Talent-heavy Crescenta Valley football looking to surpass last season's disappointment

Make no mistake, Crescenta Valley High’s football team is very much looking forward with aspirations for an ultra-successful 2014 campaign.

“We have the same goals every team does: to win CIF, to win league, but we’ll take it one step at a time,” said senior quarterback Brian Gadsby said.

Alas, there’s also no doubt that the Falcons still have lingering thoughts of the season last and a postseason lost.

“It’s motivation,” Gadsby said.

Boasting a No. 8 preseason ranking in the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division, a chip on its collective shoulder and an abundance of returning talent, Crescenta Valley is confident it can be as successful as it has been in years, all the while exorcising the demons of an 8-2 2013 season that ended before the playoffs began.

“Our biggest goal that we talk about is we don’t want any doubts on the whole playoff thing,” said Crescenta Valley Coach Paul Schilling, who will begin his fifth season when the Falcons host Verdugo Hills on Thursday at Glendale High.

And the most efficient and surefire manner to ensure a trip to the playoffs is to win the Pacific League, which the Falcons are convinced they can do for the first time since 2004.

“We definitely think we can win league,” Schilling said. “But we know Burbank is good, Muir is good and we haven’t beat Burroughs [since 2008].

“If we are on our game and we don’t get hurt, we think we can beat everyone on our schedule.”

A season ago, Crescenta Valley went 8-2 with a 5-2 mark in the Pacific League, which tied it for second with Burbank and Burroughs. However, the Falcons were on the outside looking in at the playoffs after the CIF Southern Section’s playoff tiebreaker formula didn’t go their way. Thus, as the new season nears, the Falcons’ current flock seems poised not only to prove it can succeed this season, but also make up for last year’s postseason omission.

“It definitely still bugs us,” said senior receiver/defensive back Connor Van Ginkel.

Van Ginkel is one of 12 Falcons with starting experience returning. Senior offensive and defensive lineman Davo Hakobyan, senior receiver/defensive back Jordan Lobianco, senior receiver Chase Walker, senior defensive end Matt Erickson and Gadsby are back after All-Area junior campaigns.

“We had a lot of juniors that really stepped it up and now we’re all seniors,” Walker said.

Gadsby’s return was in question, as the reigning James H. Jenkins News-Press Male Athlete of the Year had earned a baseball scholarship to UCLA and devoted his summer to the diamond. However, Gadsby returned around the conclusion of the summer and is seemingly back to form rather quickly.

“He’s just so natural,” Schilling said of Gadsby, who threw for 2,465 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and is 10-2 as the Falcons’ starting quarterback dating back to a two-game stint his sophomore year. “He just has such a quick release.”

While Gadsby’s return has no doubt added to the Falcons’ assurance, his summer absence might well have paid dividends, both in building the receiving corps’ confidence and further exposing the talents of sophomore Tyler Hill.

“This last summer in passing leagues we did really well and we didn’t even have Brian the entire summer,” Van Ginkel said, “so that says a lot about our receiving corps.”

Walker (43 catches for 677 yards and seven touchdowns last year), who was Gadsby’s No. 1 target in 2013, Van Ginkel (19 catches, 509 yards, six touchdowns), Lobianco (39 catches, 563 yards and six touchdowns) and junior Bostin Lakin (nine catches, 125 yards and two scores) all had starting experience last season and might well be the strength of the team and the Falcons’ trademark spread offense.

“It’s a pretty good crew,” Schilling said.

Hill, just a sophomore who already has a varsity season under his belt, filled in well in Gadsby’s absence and will start at safety on defense, while also getting time on offense at receiver, running back and quarterback in possible Wildcat packages.

Along with fellow linebacker Austin Brines, Kevin Hello is one of the two most significant losses for the Falcons. His absence in the offensive backfield is offset by the return of senior running back Jonathan Jun, who got plenty of playing time and carries a season ago.

Jun, who will get spelled by sophomore Brandon Beardt, had 623 total yards and has looked impressive over the summer.

“JJ’s absolutely stepped it up,” Van Ginkel said.

Perhaps the biggest question mark as it relates to the Falcons’ offense is the offensive line.

Hakobyan, a right guard last year who moves to left tackle, and senior right tackle Brian Wong return as starters, but junior left guard Ben Lizer and junior center Nizar Abou-Chakra are new additions. At right guard, either senior Ryan Cancelosi, who got plenty of playing time last year, or senior BK Kim will get the nod.

“I think this year we will be more successful as an offensive line,” said Hakobyan, who was part of a front five last season that allowed just four sacks, though some of that can be attributed to Gadsby’s quick release. “I think we’re much stronger, tougher.”

Defensively, the Falcons will have plenty of experience and plenty of two-way starters.

Hakobyan, a three-year starter, will anchor the defensive line at defensive tackle with Erickson at defensive end. Junior Colin Caver, who had starting experience at linebacker last season, will start at the other end, while Abou-Chakra, Cancelosi and junior Scott Luna are likely to rotate in at the other tackle spot and spell Hakobyan.

“For run defense, we’re definitely way stronger with our defensive line we have,” said senior linebacker Sean Bloks said.

Bloks returns to lead the linebacking trio as an outside backer in his third season as a starter, with senior Jack Hwang starting in the middle and the other outside spot still up for grabs.

In the defensive backfield, Lobianco, who shined last season, and Van Ginkel will man the cornerback spots with sophomores Hill and Beardt manning the safety spots.

Soccer player Kevin Ginosian, a senior, will take on the punting duties and kick off, while sophomore Alex Atanackovic is slated to handle the point-after attempts and field goals.

While there certainly seems to be plenty of talent on the Falcons’ roster, a theory supplemented by experience and statistics from last year, one concern is the depth of the 45-man roster.

“My big concern is depth, if we get injuries, but that’s the same every year,” Schilling said.

In the end, the biggest quandary for the 2014 Falcons might well be if the disappointment that concluded last season holds them back or propels them forward.

“It’s pretty ridiculous that a team could go 8-2 and not make the playoffs,” Hakobyan said. “We were really pissed off about that.

“We got motivation from not making the playoffs and we want to show everybody that questioned if we should be there.”

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