Burbank High football ready to challenge in Pacific League, beyond

BURBANK — Those loud shouts bouncing off the walls and that extra crackling of their helmets represents a certain confidence the Burbank High football team has developed all summer long.

There’s a feeling in Bulldogs camp that 2013 is destined to be a special season, much like 2009.

That year, Burbank captured its first-ever Pacific League championship, while advancing to quarterfinals of the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division playoffs.

Since then, Burbank has yet to reclaim a title over the last three years and has gone 0-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

Last season, the Bulldogs finished 7-4 overall and 6-1 in league.

While the team defeated Burroughs for the first time in three years, much of last season’s exploits brought up this season include the squad’s 24-17 loss to league champion Muir and a 49-14 first-round playoff exit last year at the hands of visiting Suburban League runner-up Norwalk.

“I’m going to take that memory and I’m going to keep it until our next playoff game, because I don’t want to forget it,” Burbank junior running back James Williams said. “We don’t ever want to lose like that again.”

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Williams is Burbank’s undisputed top prospect and has received much attention after being named the Pacific League Offensive Player of the Year, thanks to his rushing for a team-leading 1,443 yards and 17 touchdowns in 133 carries (10.85 yards-per-rush average). Those numbers came in a season in which the All-Area first-teamer split duties with graduated back Teddy Arlington (920 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns) and Joseph Pendleton (507 yards and seven touchdowns).

Yet, what might be more impressive than the stats was the effort of Williams, who actively took part in the first-team defensive drills as a member of the offensive scout team.

“I know some guys don’t like to do it, but I feel this is how you get better,” Williams said. “If you get a chance to work against your first-team defense, probably the best defense in league, you’re only going to get better.”

Although Williams will get the bulk of the carries in 2013, he’ll be aided by Martin Caro (senior), juniors Tony Toledo and Kyle Alvarez and fullback Pendleton.

With a loaded backfield, it would be easy to assume the Bulldogs are going to be a ground-and-pound team in 2013. However, Bulldogs Coach Hector Valencia has a surprise for squads looking to crowd the box.

“We’ve got a very good, hard-working quarterback in Ryan Meredith,” said Valencia, the reigning Pacific League Coach of the Year, of the junior signal-caller. “The work he’s put in this offseason and in the summer has been great. He’s improved both on the strength of his passes and his finesse throws. He finds a way to get the ball into the receiver’s hands.”

Meredith, who took over in the fourth week last season against Hoover, completed 42 of 83 passes for 635 yards and four touchdowns against only one interception and is looking forward to growth in his first full season.

“What’s expected of me is to control the offense and to be the leader,” Meredith said. “This team really has high expectations to win league.”

Meredith has a few solid receiving targets in senior returner Sebastian Santoro, Alvarez, junior varsity call-up Dorian Householder and one head-turner in Burroughs transfer Oharjee Brown, who led the Indians with 23 receptions for 195 yards last season.

“It’s still a little weird to be in Burbank blue, but the guys have been great and I’m excited about this year,” Brown said. “We believe we can win league, that we have the players and talent to compete. I believe it.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge this offseason and summer was finding a replacement for All-Area lineman Steven Kim, the team’s leader on the offensive front and the Pacific League’s Defensive Player of the Year.

On the offensive line, Meredith and the Bulldogs will rely on senior center Daniel Murphy, tackles Michael Wong (senior) and Jordan Meza (junior) and senior guard Mark Salgado. The final guard position is being fought for between juniors Alex Gonzales and Max Montoya.

Defensively, expect Wong to play on the defensive line as either an end or tackle, while juniors Ceron Hurry and Christian Huleis will also be shuffled around up front.

Perhaps the defense’s strongest unit is its linebacking corps, led by seniors Andy Park, Gary Clements and Aaron Jimenez, who missed all but one game last season with injuries.

“This season it’s not about making plays, but doing your job,” said Park, who tallied 84 tackles and three sacks last year. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we can beat Muir and Norwalk or anyone else.”

The defensive backfield includes safeties Santoro (three interceptions) and Joshua Nersissian (four interceptions), while Kalani Williams (82 tackles) and Nick Cantong have sewn up positions at cornerback.

Burbank opens up its season Friday against visiting Bell Gardens at Memorial Field. It’s league opener is Sept. 27 at Arcadia, with key matchups looming at home on Oct. 18 against Muir and the annual “Big Game” as the visiting squad against Burroughs.

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