Crescenta Valley football looking to regain Pacific League supremacy

From the promising genesis to the perfect ending that was Crescenta Valley High's undefeated 2014 CIF Southern Section Southeast Division championship season, Michael Alvarez, Brandon Beardt, Ty Hill and Andrew Traber were there for it all.

Upon the dawn of the 2016 campaign, there are still links to the magic of two seasons prior, but the Falcons are solely focused on the year ahead and realizing the goal of reclaiming the Pacific League title.

"Every year, the goal's to win league," said Hill, who heads into his senior season to start for the fourth year with an abundance of All-Area, All-CIF and All-Pacific League honors to his credit. "We've gotta win league first to do anything."

In the afterglow of their aforementioned CIF championship, the Falcons went 7-4 with a 5-2 mark in the Pacific League tying them for second. Alas, the Falcons went into the playoffs as the league's third seed after losing a tiebreaker and were on the wrong end of a lopsided loss to Angelus League kingpin Cathedral.

This time around, the Falcons believe they enter the year with an improved offensive line, a returning sophomore quarterback with promise and a staunch defense that has made a name for itself over the last two seasons.

Another forthcoming aspect that bodes well for the Falcons is their schedule, one that offers six games at Glendale High's Moyse Field (Hoover, Glendale and CV all share the field as their home field, with Hoover hosting CV this season) and kicks off Thursday when Crescenta Valley hosts Verdugo Hills.

But the end of the regular season is likely to be telling, as Burbank is seen by most as the Pacific League favorite with Burroughs, CV and likely Arcadia as the top contenders. Crescenta Valley will host Burroughs before traveling to play Burbank and archrival Arcadia in the last three weeks of the season.

"We want to win a league championship," said Falcons Coach Paul Schilling, whose team is aiming for the Division VI playoffs in the Southern Section's realignment and is the only Pacific League team in the division and is in the highest division of all the league teams. "We want to be in that position going into those last three games."

Schilling's top core of players is likely returning senior starters Hill and Beardt, who could play all over the field, sophomore quarterback Cole Doyle and senior defensive lineman Nobel Leduc, but the offensive line might well be the biggest key to success after a bit of lackluster play a season ago.

"This year, we're really a big offensive line," junior offensive lineman Destin Jordan said. "We just have that connection and we work really well together."

Senior left tackle Michael Alvarez (6 foot 4, 235 pounds), junior center Riley Center (6-0, 235) and Jordan (6-2, 260) have plenty of experience with junior right guard Tommy Chun (6-2, 290) providing a big presence and senior Idean Samirami (6-1, 265) another large key to success.

"The key is our offensive and defensive lines," Schilling said.

While the offensive line is set, there's still some question as to defensive coordinator Dennis Gossard's defensive line.

However, seniors Kevin Taix and Leduc are penciled in and will likely switch from end to tackle depending on the formation. Leduc is coming off an All-Area season in which he burst onto the scene with team-highs of 122 tackles and 7.5 sacks.

"He's a beast," Schilling said of Leduc, one of three returning All-Area selections along with Beardt and Hill.

Returning starter Brian Erickson, a junior, had 106 tackles last season and will see playing time at linebacker and on the defensive line.

Senior Austin Lee will also be in the linebacker mix, as will Hill and Beardt, whose talent and versatility will be crucial to the Falcons' success.

"Pretty much, for me, I just want to play football," Hill said. "Wherever the coaches feel I fit in best is fine with me."

Hill, who started as a safety the previous three seasons, is likely to play at linebacker in college and will play linebacker this year for CV, but is also likely to see some time in the defensive backfield. It's much the same for Beardt, who was a defensive back last season and will play at linebacker this year, but could also jump back to the secondary.

Offensively, Beardt will see some reps at running back, where he shined at times last season, while Hill could see plays at quarterback in a Wildcat formation and at tight end.

Senior Will Rees will also see plenty of action on both sides of the ball as a starting cornerback and a top receiver. Joining Rees in the defensive backfield are likely to be junior safeties James Baek and Tyler Lobianco.

Lobianco and Baek will also see time at receiver, along with senior Austin Sampson and junior Grady Schilling accentuating what is likely the deepest position on the squad. However, it will be led by Rees and senior Andrew Traber, with Max Meyer at tight end.

"We have a lot of good route runners and a lot of guys who have good hands and have good speed," Doyle said.

Hill and Beardt were the Falcons' leading rushers last season and are back, but third-leading rusher Joe Suh, a junior who tallied 305 yards rushing and three touchdowns a year ago, will take the lead role. Senior Chuck Weinmann should also see his share of time and carries.

Much of the Falcons offense's success will rely upon the sophomore exploits of Doyle, who played briefly at the tail end of last season, most notably throwing the game-winning touchdown in the final week of the regular season against Arcadia for a 28-27 win that put the Falcons into the playoffs.

"He's got a really good arm, he's very confident," Traber said. "He has really good accuracy, so that plays a big role."

Still, Doyle is just a sophomore, but he speaks with equal parts confidence and humility.

"I definitely feel the pressure in being a sophomore and the starting quarterback," Doyle said. "But I feel really confident in myself and the offensive line."

"The good thing about our team this year is we can basically do it all with the skill we have. We'll be balanced."

One of the forgotten elements of success for the 2014 championship squad was that it escaped a 14-game season without any debilitating injuries. As with every season, Schilling believes health will be paramount as he believes he has plenty of talent in the starting lineup, but needs to keep it there.

"It's really about being healthy," said Schilling, who will have another returning starter in kicker Alex Atanackovic, a senior, though Atanackovic could be pushed by senior Clyde Hovsepian, who will handle the punting and possibly some of the kicking. "I like our group."

For Hill, who is set to wrap up one of the most successful and decorated careers in Crescenta Valley chronicle, he sees the team's chemistry as that which will bestow a winning formula.

"Our strength is that we're all best friends," Hill said. "We have that close bond. It's like playing backyard football with your best friends when you're younger."