Pacifica High School hasn’t lost a Garden Grove League football game in two seasons, but the Mariners aren’t bold enough to chant “three-peat” quite yet.
The Mariners, coming off two 7-0 league seasons, , are looking for a third consecutive title and another playoff berth.
But Pacifica will have to survive the challenges from a league that is more balanced than in previous years, one that includes Rancho Alamitos, a team many league coaches consider the one to beat.
“We are somewhat familiar with the character of their (Rancho Alamitos’) athletes. They have good attitudes and talent,” said Bill Craven, who begins his 15th year as coach of Pacifica. “It could be one of the best clubs they’ve had in many years.”
And what about the Mariners?
“We might have a little bit of potential, but we don’t have the depth that we’ve had in the past,” he said. “Defensively, we have a lot of question marks.”
Pacifica has 23 returning lettermen but only six returning starters. Gone are quarterback Bobby Anderson, whose 1,415 yards passing last year ranked fourth in the county’s all-time single-season list, and Chris Shockley, who ran for 1,154 yards last season.
To pick up the slack, Craven will rely on senior quarterback Chris Castellano to run a multiple pro-set offense, and on junior tailback Derek Nicholson for the ground attack.
“Castellano throws the ball pretty well and he understands our system well,” Craven said. “He (has) paid his dues and now we are going to put him in and see what he can do.
“Nicholson has some pretty big shoes to fill. He’s an I-formation type of runner, so we’ll utilize that formation more than in the past.”
Although Pacifica was upset, 10-0, by Corona del Mar in the first round of the Division VI playoffs last year, Craven still has one of the most impressive high school coaching records (112-40-5), 11 postseason appearances and 10 championships in the Garden Grove and Empire leagues.
“We have been fortunate to have consistency with our coaching staff and the players,” Craven said. “Success breeds success. You don’t do it without the horses.”
That kind of tradition is what Coach Mark Miller has been trying to build at Rancho Alamitos the past three seasons. This could be the year when it pays off.
After tying with Santiago for fifth place in the league with a 4-6 mark, the Vaqueros appear primed for their finest hour. They have 17 returning starters and a host of talented newcomers. If experience is an accurate measure of a team’s potential, Rancho deserves the team-to-beat label it has received.
“Our goal is to be the best team in Rancho’s history,” said Miller, who was somewhat skeptical of his colleagues’ optimism about his team. “I think the other guys (coaches) are setting me up.”
Miller will count with the services of Chris Singletary, an all-league quarterback as a sophomore in 1988 but nothing more than an interested bystander last season after he broke a leg in the opening game. The injury forced Miller to focus the offense on the running game behind Dan Riddle, who led all county rushers with 2,082 yards.
With Riddle graduated, the Vaqueros will hand the ball in their new veer formation to senior tailback Ulysses Trammell, a 9.8 sprinter in the 100 yards, and to sophomore Leon Vickers.
When Rancho Alamitos passes the ball, Singletary’s primary target probably will be sophomore wide receiver Marshall Brown.
“He’s the best receiver I’ve ever coached,” Miller said. “He still has a lot to learn, but he’ll be a real game-breaker.”
Miller was equally generous in his praise of Trammell: “He’s a little guy but an exciting guy to watch. I brought him up to varsity for the last couple of games last year and he almost broke a kickoff return for a touchdown the first time he touched the ball.”
To help the little guys--and the bigger ones--get into the end zone, the Vaqueros will count on senior tackle Leonard Sims (6-feet-2, 240 pounds), junior guard Lia Togia (6-1, 220) and senior tackle Eduardo Lopez (6-0, 200).
Miller said he’ll have a better idea of how good the Vaqueros are after their non-league opener Sept. 7 against Troy, the Freeway League runnerup in 1989.
“If we can play against them, we can play against anybody,” Miller said. “That’ll be a good indicator.”
And if everything pans out for Pacifica and Rancho Alamitos, their season-ending mano a mano on Nov. 9 will be a schedule-maker’s dream come true.
Tomorrow: Orange League.