (9/18), @ Birmingham (9/25), Chaminade (10/23), Crespi (10/30)

Key 2009 Players: QB Ryan Kasdorf (Sr.), OL Ben Gottschalk (Sr.)

Head Coach: Kevin Rooney

League: Serra

Divisions: State = Division 2 South, Section = Division I, Pac-5

Notre Dame begins the 2009 season ranked fourth by Max Preps, and for good reason – they have Ryan Kasdorf under center. Last season, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior threw for almost 3,330 yards and connected on 36 touchdowns (against only eight interceptions). Kasdorf has a strong arm and is quite agile, with the ability to sit in the pocket and find a target or break free and scramble to make something out of nothing. He is also quite accurate, completing 69 percent of his passes and averaging 274-plus yards per game last season. As a rusher, Kasdorf scored six touchdowns on 94 carries and 628 yards, good for a 52 yard per game average.

Helping him will be Ben Gottschalk, the 6-foot-5, 265-pound beast of an offensive lineman who is perhaps one of the most fundamentally sound blockers in the state. In the backfield is senior Kenneth Boggs, a solid running back who amassed more than 1,000 yards rushing last season and scored 19 touchdowns while leading the team in averaging nearly 86 yards per game on the ground.

Last season, their defense was able to handle explosive offenses in Birmingham, Saugus, Alemany and Crespi. This season, each of those teams is stronger, with Crespi and Birmingham both on the schedule in 2009. Accordingly, the Knights will be tested, but Kasdorf has all the tools he needs to lead this team and challenge for the state title.

2. Crespi Celts (Encino)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 4, defeated Lancaster, 58-0

2008 Record: 6-4

Key 2009 Games: at Birmingham (9/11), at Servite (9/18), vs. St. Bonaventure (9/25), at Alemany (10/16), at Notre Dame (10/30)

Key 2009 Players: OL Hroniss Grassu (Sr.), OL Ben Loth (Sr.), WR/DB Blake Stanton (Sr.), QB Bryan Bennett (Sr.)

Head Coach: Jeremiah Ross

League: Serra

Divisions: State = Division 2 South, Section = Division I, Pac-5

A stunning playoff run in 2007 carried over into the first seven games of 2008, as the Celts bolted to a 6-1 start. Yet, Crespi sputtered to the finish, losing its final three games, including a blowout home loss to rival Notre Dame and back-to-back one-point losses to Bishop Amat and Loyola – all league losses. With an 0-3 mark in Serra League play, the Celts missed the playoffs.

Accordingly, Coach Jeremiah Ross and the Celts come into 2009 with a chip on their shoulders, and it showed in a 58-0 pummeling of Lancaster on Sept. 4, with senior quarterback Bryan Bennett completing 12 of 18 passes for 178 yards and four touchdowns, while halfback Brad Lattanzio added 100 rushing yards and a score.

The big test will be whether they can get past Birmingham this week. In fact, with road games against Birmingham, Servite (ranked fifth in state), Alemany and Notre Dame (ranked fourth in state), the Celts will need wins in at least three of those games and at least two league victories if they want to return to the playoffs in December. Equally as challenging will be the Sept. 25 home match-up against St. Bonaventure, ranked second in California behind Oaks Christian.

Facing off against three of the top five states in the state will not be easy, but Coach Ross has the ingredients to back up his team’s high ranking, with several seniors returning to the field. With a solid one-two punch on the offensive line in Grassu and Loth, Bennett will have tons of protection to find his standout receiver, Blake Stanton.

3. Alemany Warriors (Mission Hills)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 4, lost to Oaks Christian, 28-17

2008 Record: 11-2

Key 2009 Games: @ Taft (9/18), @ Harvard-Westlake (10/03), Crespi (10/16), Chaminade (10/30)

Key 2009 Players: RB Malcolm Marable (Sr.)

