Top 7 storylines to watch this football season

Saugus Senior quarterback Cole Gallagher completes a pass to senior James Sumpter at College of the Canyons in their season opener against Taft on Aug. 17. The Signal
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Football is back! Here are the power rankings for the Foothill League teams heading into the 2018 season, plus a look at one school’s mission to finish the year undefeated.


7) Gritty Grizzlies face tough climb

There’s no way around it: Golden Valley didn’t look good in its season opener.

After beating Highland 30-0 in the opening game last year, the Grizzlies got a taste of their own medicine, losing 46-7.

Golden Valley’s non-conference schedule doesn’t get any easier, as they take on Antelope Valley, Fullerton, Crespi and Bishop Diego, all of whom won their opening games.

A slow start to the season could derail the Grizzlies in league play, which could hurt their chances at a playoff berth. With last season’s 8-6 record and Division 6 title game appearance in the rearview mirror, a .500 record would feel like a win as Golden Valley is now in Division 4.

It’s only been one game, and coach Dan Kelley will have his players ready to go every Friday night. A few early losses, however, could make 2018 a season to forget.


6) SCCS playing for perfect

Talk about getting the monkey off your back.

Santa Clarita Christian School put the hurt on Santa Clara in its opening game, winning 28-14 on the road, leading by three scores most of the way.

It was a sweet victory for the Cardinals, who were on their way to a perfect season last year, until they met the Saints in the second round of the Division 13 playoffs. A 35-14 loss ended the season, leaving returning players eager for their opening game.

“We have very high expectations,” said senior wide receiver Kade Kalinske. “We’re really focused on beating them (Santa Clara) Week 1 and just working hard to beat everyone after and hopefully go undefeated.”

Senior quarterback Blake Kirshner is back, along with wide receivers Ethan and Carson Schwesinger, Kalinske and junior running back Lucas Pettee, who scored three touchdowns in the rematch.


SCCS takes on St. Bernard next, a team they handled 36-12 last year, and they have a favorable schedule the rest of the way. Can Mark Bates lead the Cardinals to a perfect season in his first year as head coach?


5) Hart’s underclassmen will anchor team

Replacing talent is hard to do, and Hart is going to have to count on on its younger players in order to stay near the top of the Foothill League.

The Indians lost a bevy of skilled players on both sides of the ball and will have to rely heavily on its underclassmen this season, including four sophomores. Of the 35 players on its roster, only 10 are seniors.

While the defense is more senior-laden, including three senior linebackers, the offense will be led by junior quarterback Zach Johnson and junior running back Brayden York. Senior Michael Colangelo, who had 13 receptions for 146 yards last season, will be tasked with leading the Indians’ receiving corps.

“I’m just trying to go out there, use my speed because that’s the biggest weapon I have, and just do my thing out there and make plays,” Colangelo said.



4) Canyon making its case

Since going 2-8 in the 2015 season, Canyon has increased its win total by two every year. After a 6-6 finish last year, including a second-round appearance in the Division 6 playoffs, the Cowboys are poised to finish this season above the .500 mark for the first time since 2014.

Last year’s starting quarterback Shawn Gallagher moved to wide receiver this year, opening the door at quarterback for junior varsity call-up Aydyn Litz.

While Litz is inexperienced on the varsity level, the rest of the team, including the receivers, running backs, and offensive and defensive lines, have all played together for several years. Now seniors, they are ready to make a big impact.

“The biggest difference with this year’s team is that we had like two seniors last year, or it felt like we did,” said senior wide receiver Carson Strickland. “Now we only have a lot more experience and that’s a big difference.”



3) The Centurions’ balanced command

It was a dominating performance by Saugus in its opening game against Taft. A 63-0 route was impressive, but the Centurions shouldn’t think of that game as precursor for the rest of the season.

Instead, Saugus will continue to rely on a balanced approach moving forward.

The Centurions could be one of the most complete teams in the Foothill League, boasting a senior offensive line, talented wideouts, an experienced defensive line and secondary, as well as a versatile four-man running back committee, all of whom scored in the opening game.

There were a few issues that Saugus has to work on, including the quarterback-center exchange. Quarterback Cole Gallagher and center Nathan Tripp emphasized that they will work on it more in practice and in their free time.

“We’ll do some more under center. We’ll do it before practices,” Tripp said. “Do some shotgun snaps just so that he’s [Gallagher] completely familiar taking the snaps.”

Once that issue is taken care of, there’s not much left standing in the way for the Centurions this year.



2) West Ranch willing and able

The proverbial dark horse, in this instance, is a wildcat.

The West Ranch Wildcats cruised to a 39-14 victory over Nordhoff in their opening game, behind a six-touchdown spectacle from the Camacho twins, Ryan and Jovan.

Ryan had 11 carries for 74 yards, adding three rushing touchdowns and an 82-yard kickoff return for a score. Jovan had eight receptions for 203 yards and two touchdowns.

Quarterback Weston Eget displayed his strong and accurate arm, going 13 of 18 for 288 yards and two passing touchdowns.

Putting up big numbers all season like they did in the opening game doesn’t seem far-fetched, especially with such a potent offense.



1) Valencia’s road to the top

For the last decade, Valencia has had a stranglehold on the Foothill League. The Vikings haven’t lost a league game since 2011.

Now in Division 1, Valencia will face stiffer competition in its non-conference schedule, including a rematch against Calabasas, a team that beat them 65-63 last season.

The added difficulty in the preleague games could add a wrinkle to Valencia’s Foothill League plans. A perfect league record is in jeopardy not only because of the tougher schedule, but also because the Vikes lost a ton of talent as well.

Last year’s starting quarterback Connor Downs and starting running back Moises Haynes have graduated. Valencia’s leading receiver Mykael Wright transferred. The team’s sack leader Joshua Deneal and leading tackler Anthony Hernandez also graduated.

While Valencia has the talent to remain at the top of the Foothill League, this postseason will be one of the more difficult tests for coach Larry Muir and the Vikings.

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