As discussions of a possible releaguing gained traction, no one seemed to be more behind the movement than Marina High.
The numbers in the Vikings’ football program did not compare to those of their counterparts in the Sunset League. Marina wanted out.
In October, the Vikings received good news. The football program would be moving to the Big 4 League.
Marina is in the league with Garden Grove, Segerstrom and Westminster. All four teams will contend for CIF Southern Section Division 9 playoff spots.
Fifth-year coach Jeff Turley, who helped the Vikings end a 60-game losing streak in Sunset League games in 2016, said he was monitoring the process throughout.
Turley said that original proposals had Marina moving out of the Sunset League as a whole, but he is glad that if only one sport got relocated, it was his. In 2017, the Vikings went 0-5 in the Sunset League and 3-7 overall.
“I love it,” Turley said of the move to the Big 4. “I think that’s awesome. Now, it truly gives you a place where you can sit there and go, ‘OK, this is where we stand.’
“We’re playing teams that are in the same division as us, and [if] you make the playoffs, you made the playoffs going against teams that are the same size and numbers and stuff that you are going to face in the playoffs.”
The Vikings appear ready to shed the underdog moniker, figuring that their time in the Sunset League will serve them well in their new endeavor. Marina kicks off the season in Key West, Fla., against Hollywood South Broward on Friday.
“I think our past years in the Sunset League are really going to help us out with that because I don’t think that any of the teams in this league are used to playing at that level,” Marina senior John Robinson said of contending in the Big 4.
The change in league has thrown an interesting wrinkle into the schedule. Effectively, Marina flip-flopped the positioning of its two rivalry games.
I love it. I think that’s awesome. Now, it truly gives you a place where you can sit there and go, ‘OK, this is where we stand.’
Marina opted to keep former league rival Huntington Beach on the schedule during nonleague play.
“It’s a big game for the school,” Turley said. “It’s the Oil and Water game. It goes all the way through, for the basketball team, the baseball team. It’s a big rivalry game.
“It was a no-brainer that we were going to ask if there was still a way that we could play each other.”
Marina plays its home games at Westminster High. When the Vikings and Lions have gotten together, their matchups have been dubbed “The Battle at Boswell.”
“The Battle at Boswell actually counts for a league win instead of like the preseason,” Marina lineman Daniel Escamilla said. “Now, it’s Battle at Boswell and a league game, so it would be a greater victory to be a part of.”
Escamilla will play center and defensive tackle. He will be a four-year starter for the Vikings on the offensive line.
The Vikings will have several players compete on both sides of the ball. Robinson, a 6-foot-3, 215-pounder, will play tight end and linebacker. That may not be all.
Following the graduation of Ian Green, the Vikings are looking for their next quarterback. Robinson has been taking snaps in training camp, but two sophomores — Jack Miller and Gavin Del Toro — are also fighting for the job.
“The dilemma with him is that he has had a great summer catching the ball, but then he can turn around and throw it, too,” Turley said of Robinson. “That’s one of the big question marks because behind him, there are two sophomores that are competing for the starting job right now. If one of them steps up and can take the job, then he moves back to tight end.”
Miller served as the starting quarterback for the Vikings’ junior varsity team last season, winning five games.
The Vikings have size on the outside, too, with 6-3 Nathan Pendleton and 6-2 Ian Cook slotting in as wide receivers and defensive backs.
Pendleton led the Vikings with 309 receiving yards and four touchdowns last season. Asked what he has done to improve in the offseason, the senior said, “Mainly, I’m just focusing on yards after the catch. Usually, I just catch it and [secure] possession.”
Turley is a defensive-minded coach. The crown jewel of his defense this season will likely be junior linebacker Nathan O’Rourke, who had a team-high 101 tackles and six sacks last year.
The complexity of Turley’s multiple-front defense has little bearing on O’Rourke’s favorite part of the game, who gave the most common of answers for a linebacker.
“Blitz,” he responded. “Linebackers, we love blitzing. That’s the best right there. It’s nice just to set up a nice blitz and fake out the guards because they’re least expecting it. You can just come and blow them up.”
CIF Southern Section Division: 9
Coach: Jeff Turley (fifth year)
Staff: Mel Rafferty (offensive line), Carlos Castellanos (offensive line/run offensive coordinator), Scott Hosch (quarterbacks/pass offensive coordinator), Kirk Temple (running backs), Brodie Riederich (linebackers), Mike McMahon (wide receivers/defensive backs), Francisco Soto (defensive backs), Joe Marino (strength), Jeff Turley Jr. (scout), John Tukia (offensive line), Dennis Budd (running backs/receivers)
2017 season: 3-7 overall, 0-5 in the Sunset League (last place), missed the CIF Southern Section Division 12 playoffs
Offensive scheme: No-huddle, spread, three-back wishbone, two tight ends
Defensive scheme: 3-3, 4-3, 3-4
Returning offensive starters: Five
Returning defensive starters: Five
Returning with honors: Sr. C/DT Daniel Escamilla; Jr. FB/LB. Nathan O’Rourke; Sr. WR/DB Nathan Pendleton; Sr. WR/CB Ian Cook; Sr. TE/LB John Robinson
17 — vs. Hollywood South Broward (Fla.) at Key West High in Florida, 4 p.m.
24 — vs. Torrance at Zamperini Stadium
30 — vs. Laguna Hills at Westminster High
7 — vs. Katella at Westminster High
14 — at Huntington Beach
21 — vs. El Modena at Westminster High
28 —vs. Laguna Beach at Westminster High
5 — Bye
12 — at Segerstrom*
18 — vs. Garden Grove* at Westminster High
26 — at Westminster*
*denotes league game
All games 7 p.m., unless noted