In high school football, like in any sport, being ranked No. 1 at the end of the season is obviously more important than the top ranking before things get underway.
Still, players on the Ocean View High football team responded with excitement when the Seahawks were named the top-ranked team in the CIF Southern Section Division 11 preseason poll.
This is a team that has not made the playoffs since 2014, and not won a postseason game since 2011.
The preseason ranking, then, shows that the Seahawks’ large 22-member senior class has a chance to make its mark.
“It doesn’t mean a lot, but it feels good,” Ocean View seventh-year coach Luis Nuñez said. “I don’t think we’ve had that excitement here ever. Our kids are excited. I told the kids we’ve got a big target on our back. As a coach, it helps me to motivate these kids to come out and practice hard. Everybody’s coming after you.”
Ocean View has struggled in the Golden West League in recent years. The team suffered few blowout losses but still ended up 1-4 in league each of the last two seasons. This year, the Seahawks are in the new Pac 4 league, along with Western, Godinez and Laguna Beach.
“I’m excited about it,” Ocean View senior receiver and safety Naeco Logan said. “We only have three league games this year. It puts pressure on us, but it’s exciting, it’s a challenge. We’ve got to win those three league games. It’s really important that we win league so that we can make playoffs.”
Ocean View, which begins its season with a game against Los Amigos on Thursday at Garden Grove High at 7 p.m., is looking for a big year from quarterback Noah Hickman. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior, who Nuñez said has been offered by Clarke University in Iowa, threw for 1,489 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, despite battling an ankle injury the last four games.
“He showed last year that he’s a gamer and he’s as tough as they come at that position,” Nuñez said. “And he’s got weapons to toss the ball around. Against Westminster last year, he was literally playing on one foot. He was heavily taped as if he had a cast on his foot. We tried to put in an offense where he could last, but for three quarters we struggled moving the ball. In the fourth quarter, we opened it up a little bit, and we had some success. That showed a lot of who [Hickman] is as a leader. That’s the type of guy that any coach would want to lead their football team, especially at quarterback.”
Gone are Hickman’s two leading targets from last season. Receiver Nathaniel Washington and tight end Adam Meyer, who stood at 6-4 and 6-5 respectively, both graduated. But the Seahawks have perhaps a quicker attack this year, led by Logan and junior Brandon Alcaraz, as well as slot receivers Will Earthman, a senior, and sophomore Raelen Bruce. Earthman is a transfer from Edison.
“We have that big-play capability that we didn’t have last year,” Nuñez said. “Nathaniel and Adam were great, but they weren’t going to run 70 or 80 yards at any given time.”
The Seahawks could use a committee approach at running back to replace graduate Noah De Loera, who rushed for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Bruce could get carries, Nuñez said, along with seniors Dezmond Doxy and Rodrigo Adame and sophomore Jonathan Gonzalez.
The offensive and defensive lines are question marks. Dillon Grunbaum is the only returner on the offensive line and is slated to play left tackle as well as defensive tackle, but Nuñez said Grunbaum is recovering from a hernia surgery on Aug. 7. Grunbaum said he hopes to return in Week 2 or Week 3.
Senior linebackers Alex Nieves and Jesus Ramirez provide stability in the Seahawks’ 4-2-5 formation. Nieves, a three-year starter, had a team-best 95 tackles last season.
The Seahawks moved up from Division 13 to Division 11. The top ranking in the preseason indeed doesn’t mean much, but it is a source of optimism in a program hungry for success.
“I definitely see much more in the skill players,” Grunbaum said. “I mean, those dudes are running around, flying around. Especially with Noah as our quarterback, that just gives us all the confidence, having a true quarterback that can launch the ball. I know we’re all excited. We talk about it all the time in our group chat. It’s ring season. We’re ready to play.”
Ocean View Seahawks
CIF Southern Section Division: 11
Coach: Luis Nuñez (seventh year)
Staff: Steven Burke (offensive coordinator), Chris Estrada (defensive coordinator/secondary), Steve Escobar (secondary), Lee Afusia (defensive tackles), Peter Kim (linebackers), Kris Scott (wide receivers), Vincent Perry (defensive ends), Liam Nolasco (linebackers)
2017 season: 5-5 overall, 1-4 in the Golden West League (fifth place), missed the CIF Southern Section Division 13 playoffs
Offensive scheme: Spread
Defensive scheme: 4-2-5
Returning offensive starters: Three
Returning defensive starters: Six
Returning with honors: Sr. MLB Alex Nieves; Sr. QB Noah Hickman
23 — vs. Los Amigos at Garden Grove High
31 — vs. Acton Vasquez
7 — vs. Calvary Chapel
14 — vs. Estancia
21 — at Dana Hills
28 — vs. Westminster
5 — vs. Cerritos
12 — vs. Godinez*
19 — at Laguna Beach*
25 — at Western*
*denotes league game