LA CRESCENTA — In the aftermath of one of its more successful seasons in years with a wealth of starters due back, expectations and excitement were at a high this spring for Crescenta Valley High football.
That optimism has been maintained through successful stints in passing tournaments as the spring transforms into summer.
“For passing tournaments, we’ve been 11-1 the last two tournaments,” said senior linebacker Sean Bloks, who was part of a winning effort Saturday in the Claremont Tournament in which the Falcons went 6-0 with a finals win over Bishop Amat. “So I’d say we’re off to a great start.
“I think this team is gonna be one to remember.”
Following an 8-2 season in which the Falcons tied for second place in the Pacific League, but were on the outside looking in to the playoffs after lost tiebreakers and an unfulfilled at-large bid, Crescenta Valley has been practicing since the beginning of May and will carry through to July 12 before its dead period begins.
Bloks is one of a parade of returning starters, with six on defense and the same on offense.
One notable who’s yet to return is quarterback Brian Gadsby, who just concluded a standout junior season for the baseball team in which he won two playoff games as the Falcons advanced to the CIF Southern Section Division II quarterfinals. In the fall on the football field, Gadsby was the starting quarterback, earning All-Area and All-Pacific League honors with 33 touchdown passes and 2,465 yards.
Whether or not he will return for a senior football season remains in doubt, though.
“I’d say it’s 50-50,” Coach Paul Schilling said of Gadsby returning. “Of course, we really want him back.”
In Gadsby’s absence, Ty Hill, a starting defensive back as a freshman last season, and junior Evan Nelson have been calling the signals.
“Not having your quarterback you’ve had since you were little is tough,” receiver Connor Van Ginkel said. “But both quarterbacks have been doing well so far.
“Right now, everything is coming into place.”
Gadsby hasn’t been the only returning starter missing during the spring though, as defensive end Matt Erickson, Hill and receiver Chase Walker were missing in action, whether due to baseball commitments or injury.
But the absences of key players and the Falcons’ success without them has created further optimism.
“When they’re playing baseball, it’s kind of a chance to test the newer guys,” Bloks said.
Said Schilling: “We haven’t even had all our guys yet, so I’m really positive. I think everybody’s doing a good job.”
One particular area of rebuilding is the offensive line, in which senior Davo Hakobyan and Bryan Wong are the only returning starters.
“Our offensive line is stepping up,” Wong said. “We’re getting new guys in and they’re starting to come along.
“[Spring is] about learning the play, getting strong in the weight room and really building the chemistry.”
With so many returners and a great deal of them having played together through the years, though, the team believes it’s very much already a tight knit unit.
“A lot of the guys, we’ve been playing together since we were little,” Van Ginkel said.
Still, though chemistry is a plus for the Falcons, Schilling believes new leaders will need to step to the forefront.
“Our biggest challenge will be leadership,” Schilling said. “Because our seniors last year, the Austin Brines, the Kevin Hellos, they were just awesome people and they kept all our crazy juniors focused. To me, that’s our challenge is can they take on that Austin Brines role, can they be the next Kevin Hello?”
Brines and Hello, both All-Area picks last season, have left a void on the field and in leadership, but, if nothing more, the Falcons’ confidence is not in question as they build toward the 2014 season, which begins at Verdugo Hills on Sept. 6.
“We’re expecting a lot this year for this team,” Van Ginkel said. “We know we have the talent to win league [and] win a lot of games.
“We’re gonna work as hard as we can this summer to get things done.”
Follow Grant Gordon on Twitter: @TCNGrantGordon.