IVL 2017 Football Preview

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The Imperial Valley League Varsity Football Conference is shaping up to be one of the most competitive divisions in the state as last year four of the six IVL squads advanced to the Southern Section CIF playoffs and two proceeded into the quarter and semi-finals.

The reigning champion Wildcats will have their paws full with the likes of their 2016’s feline foes of the Imperial Tigers, the battle-tested Southwest Eagles, Bell Game rivals and revamped Central Spartans, CIF quarter finalists Calexico Bulldogs, and the journeymen Palo Verde Yellow Jackets; all of which intend claiming their rights to this year’s IVL crown.

Here’s how things are shaping up for Imperial, Calexico, Brawley, Central, and Southwest:

Imperial: Tiger football blends experience with youth for new season
By Gus Garcia

IMPERIAL — With officially less than two weeks before the kickoff of Imperial Valley’s 2017 high school football, the season is already shaping into an interesting one for the Imperial Tigers football squad as they attempt to utilize their blend of experience and youth to translate into success on the gridiron. With returning starters such as Brandon Hueso at running back and Santiago De La Torre in key positions, the Tiger offensive output will most likely come down to two key components.

“We will go as far as our up-front in the trenches and our QB will take us,” said Tiger Head Coach Kerry Legarra, who has led the Tigers to three IVL titles since they joined the league in 2009. Imperial has rotated championships with the Brawley Wildcats over the last six years.

Santiago De La Torre of the Imperial Tigers. Photo by Gus Garcia.

Offensively in the trenches, Kris Walla and senior lineman Sebastian Jimenez will be the veterans as they and the offensive line hope to pave the way for Hueso to a third 1,000-yard season. The senior back has rushed for over 1,000 yards in both his sophomore (1,446 yards)  and junior (1,082 yards) campaigns.

In the receiving game, Santiago De La Torre is a sure target for successful big yards, but this time, as a well-known target. Last year, De La Torre served as a welcome surprise for the Tiger faithful. While his talent and playmaking abilities were well- known within the squad, he was called to contribute more than what was initially expected after an injury sidelined playmaking receiver David Savage.

Still just a junior this year, De La Torre is looking to expand on last year’s season and contribute to a successful Tiger campaign.

“Our first team goal is to win IVL,” said De La Torre of the team’s plans for this season.

“We want to do better than last year. We want to win more than five games and go over .500 (overall),” he said.

Defensively, the Tigers welcome back junior Corner Joey Tarango and senior Chris Davila moving from corner to safety. Tarango’s successful sophomore campaign saw him deflect fifteen total passes, and intercepting one. Davila will look to cover the other side of the field by limiting opposing offense options through the air.

The invert safety combo of senior Justin Denault and junior Nathan Hart, Jr. will provide help over the top as well as underneath, as defensive tackle Jason Luna and middle linebacker Mike Reyes hope to plug the holes in the trenches for opposing running backs.

“Our team goal this season is to come out and win IVL,” said Reyes, echoing the sentiments of De La Torre.

Games to Watch
September 1 @ Cibola

The Tigers open the season on the road against Cibola, but are back home for their opener hosting Yuma Catholic. Along with the first chance to see the 2017 Tigers in action at home, it is also “Pop Warner Night.”

September 15 @ Valley Center

Last year in a nail biter, the Tigers dropped a close game at home to the Jaguars 34-31. The two schools have met on the football field each of the last three years with Valley Center winning all three. They have all been close games that were decided late in the contest with last year’s being the closest. Can the Tigers finally get over the hump?

October 27 @ Brawley High

Over the last six years, this has been the game that has decided IVL as the Tigers and the Wildcats have taken turns winning the last six league titles. With both teams fielding young talented teams, this game could shape up into a classic.

CALEXICO: Renovated stadium and more players pump up Bulldogs toward successful season
By Javier Guerrero

CALEXICO – Despite an early blitz out of the kennel that produced five consecutive wins and an undefeated preseason record in last year’s high school football arena, the Bulldogs had their collar yanked by five Imperial Valley League competitors during conference play, going 5-5 before Calexico was able to create a post-season surge that dug up the first CIF quarter-final victory in school history.

But this year’s pack returns only ten starters out of 22 positions, and lost 27 players to graduation.

Jovan Jimenez of the Southwest Bulldogs. Photo by Brett Miller.