Head Coach: Dean Herrington

League: Mission

Divisions: State = Division 2 South, Section = Division III, Western

Expectations are always high for Alemany’s football team. Despite an opening week home loss to top-ranked Oaks Christian on Sept. 4, the Warriors are still expected to go far this season – though there is very little let-up in the schedule after Oaks Christian, with four opponents ranked in the Top 10 within the San Fernando Valley. In fact, Alemany faces off against Taft, Harvard-Westlake and Crespi in consecutive games, with only the Celts making a visit to Mission Hills.

Senior halfback Malcolm Marable will have to have wide, strong shoulders, as he will be carrying the Warriors all season. The 5-foot-8, 170 pound running back was a stud in 2008, rushing for 1655 yards (150.5 yards per game) and scoring 23 touchdowns on the ground. The real test will be whether junior quarterback Vernon Adams (8-of-13 for 173 yards and two touchdowns in opener) can fill in for last year’s starter, David Mercalf, who was able to both throw and run.

With a tough schedule that started with a home game against the top team in California (and seventh in the nation, according to a USA Today poll), Alemany definitely has its work cut out to repeat last season’s success. Yet, with Marable in the backfield and a solid defense on the other side of the ball, the Warriors should finish the year as Mission League champs.

4. Arleta Mustangs (Arleta)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 11, at Marshall

2008 Record: 14-0

Key 2009 Games: Cleveland (10/02), Poly (10/09), Verdugo Hills (11/06)

Key 2009 Players: RB Antonio Bray (Sr.)

Head Coach: Jeff Engilman

League: East Valley

Divisions: State = Division 2 South, Section = Division II, City

In only its second full season, the Arleta football team did what schools both old and new can only hope for – complete an undefeated season. Now entering year three with a City Invitational championship under its belt, Arleta will hope 2009 will be a repeat of 2008.  With a relatively favorable schedule, the Mustangs have a solid chance of repeating as champions.

Last year, the Mustangs won with a heavy ground game, averaging more than 250 rushing yards per game. The Mustangs defense was also phenomenal, allowing just 110 points all season.

On 2009, the running game should be bolstered by senior standout Antonio Bray, who joins the team after having his junior year declared ineligible at Santa Clarita Canyon last season.

If the defense remains strong and Bray can stay out of trouble (suspended due to clashes with his coach during his sophomore season at Alemany) and regain his old form (last reported 40-yard-dash run was 4.5 seconds, also amassed more than 1,600 rushing yards as a freshman), the Mustangs will be a force to be reckoned with this season.

5. Taft Torreadors (Woodland Hills)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 11, Washington

2008 Record: 11-2

Key 2009 Games: @ Notre Dame (9/18), Alemany (9/25), @ El Camino Real (10/30), Birmingham (11/06)

Key 2009 Players: RB/DB D.J. Morgan (Sr.), DE Brent Williams (Sr.), OL Brandon Mitchell (Sr.), DL Antwaun Woods (Jr.), LB Lucky Radley (Sr.)

Head Coach: Mark Kerstetter

League: West Valley

Divisions: State = Division 1 South, Section = Division I, City

The only blemishes on Taft’s 2008 record came at the hands of two South Bay teams – a regular season loss to Gardena Serra, and a third-round playoff loss to San Pedro. Otherwise, the Torreadors had an impressive 2008 season, going undefeated in league, beating rivals El Camino Real and Birmingham in its final two games.

Coach Mark Kerstetter is looking for similar results in 2009, and he has three senior standouts to help make his wishes come true – D.J. Morgan in the backfield and on defense, Brent Williams on the defensive line, and Brandon Mitchell on the offensive line.

Morgan is a beast in the backfield, rushing for 1,841 yards (141 yards per game, 26 rushing touchdowns) and receiving for another 583 yards (44 yards per game, seven receiving touchdowns). On defense, Brent Williams had 17 sacks, 41 tackles and 15 assists. If both players can keep up their numbers in 2009, Taft should be able to win the West Valley title, perhaps collecting 9 or 10 wins along the way.

