With nearly all of the offensive line returning, Estancia High football coach Mike Bargas knows who will be making the holes for the running backs to run through.
Who will be doing most of the running? That's been more up in the air for the Eagles in the weeks leading up to their home scrimmage against Segerstrom on Friday. But Bargas would rather have it this way than the other way around.
"That's huge," Bargas said. "You can coach guys up to be running back, but if you don't have the guys up front? That's why I'm excited about this season in particular. If they can make holes, hopefully you can find a guy who can run through the holes."
The running will commence soon. After the scrimmage, Estancia opens its season at Jim Scott Stadium as well, against Bolsa Grande on Sept. 9.
Here's a position-by-position look at the 2010 Eagles:
Quarterback: Senior John Diego, who backed up Alek Kirshner last year, is penciled in as the starter. Diego, who threw for just 71 yards and an interception in extremely limited action, said he actually left the team for personal reasons after last year, but he returned and played well in summer passing league.
"He's a good leader," Bargas said. "The kids really rally around him."
Cameron Collins, another senior, is also in the mix. So are sophomores Brad Wilson, who transferred from Edison last year, and Anthony Davila, who was the Estancia freshman team quarterback.
The Eagles passed for just 63 yards per game last year, but that could increase.
"We actually have four guys who are pretty good quarterbacks," Bargas said. "It's going to be until the bitter end as far as who's going to start, but right now John Diego is throwing the ball pretty well."
Running back: This is another area of contention, as Alex Abilos and Sean Davis both graduated. Abilos, one of two Newport-Mesa Dream Team players from Estancia last year, was Newport-Mesa's leading rusher with 1,309 yards, and Davis added 561.
Like at quarterback, Bargas said the Eagles again have four guys, none of whom recorded a varsity carry in 2009. Robert Murtha (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), a sophomore who was dominant last year on the freshman level, is probably the favorite to get at least the early-season nod. He is battling for playing time with another sophomore in Deionte' Haywood (6-1, 190).
The Eagles also have senior Christian Maldonado (5-4, 160) and junior Milton Gutierrez (5-10, 150) as able ball-carriers. Bargas mentioned Newport Harbor transfer Sho Watanabe (5-11, 170), a junior, as a utility guy who could play running back or receiver.
"The young guys have a lot of talent, but they're young guys," Bargas said. "[Murtha] was probably one of the better running backs I've seen at the freshman level. Last year, when Abalos went down I was going to bring him up, and I didn't. This will be the proving grounds for him this season."
Senior George De La Torre (6-2, 235) returns for his third year starting at fullback, and his primary backup will be fellow senior Austin Abernathy (5-8, 195). Sophomore Colby Koste (5-8, 180), a Newport Harbor transfer, could also see time there.
Receivers: Senior Matt Carlyle (5-9, 145) returns; last year he caught 20 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown as one of the Eagles' top two threats along with Alex Calabrese. Carlyle is a leader on the field for the Eagles.
Bargas said senior Jairo Cabrera (5-9, 160), who stood out on JV last year, could also start, as well as Collins and senior Miguel Mejia (5-9, 180). Collins, if not seeing reps at quarterback, could also end up at receiver. Bargas said he filled in during practice last week with a couple of the other receivers banged up.
Tight end: Two-time Dream Team performer Omar Gutierrez (5-10, 200), a senior, returns after catching nine passes for 66 yards last year. Gutierrez, a three-year starter, will often be called on to block, but Bargas said Gutierrez was also one of the Eagles' top receivers over the summer.
"He's got some deceiving speed," Bargas said. "Hopefully he can keep the wind to play both sides of the ball, but that's kind of the nature of the beast at the school here."
Offensive line: Four of five starters return, including senior center Diego Moya (5-10, 220), a three-year starter and first-team All-Orange Coast League selection last year. Other returners include senior left guard C.J. Thomas (6-1, 210), senior right guard Tony Toledo (5-9, 225) and junior right tackle Zach Bateman, a specimen at 6-5 and 300 pounds.
The only non-returner slated to start is junior Givraan Gutierrez (6-2, 245), who played JV last year. Other offensive linemen in the mix are junior Alex Rodriguez, senior backup center Juan Mejia and sophomore Adahir Aguilera.
Bargas said the offensive line, which averages 240 pounds, is bigger than he's had in the past.
Defensive line: Omar Gutierrez, who played defensive end last year and had an area-best 10 sacks for the second straight year, is moving to strong-side linebacker. The Eagles have good size up front anchored by senior tackle Ivan Banos (5-10, 300), a returning starter. Defensive ends Mejia (6-1, 189) and Thomas both have varsity experience, and senior Santiago Cervantes (5-8, 165) is slated to start inside at tackle with Banos.
Other defensive line guys who could make a mark are juniors Tre Le'Ele (5-8, 240) and Lucas Mitchell (5-9, 270).
The Eagles are again under the direction of defensive coordinator Dave Holland, the former longtime head coach at Corona del Mar.
Linebacker: Gutierrez, who was third on the team with 69 tackles last year, will play outside linebacker, a decision Bargas said he made in part because of his senior's quickness.
"He's so fluid and so quick," Bargas said. "He's going to be able to see a little bit more of the football field being up in a two-point stance."
Senior Eduardo Lopez (5-6, 180), a team captain last year while contributing 67 tackles of his own, is back at middle 'backer. Abernathy is slated to start at the outside spot.
Bargas said Haywood could also play a big role, as well as junior Ozzy Magana (5-5, 160), the team's special teams player of the year last year. Junior Brandon Kingsley (5-9, 180) and sophomore Levi Stillman (5-8, 120) will also compete for playing time.
Secondary: Carlyle, who had a team-high three interceptions last year, is also a leader here from his spot at free safety. Senior Andrew Tenno (5-8, 170), who played linebacker last year, is projected to start at strong safety. Bargas said senior Danny Tapia (5-8, 150) is also in contention at safety.
Seniors Jason Anaya (5-5, 150) and Brandon Barron (5-9, 175), both of whom have varsity experience, project as the Eagles' two starting cornerbacks. Junior Sabino Enciso (5-9, 150) is also in the mix at corner.
Special teams: John Diego and Miguel Mejia are Estancia's kickers, with Diego likely handling the lion's share and Mejia kicking off. Collins is a backup kicker.
Bargas said Murtha and Koste are both in contention for punting duties. Magana is the team's long-snapper, and Carlyle the holder.