“The numbers are up this year,” said John Tyree, Calexico’s Varsity head coach, optimistically. “We have a lot more players. We appear to be a lot stronger and a lot faster than last year. Our only weakness right now is that we don’t have much game experience.”

On offense, returning senior quarterback and wide receiver, Joshua Marin, played nine games last year where he received for 40 yards and averaged 4.4 yards per reception and 22 yards per kickoff return.

“Everything that we learn in practice, we have to carry over to the game and we’ll be fine,” explained Marin. “This year, we will be a more explosive and faster team, which will give us a bit more of an advantage than last season.”

“Our goal is to do the same as last year and win all of our pre-season games and win CIF, but we gotta work harder in league to get those victories we didn’t get last year,” he added.

In addition, the Calexico defense will bring back a seasoned leader in senior defensive end Jovan Jimenez who tallied 24 solo sacks last year and recovered three fumbles.

“As seniors, we can use that CIF on-field experience. When we got to CIF, we didn’t know what game would be our last, so we played our hearts out,” said Jimenez.  “Coming into this season, I’m hoping we can show the younger guys that you gotta play every game like it’s your last and you can’t take no plays off.”

During the offseason, the Bulldogs’ home stadium, known as Ward Field, was renovated with the reconstruction of the track, pavement, and the addition of new bleachers and a grandstand that will accommodate more than double the previous capacity.

“I feel that the new stadium will bring a lot more people out to hopefully fill up the stands,” Jimenez asserted. “When everyone is out here yelling and the band is playing, you really do get pumped and knowing that you got your whole city behind your back really does pump you up.”

 

BRAWLEY: Wildcats on a mission to repeat championship
By Gus Garcia

BRAWLEY — The Brawley Union High Wildcats are on a mission. As the 2017 Imperial Valley football season emerges, the Wildcats are training to accomplish what no local team has done in nearly eight years: repeat as Valley champs. 

But it will take huge contributions from a talented young group as the Wildcats look to make up for the graduation losses of some of their most skilled positions from last year. 

“We’re a young group and we’re looking forward to the season,” said Wildcat Head Coach Jon Self. 

“We’ve got a couple of returners on defense, one returning lineman on offense, but we’ve got a great group of guys. They were here last year ready to go,” added Self.  

Alex Aguirre of the Brawley Wildcats. Photo by Gus Garcia.

Offensively, the Wildcats welcome returning all-around back George Mickle. Mickle will be the grizzled veteran in the backfield, having started for the past two seasons in multiple backfield positions as well as punting the ball on fourth downs. Juniors Casey Kline and Michael Moreno look to inject some speed and power into the Brawley attack in their first years as starters, but both showed promise last year, contributing both defensively and offensively when needed. 

Senior Michael Alvarez will anchor a young offensive line to open holes on the ground for Mickle, Kline, and Moreno, as well as providing enough time for Wildcat quarterback Casey Kline in the passing game.

“As a team, I’m looking to win IVL again and make it as deep into CIF as we possibly can,” said Kline, who stood out last year defensively and is now playing the point of the Wildcat offense.

“My personal goals and team goals go hand in hand. I’m trying to lead the team to as much success as we can possibly have,” he said.

A target Kline might look to hit with regularity is tight end Alec Aguirre, who has size and strength and can come through on short yardage downs and make catches in heavy traffic.

“As a team our goals are always the same, IVL, then go for CIF,” said Aguirre.

“We’ve got to work hard towards IVL, get ourselves up to speed and go hard every play,” he said.

Along with being a factor in the passing game, Aguirre will also play linebacker, having moved off the line where he played defensive tackle. The 6-foot, 215 pound senior will be on his toes, now looking to lead a defense that graduated multiple key positions last year.

“Personally, this season I’m at a new position. So just to learn and ball out as much as I can, and hopefully make All-Valley, but I can’t do that unless I learn and work hard,” said Aguirre of his personal goals for the season.

Games to Watch
Opening night August 25 versus Steele Canyon @ Brawley

The Wildcats will host CIF San Diego Section Division 1 Steel Canyon in the first game of the season. While not a “make or break” game for Brawley, it is a game that will provide opportunities for the young Wildcats to learn early in their season-long bid for both IVL and CIF division 2 standing. 