6. Birmingham Patriots (Lake Balboa)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 4, lost to Garfield, 25-24

2008 Record: 6-6

Key 2009 Games: Crespi (9/11), Notre Dame (9/25), El Camino Real (10/16), Taft (11/06)

Key 2009 Players: RB/DB Trajuan Briggs (Sr.), QB Max Smith, WR Davontae Perry-Brooks

Head Coach: Jim Rose

League: West Valley

Divisions: State = Division 1 South, Section = Division I, City

It’s been a touch two years since Milton Knox graduated from Birmingham in 2007, winning just six of 13 games since winning the L.A. City Championship that year. Of course, most of those losses came early as the Patriots started 2008 with an 0-4 record. The bigger question: how will the Patriots handle the departure of Ed Croson, who left to coach Chaminade after delivering four City Section Championship Division titles to Lake Balboa.

New head coach Jim Rose would like to start a new legacy of his own by avoiding a slow start in 2009, though losing to Garfield on a game-winning field goal in last week’s season opener does not help. Even worst, it was the sixth straight opening week loss for Birmingham, whose last Week 1 victory came in 2003 against Cleveland.

While Birmingham has struggled to replace its running game since Knox’ departure (160 yards per game in 2008, down from 242 yards per game in 2009), Croson has three solid offensive weapons in quarterback Maxwell Smith, halfback Trajuan Briggs and receiver Davontae Perry-Brooks. Despite last week’s disappoint loss, all three seniors made solid contributions – Smith threw for 310 yards on 17-of-25 passing and Perry-Brooks receiving for 179 touchdowns and two touchdowns.

If the trio can find a way to gel together, the Patriots should improve upon its 6-6 record in 2009, despite the tough schedule that includes games against Crespi, Notre Dame, El Camino Real and Taft.

7. Harvard-Westlake Wolverines (North Hollywood)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 4, defeated Franklin, 2-0 (Forfeit)

2008 Record: 8-3-1

Key 2009 Games: Alemany (10/03), Chaminade (10/09), Serra (10/23)

Key 2009 Players: QB Oliver Lowry (Sr.), HB/LB Malcolm Meeks (Sr.), WR Jackson Ligouri (Jr.)

Head Coach: Vic Eumont

League: Del Rey

Divisions: State = Division 2 South, Section = Division X, Northwest

With head coach Vic Eumont losing several seniors last year, the 2009 season may test his patience a bit, as he has a roster full of underclassmen. The trick will be whether his defense will be able to perform as it did last season, when it gave up just 123 points in 12 games. Yet, mistakes will certainly be abound this year, especially with Oliver Lowry, Malcolm Meeks and Jackson Logouri all assuming greater responsibilities as starters at quarterback, halfback and receiver, respectively. All three players had only spot duty, at best, in 2008. With such a young team, it will be upon these three seniors to lead the way.

At least the 2009 season is off to a decent start, despite the otherwise unfortunate circumstances. Officials at the Los Angeles City Section asked Franklin to forfeit the season opener against the Wolverines because of potential health hazards due to the recent wildfires in the nearby Angeles Crest National Forest.

The Wolverines, though, still have a lot to prove with such a young roster, and not all wins will be handed to them as it was on Sept. 4. Harvard-Westlake will have its first true test in back-to-back home games against Alemany (Oct. 3) and Chaminade (Oct. 9), both games within six days of each other. Splitting those two games may give this young team all it needs to make a playoff push and challenge for the Del Rey league championship.

8. Sylmar Spartans (Sylmar)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 11, Westchester

2008 Record: 7-4

Key 2009 Games: Westchester (9/11), @ El Camino Real (9/25), San Fernando (11/13)

Key 2009 Players: DL Deandre Roberts (Sr.)

