Cerritos News

2014 HS FOOTBALL PREVIEW Fast start to season will be telling sign for Valley Christian

By Loren Kopff

VALLEY CHRISTIAN CRUSADERS

5-7 overall last season, 3-1 in the Olympic League, second place, lost to Oak Park 47-15 in Northwest Division quarterfinals, 25-30 overall last five seasons

Head coach: Woodie Grayson (second season, 5-7)

Lost 15 seniors out of 38 from 2013 opening day roster

Last time missed the playoffs: 2012

2014 schedule

Aug. 29           Duarte (7-5 overall last season)

Sept. 5Cerritos (2-8)

Sept. 12 @      Ocean View (1-9)

Sept. 19 @      Mayfair (5-6)

Sept. 26 @      Ontario Christian (6-5)

Oct. 3              St. Anthony (7-4)

Oct. 10 @       Maranatha (8-3)

Oct. 17 (HC)   Whittier Christian (6-4)

Oct. 24                        BYE

Oct. 31 @       Village Christian (3-7)

Nov. 7 Heritage Christian (3-7)

The Woodie Grayson era didn’t get off to a good start last season as he became Valley Christian’s fourth head coach since 2002. The Crusaders led Duarte 14-0 in the first quarter of his first game but the team lost 28-24. V.C. would give up 16 and 14 first quarter points respectively in their next two games, splitting with Cerritos and Mayfair. In fact, the Crusaders were outscored 212-149 in the first half last season but bounced back late in the season and played for an Olympic League title on the last game of the regular season and won a road playoff game.

“It was probably a little disappointing,” Grayson said of his first season at V.C. “I thought there were some victories we left on the field. We had a start against Duarte last year that if we played a full game, we probably win. Looking back at that, most of our touchdowns were their mistakes because of a short field and things like that. But we still had an opportunity to win that game.”

He went on to add that the Crusaders also had a poor start against St. Anthony, trailing 28-3 on the road before scoring 29 second half points. They ended up losing by 10 points. Then in the Maranatha game, V.C. turned the ball over six times and lost by three points. But the team returns a lot of players and that experience should enable the Crusaders to be right in the thick of another tight league race.

“We left three victories on the field, which is disappointing,” Grayson said. “But I think all in all, things started to go in the right direction towards the end of the season. We probably were just inexperienced to win those games against those quality teams. Hopefully this year we’ll be better.”

OFFENSE

It’s always a pleasure for any high school football team to have two experienced quarterbacks who each have their own strengths and V.C. will see that in seniors William Brines and Jack Struiksma. Both played a lot last season but it was Struiksma who passed for 1,060 yards. According to Grayson, Struiksma throws a little better but Brines shows more athleticism and runs better. Struiksma won the starting job this time last season but didn’t play in the season opener due to shoulder fatigue. Both signal callers played a key part in the team’s 21-14 road win at La Puente in the California Interscholastic Federation-Southern Section Northwest Division first round playoffs.

“They were a two-headed tandem in the playoffs and right now they’re neck and neck,” Grayson said. “We actually had a third quarterback-[senior] Kent Running-who hurt his elbow last year and couldn’t throw the ball. So, he just focused on defensive end. This year, Kent put himself back in the quarterback race.”

The heart and soul of the offense lies in the backfield with senior Jonathan Nicholson, who rushed for 1,339 yards and found the end zone 14 times. One of those touchdowns went for 90 yards, against St. Anthony, and was two yards off of the school record, set by Mark Garciano in 1997 against Mayfair. Joining Nicholson will be senior Jonathan Nyman and junior Quaid Kiwana.

“The things he [has been] showing in practice to this point makes me feel like he can have a much, much better year than he did last year,” Grayson said of his leading running back. “Just how hard he’s working, how much he has improved his ability…he’s faster, he’s bigger, he’s stronger. He looks like the complete package as a runner so far in practice. He’s poised to have a breakout year, even more so than last year.”

But V.C.’s offense doesn’t stop with Nicholson as the any of the three quarterbacks will have a plethora of targets to go to. In the mix will be senior wide receivers Brian Cok, who was a running back last year but caught 15 passes for 291 yards and scored six touchdowns, Isaiah Tesfay and Chandler Vos along with junior Trent Berkenkamp. The tight ends are seniors Nate Aaronsen (12 receptions, 96 yards, four touchdowns), Kent Running and Kyle Westra (15 receptions, 221 yards, two touchdowns).

The offensive line is stacked with senior left tackle Roger Ramos, senior left guard Garrison Coley, junior center Tyler Davidson, sophomore right guard Eric Schoonover and senior right tackle Joseph Castanos. Look for Ravon Chambers, a sophomore transfer from Mayfair to also get some time on the line.

DEFENSE

The Crusaders struggled early on but opened up Olympic League action by giving up a combined 19 points to Village Christian and Heritage Christian. While V.C. had four games in which they yielded over 40 points, the defense sacked opposing quarterbacks 21 times and had seven interceptions. But Grayson says that the defense, which is more experienced, is also more comfortable with what they are doing.

Junior Matt Sigala, along with Aaronsen (39 tackles, four and a half sacks), Davidson, Ramos, Running (44 tackles, four and a half sacks, two interceptions) and Schoonover will all rotate on the line. The leaders in the secondary will be cornerbacks Berkenkamp (40 tackles) and Tesfay along with safeties Brines (53 tackles) and Vos (28 tackles).

However, the strength of the defense may be the linebackers where Coley, Kiwana, Westra and senior Richard Pena will take charge. Westra led everyone last season with 75 tackles.

“When we watch Kyle on film, he’s always in the right spot,” Grayson said. “He plays with a motor; he never takes plays off. He’s a little more physical this year than he was last year. Garrison was physical last year but he’s better athletically this year.”

SCHEDULE

V.C. drops Francis Parker for a more formidable opponent in Ocean View but make no mistake, this will still be a tough schedule for the Crusaders. Duarte’s win over V.C. last season snapped a six-game winning streak over the Falcons dating back to 2000. Grayson says the kids are motivated to play a full game against Duarte this season. The Cerritos game won’t be as easy as some may think despite V.C.’s 42-28 win last season.

“We were able to get a little bit of film on what they had done against Gahr [in 2012],” Grayson said. “But when we actually first saw those guys run out on the field, I looked at all of my coaches and said, ‘man, I’ve never seen Cerritos that big’. They’re a lot bigger than they were. To watch them actually play a physical brand of football was completely different.”

After the Ocean View game, the Crusaders will be put to the teat in the next four weeks. Grayson says Mayfair’s junior quarterback, Isaiah Jackson, is the best signal caller in the area. V.C. has lost four straight to the Monsoons, two straight to Ontario Christian after four consecutive wins and two straight to Maranatha. Since 2004, the Crusaders haven’t lost a home game to Heritage Christian (formerly Los Angeles Baptist).

“It’s similar to last year,” Grayson said of this season’s schedule. “We knew that we had a tough stretch of games to get through before we were going to find some games that we felt were a little more winnable for us. We went through that same stretch with [Francis Parker], Mayfair, Ontario Christian and St. Anthony. So we’ve done that already. Hopefully we handle it a little bit different. We lost all of those games, in my opinion, because those teams were better than we were up front. I think this year we’ve improved greatly up front.”

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