October 27 versus Imperial @ Brawley  

The Wildcats will host the Imperial Tigers, their fiercest IVL rivals in recent memory, in another matchup that could determine league superiority — as it has for the last six years. Both teams have taken turns beating each other on home turf during that time span, but could this be the year the “home” team can finally pull it off?

November 3 @ Central Union High 

Bell game… enough said. 

 

CENTRAL: With new system, Spartans work towards start of season
By Kalin Turner

EL CENTRO – As the 2017 high school football season approaches, the Central High School Spartans have hit the field, fine tuning their new system with Head Coach David Pena and the new Varsity coaching staff he’s implemented.

The Spartans finished last season with three wins and eight losses, and two of the wins were Imperial Valley League victories over Palo Verde and Calexico high schools.

This season, the Spartans aim to surpass their 2016 record by learning the new offensive formations Coach Pena has implemented.

“The short term goal for our offensive is to make sure the players understand the new system we are running,” said Pena. “And as coaches, it is our job to make sure the players are learning, because our team can only be good as our players’ understanding allows them to be.”

On the other side of the field, the Spartan defense will be a four-down team that will work to keep the plays in front of them. Central will look to minimize the opponent’s score by not giving them the chance to make the big plays that causes teams to fall behind.

“A team’s defense wins games, and by being a four-down team, we will work to give our offense more time on the field to make plays and drive the ball into our end zone,” said Pena.

Since a majority of the team are returning seniors, the players are learning brand new techniques that differ from the ones they executed last year.

The Varsity Spartans practice tackle drills. Photo by Kalin Turner.

“The style of play has changed a lot since last year and our team is improving everyday,” said Central linebacker Kevin Even. “The attitude the coaches produce out on the field is also more motivating, and that allows us to give more effort than last season.”

The team will also continue to work on unity and understanding by relating to football through prior knowledge, the coach said.

“If the players are learning the system, then I will never work,” Pena said. “And to relate to players, we use their prior knowledge to help them relate to the vision the coaching staff has been trying to implement.”

“Our team has already improved so much since the beginning. We will only continue to get better if our coaches continue to push us and expect the best performance every time, because by them being harder on us, it drives us to be better players to represent Spartan football,” Even said.

 

SOUTHWEST: Strong chemistry and solid returnees build hopes
By Javier Guerrero

EL CENTRO – After a deep flight through the Division IV CIF playoffs that ended with falling just one game short of the title, the Southwest High School Eagles enter this season ranked as the number two team in Division III with plans to rattle things up in Imperial Valley League by breaking through to the championship.

The Eagles’ offense will not miss a stride as the senior triptych of QB Cameron Jungers, WR Tyler Saikhon, and RB Justin Cordova will return to torment defenses for one more season.

Cameron Jungers of the Southwest Spartans. Photo by Brett Miller.

“Having team chemistry and knowing what your teammate on the side of you is going to do is important,” said Saikhon.  “As freshmen playing together, we performed really well and we are all still really close to each other and it’s our last year, so we need to go all out.”

Jungers threw for over 850 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. Meanwhile, Saikhon (1,272) and Cordova (677) were just 51 yards shy of rushing for a combined total of 2,000 yards at 1,949 in 2017.

“We can run and pass and we love scoring touchdowns,” stated Saikhon.

Cordova scored nine touchdowns last year, and Saikhon crossed the pylon 30 times.

“We are all fast and can put up points, but we lost a significant amount of starters on defense last year. Luckily, we have solid players that can fill those roles,” Jungers said.

Despite a strong performance in the playoffs, Southwest struggled against the top tier of the IVL teams. Tough losses to Brawley and Imperial prevented the Eagles from claiming the IVL title.

“Our short term aspirations are to just get as good as we can before the season gets going and staying healthy,” shared Jungers.  “Long term, we are trying to compete in league and as far as possible into the playoffs,” he added.

Staying healthy may be the difference maker this season, as last year, a booming hit on Jungers resulted in a clavicle injury that seemingly ended his season.

Even though Jungers was able to return for the CIF semi-final, the missed time in between games stunted the progression of that all-important mid-season team chemistry.

“Even though it was disappointing, we have to use last year’s playoff loss as motivation,” Saikhon said.

“We are really hungry. It was tough losing that game in the semi-final,” Jungers concluded. “Most of us have been playing together since freshmen. We’ve got the chemistry down and we’re ready to go for it.”