Head Coach: London Woodfin

League: Valley Mission

Divisions: State = Division 1 South, Section = Division I, City

The Spartans will be tested early, with a home and season opener against Westchester followed by a road game at El Camino Real two weeks later. With eight of opponents hailing from the San Fernando Valley, Sylmar can make a name for itself as a solid program within the region, especially if the Spartans can defeat El Camino Real and league rivals San Fernando, Kennedy, Reseda and Panorama.

Linebacker Deandre Roberts, the team’s leader in sacks last season, will lead a ferocious defense that can shut down teams with weak running games. If the Spartans can win some non-neutral road games (1-4 away from Sylmar last year, though 2-0 in neutral), then Sylmar has some hopes of improving upon last season’s 7-4 mark. The regular season finale against San Fernando may very well determine the league championship. As both teams are relatively even, Sylmar may have a slight edge, since they are the home team.

9. Chaminade Eagles (West Hills)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 11, Burbank

2008 Record: 2-9

Key 2009 Games: @ Harvard-Westlake (10/09), @ Notre Dame (10/23), @ Alemany (10/30)

Key 2009 Players: WR.Brando Tessar (Sr.), P Matt Goudis (Jr.)

Head Coach: Ed Croson

League: Mission

Divisions: State = Division 2 South, Section = Division III, Western

How much difference can a coach make? Well, if your name is Ed Croson, it can certainly make a world of difference. Just like that, a team that finished 2-9 last season is expected to be a Top 10 team within the San Fernando Valley, all because Croson came on board in December.

This is actually Croson’s second stint as head coach of Chaminade; he coached the Eagles between 1997 and 1999, claiming the then-San Fernando League title in 1998 and earning a trip to the CIF Division VII semifinals.

What will make this year different from last year is the number 25 – that is at least how many players who are on the roster who were not on the team last year. With at least 25 new players vying for spots on the team, whatever Croson cannot accomplish this year, he can accomplish very soon thereafter by regularly drawing in new recruits each year.

Despite three excruciatingly tough road games against Harvard-Westlake, Notre Dame and Alemany, it may be tough to win more than seven games this season. But, with Croson at the helm, an upset loss or two is not out of the question, so do not be surprised if the Eagles finish with a record better than 6-4 this season.

10. El Camino Real Conquistadors (Woodland Hills)

First 2009 Game: Sept. 4, defeated Hart, 33-28

2008 Record: 7-5

Key 2009 Games: Birmingham (10/16), Taft (10/30), Cleveland (11/06)

Key 2009 Players: RB/DB Rashon Harper (Sr.), RB/LB Kawan Rally (So.), RB/DB Logan Bates (Sr.)

Head Coach: Kevin Williams

League: West Valley

Divisions: State = Division 1 South, Section = Division City Invitational

The Conquistadores will have to rely upon its running game this year, as the three-headed monster of Rashon Harper, Logan Bates and Kawan Rally. Of the three, Rally has the greatest potential, considering he is a sophomore and already made an impact in his first game of the season – rushing for 84 yards and scoring three touchdowns on just 10 carries in El Camino Real’s victory against Hart last week.

El Camino Real does not have enough firepower to challenge local rival Taft for the league title, but they have enough tools to at least finish second, perhaps win another seven games and qualifying for the playoffs again this year. Regardless of what happens, if they can develop Rally into a legitimate star before the end of 2009, then the season will already be a success and head coach Kevin Williams will have something to build around in 2010 and 2011.

Parimal Rohit is an avid writer who loves covering politics, sports, entertainment and anything else under the sun. Currently, he writes for Buzzine Magazine, Campus Circle and India West. In addition to writing full-time, Parimal is also a staff member of the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. Prior to becoming a journalist, Parimal worked in sports, entertainment and criminal law. A graduate of UCLA, he has a Master’s in Sports Management from the University of San Francisco and a law degree from Loyola Law School. Contact him parimalrohit@gmail.com

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