TORRANCE — It was impossible to miss Valencia football’s Hunter Koch at the Rams 11-on passing tournament at El Camino College on Saturday.
Between games, Koch sported a faded red, white and blue cowboy hat studded with metal stars.
“I got a little American bug in me,” Koch said. “I want to be myself so I wear an American flag hat all the time. I love it.”
He was easy to spot on the field as well. Koch, who wore a red, white and blue headband during games, was one of the Vikings’ most dynamic players on offense and defense throughout Saturday’s tournament.
An athletic receiver with exceptional route-running abilities, Koch took off down the center of the field to haul in a pass from quarterback Ethan Aguillon for the final Valencia touchdown of the day in a game against Crenshaw.
“He could play five different positions and he’d be great at every one,” said Valencia coach Larry Muir. “He’s just a great competitor and does a great job.”
Koch played primarily offense last season (23 receptions, 351 yards, four touchdowns) as a junior, but said there will likely be increased opportunities for him on defense in the coming season.
He’s the counterpart to senior to-be Mitchell Torres, who will play both ways this season. Although he primarily got reps on defense at the Rams 11-on, a tournament that featured 16 teams, Torres said he’s hoping to see more time at slot receiver this season.
“I want to be a leader on this team,” Torres said, “and hopefully I can do that on offense and defense and do everything for my team to bring another league championship home and hopefully make a good run in playoffs.”
Playing in the USA Baseball West National Team Championships in Arizona caused Torres to miss the entirety of last week’s practices. Getting back into a football mentality wasn’t a challenge for him, however.
“You just kind of have to flip the switch from baseball, which is more like you’re just kind of standing around, and in football, you’ve got to go 100 percent,” Torres said. “You can’t be like lackadaisical or anything. It’s a big transition but I like it.”
Koch and Torres will be catching passes from either Ryan Morrison or Aguillon this season. The two quarterbacks are locked in a battle for the starting job.
Morrison is tall, at 6-foot-4, and has a good arm, but Aguillon moves well and has an eye for big plays. Both are entering their senior year.
“I think one of them has to really separate and really get his confidence and once we get going, I think that you’ll see one of them pull away,” Muir said. “But right now they’re both neck and neck.”
The Vikings finished the morning 2-1 at the Rams 11-on, beating Paraclete 25-8 and Pasadena 20-14 while losing to John Muir 14-8. They moved on to tournament play in the afternoon where they lost to Crenshaw 28-19 in the first round.
The tournament’s games featured 11 players on each side of the ball with two-hand touch and no pads. Points were scored on touchdowns and two-point conversions.
“We made a lot of mistakes. We were 2-1, we should’ve been 3-0,” Morrison said. “There’s no reason we should have lost to John Muir. So we’ve just got to limit the mistakes and keep working hard and keep playing.”
Last season, Valencia won its 10th consecutive Foothill League title before losing to Mater Dei in the first round of the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 playoffs.
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They begin the 2019 season on Thursday, Aug. 22 at St. Francis. Before that, they’ll have the chance for more tune-ups with a few tournaments left on the docket. On Tuesday, they’ll compete in the Thousand Oaks 11-on-11 tournament.
“As a team, we still have a lot to work on as we go ahead because we have a high-power offense and we have a lot of young players and it’s important for them to understand the offense … but I think we’re looking pretty good,” Koch said.