We do this every year, and still someone will protest.
“Focus on the sports that are in season,” he or she will say. “Basketball and soccer deserve your undivided attention this time of year.”
Well, people want to read about football this time of year and, really, every time of year. So while our focus is mainly on covering the hardwood and the soccer pitch, we reserve the right to continue this traditional gridiron lookahead.
But, rather than a straight Way-Too-Early Foothill League Football preview, I’ve opted for way-too-early Foothill football predictions.
Because honestly, who doesn’t want to speculate on a Valencia repeat, next year’s Offensive Player of the Year and a quarterback named Bones?
The 2017 champion
Valencia — yes, the eight-time defending Foothill League champion — will win No. 9 (going out on a limb, I know).
The Vikings return all-league talent on both sides of the ball. All three defensive linemen (Josh Washington, Josh DeNeal and Ben Seymour) will once again form a havoc-raising unit.
Valencia also returns four of five starting offensive linemen, 1,600-yard rusher Moises Haynes and game-changing running back/safety Jayvaun Wilson.
Sophomore Mykael Wright will rival Golden Valley’s Jalin Lewis as the league’s best wideout, and Wright will be one of the best defensive backs in the area.
The question, of course, lies at quarterback after the graduation of 2016 Foothill Player of the Year Aaron Thomas.
Three Vikings will compete for the job: juniors Connor Downs and Tyler Haas and sophomore Davis Cop.
Foothill Player of the Year
Whoever starts at QB for Valencia will often be handing the ball to Haynes, who, I believe, is headed for the league’s top honor (which, like all these awards, is voted on by the coaches).
As a junior, Haynes failed to rush for at least 100 yards just four times in 2016. He rushed for at least 140 yards in four of Valencia’s final five games and finished the year with 22 rushing TDs.
Behind a veteran offensive line and playing with an inexperienced quarterback, expect a heavy dose of No. 43 in 2017.
Offensive Player of the Year
I believe the 2017 Foothill Offensive Player of the Year award will go to an NCAA Division 1 prospect who served as a backup this season.
Hart junior JT Shrout has waited the last two seasons behind 2016 Offensive Player of the Year Nick Moore. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Shrout will finally get his chance to shine next season as “a Division 1-type player,” according to coach Mike Herrington.
“He’ll be good, as long as he can be protected,” Moore said. “He’s a big kid with a big arm. He just has to get some experience, really, that’s all and he should be pretty good.”
Defensive Player of the Year
Valencia’s Seymour, a sophomore, made his presence felt in his first varsity season, recording eight sacks and 19 tackles for loss through the team’s first 12 games. After winning co-Defensive Player of the Year this season, all signs point to the 6-2, 232 pounder’s best football lying ahead of him.
“I think he could be one of the best defensive players we’ve ever had,” said Valencia coach Larry Muir.
Lineman of the Year
The favorites have to be Valencia’s Washington and DeNeal, who make up two-thirds of arguably the league’s best defensive unit. Washington won the award this season after posting 18 tackles for loss and four sacks. DeNeal made 17 tackles for loss and a team-best 8.5 sacks on his way to first-team all-league honors.
I’ll give the edge to the award’s incumbent.
Graduation won’t hamstring Saugus and Golden Valley
Saugus is a question mark entering next season, as the Centurions will lose numerous impact players on offense and defense.
They do, however, return junior Nathan Eldridge at quarterback (though coach Jason Bornn said he’ll have to compete for the job again over the offseason), leading rusher Quinn Sheaffer and middle linebacker James Stirwalt.
The Cents also have several skill position sophomores they’re excited about, and they find a way to be competitive seemingly every year.
2017 will be no different.
The Grizzlies will graduate a large group of standouts on both sides of the ball.
But that was the case after 2015’s breakout season too, and coach Dan Kelley made it work.
The team’s biggest questions surround the offense: Will the Grizzlies find running back depth after graduating 1,400-yard rusher KJ Maduike? Who will fill the holes left by a senior-laden offensive line? And how well will quarterback-to-be Michael Marquez and Jalin Lewis jell in the passing game?
Prediction: Golden Valley wins two league games for the third straight year and sweats out selection Sunday in hopes of an at-large berth to the CIF-Southern Section Division 5 playoffs.
West Ranch will continue trending upward
The Wildcats only improved on 2015’s 3-7 campaign by one win this year. But the vibe surrounding the program was very different in Chris Varner’s first year as head coach. West Ranch went 3-2 in preleague play and easily could have been 5-0 at that point. Varner did it with few stars, so the fact that few standouts return next season doesn’t mean the Cats can’t keep climbing in 2017. Prediction: five wins and an at-large playoff berth in Division 9.
Canyon’s quarterback situation
I’ve never seen sophomore Shawn Gallagher or junior John Bones play. But I’m pulling for Bones in the two-man competition to replace senior quarterback Miles Fallin for one reason: What sports reporter wouldn’t love to write about a football player named Bones every Friday?
Bones, coach Rich Gutierrez said, is a physical competitor with a “fire about him.” Gutierrez praised Gallagher’s leadership, describing him as “tough as nails.”
The job remains up in the air.