Eagles carrying the torch

The numbers are down for the Estancia High football team. Fifth-year Coach Mike Bargas said he's at about 70 players for the junior varsity and varsity squads combined, down eight or nine guys from last year.

Attitudes have rarely been more up, though, at Jim Scott Stadium.

"Everyone is real positive, which is nice," Bargas said. "We're also coming off a stinging playoff loss, but I think that guys are fired up about that. We're trying to make a statement during the [nonleague schedule]; hopefully we get a little more done. There's a lot of optimism and good energy out there. We've been relatively healthy. Our numbers are a little down, but I think the talent and the attitude supersede what we've got numbers-wise."

Having a varsity team that won the outright league title, plus a junior varsity team went 8-0, will do that for a program. The Eagles, who open their regular season Sept. 9 at Bolsa Grande, want to keep it going.

Here's a position-by-position look at the 2011 Eagles:

Quarterback: Bargas said junior Brad Wilson (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) and senior Sho Watanabe (5-11, 190) have been vying for the starting spot, though Wilson has been taking first-team reps.

Wilson, who transferred from Edison after his freshman year, backed up John Diego last year and got into several games. He played the entire second half of the playoff loss to Beckman and passed for 117 yards.

Bargas said Wilson, who at 6-1 would be the Eagles' tallest starting quarterback since Mike Morley in 2007, has the strength to get the ball down the field.

"He's got poise out there," Bargas said. "We're not going to be a big throw-down-the-field team, but we're good for a few of those. If we were a passing team, I think he'd get the job done. We're going to open up the passing game I think, but for me opening up the passing game is like a 70-30 [split in favor of running plays], or 65-35."

Watanabe, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Eagles' first two-a-day practice last year, came back and played baseball in the spring and Bargas said his stock is rising.

"[The starting quarterback job] will be down to the wire, but if not, we have a nice one-two punch," Bargas said.

Running backs: Robert Murtha, who rushed for a school-record 1,679 yards as a sophomore and was the Orange Coast League Offensive Player of the Year, returns. Bargas is also excited to pair Murtha (5-10, 185) with a bigger back in Deionte Haywood (6-2, 195). Haywood shined on the junior varsity level last year but also made his mark in a couple of varsity games, including a 35-yard touchdown run against Laguna Beach.

Bargas said he plans to regularly use a two-tailback backfield, or even use Haywood as a non-traditional fullback to get both players on the field at the same time.

"Deionte is a bruiser," Bargas said. "We're excited to have two sophomores who are now coming back with varsity experience as juniors and seniors. That's the great thing, that we've got these guys for two more seasons."

Junior Colby Koste (5-9, 185) is also in the mix for touches, and Mackenzie Collins (5-10, 190) could replace three-year starter and graduate George De La Torre as a more traditional fullback.

Receivers: The Eagles return no starters but Bargas said three-sport athlete Ben Beck (baseball and basketball), a junior, should start here. Beck (6-0, 165) came out for football just before the start of the season last year and got more playing time as the year went on. Bargas said Beck has adequate speed and good hands.

Another junior, Henry Vazquez (6-1, 180), projects as the other starter. Bargas said Vazquez also has really good hands and had a big year last year for the junior varsity.

Bargas said juniors Levi Stillman (5-11, 135) and Seth Bargas (5-10, 160), along with seniors Avery Raphoon (5-10, 165), Milton Gutierrez (5-10, 160) and Watanabe, are all in the mix for catches. Raphoon is a transfer from Newport Harbor.

Tight end: Omar Gutierrez was a three-year starter here before graduating. Bargas said the spot this year is up for grabs, and that Koste and senior Brandon Kingsley (5-10, 170) are sharing reps there. Senior Brodie Pearce (6-0, 175) and junior Cole Mensinger (6-0, 170) are other options.

"We've been doing things by committee," Bargas said. "We're probably going to platoon guys to keep them fresh."

Offensive line: Not coincidentally, Murtha ran left a lot last year. The Eagles return both of the reasons why: three-year senior starter Zach Bateman (6-6, 310) at left tackle and senior left guard Givraan Gutierrez (6-2, 235). Bateman shared the Orange Coast League Lineman of the Year award and was All-CIF last year. Bargas said Gutierrez slimmed down a bit after wrestling last winter.

The rest of the line is new. Projected starters include senior center George Garcia (5-7, 180), junior right guard Alex Lopez (5-9, 245) and emerging junior right tackle Kevin Peters (6-3, 270).

"Kevin's an athlete," Bargas said. "He's scary. I don't even like to do drills with him, to be honest with you, because I'm afraid he's going to hurt me sometimes. He's legitimately a guy who's going to command some respect out there."

Defensive line: Peters and senior Andy Ugalde (6-2, 195) both return at the ends, as does Kevin Peters' older brother, senior Alipa Peters (6-3, 275), at defensive tackle. Alipa Peters was a first-team all-league selection last year.

Bargas said Lopez is the projected starter at noseguard in the 4-3 formation, though seniors Lucas Mitchell (5-9, 235) and Jesus Guzman (5-8, 240) are also in the mix. All three players are coming up from the junior varsity.

Linebackers: Bargas said it's a battle to replace middle linebacker Eduardo Lopez, who graduated after easily leading the Eagles with his 101 tackles last season. Senior Tre Le Ele (5-8, 225) and senior Alex Rodriguez (5-9, 190) are vying for the spot. They're different types of players, as Bargas said Le Ele is more physical and Rodriguez is more limber.

Senior Ozzy Magana (5-5, 180) returns at outside linebacker, and Koste is slated to start at the other outside 'backer spot.

"Ozzy's our only returning captain from last season," Bargas said. "The guy's a tiny guy, but he'll give you everything he's got. He's our vocal leader."

Junior Adahir Aguilera (5-11, 225), who Bargas said is perhaps the Eagles' strongest pound-for-pound player in the weight room, should also play a prominent role.

Secondary: Watanabe and Stillman project as the starting cornerbacks. The Eagles lost an All-CIF safety in Matt Carlyle (now at Orange Coast College) to graduation; this year Beck is the projected starter at free safety and Haywood is the strong safety. Bargas said last year Haywood wanted to play defensive end, but ended up as an outside linebacker.

"He's a big guy, but he moves like a little guy," Bargas said. "He's got the height and ability to make things happen."

Other options in the secondary include Gutierrez, Raphoon and Kingsley, as well as seniors Alex Tenno (5-6, 165) and Alex Trancoso (5-10, 165). Tenno had three interceptions last year.

Special teams: Junior Dan Cabrera (5-10, 215) moves up from the junior varsity and takes over for graduate John Diego as the Eagles' primary kicker. Murtha returns as an All-CIF punter as well. Bargas said Murtha averaged 39 yards a punt last season.

Bargas expects Beck to return punts, and he'll be joined by Murtha on kickoff returns.

Magana is the long-snapper, and Beck will be counted upon to be the holder.

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