East County Sports

State finalists Vaqueros reload around defensive front

NOTE: This is the first of a 13-part series that will take a look at each football team that East County Sports.com covers.  Each day, we will look at a different school, leading up to the final preview which will be published on the day that most of the teams in East County have their scrimmage leading into the 2015 season.  First up is the 2015 California State Runners-Up El Capitan Vaqueros.

By Chris Davis
© East County Sports.com
LAKESIDE (8-9-15) — 2014 was a dream season for RON BURNER and the El Capitan Vaqueros.  They came just two plays away from winning the State championship, but the word around the Vaquero camp is that they are aiming just as high this year.

Coach Burner is hopeful, but also realistic.  You would expect that from the veteran coach who saw 28 players, 14 of which were All-East County members, graduate in June.  Not included in that group however were Coach Burner’s defensive line.

But the Coach believes it is going to be a reload year and not a rebuild.  “We like to say reloading, obviously we won’t be as good because we aren’t as experienced,” Coach Burner said after a recent practice.  “We have some pretty good players coming back.  A lot of experience last year and some real good young players.”

One of the biggest holes that the Vaquero coaching staff will have to fill is that of QB BRAD CAGLE.  Cagle was the starting QB for the past three years as he went 29-9 over the course of that timeframe.

“We have a new transfer that moved over here,” the 11th year head coach said. “We have a couple of players moving up from JV.  It will be a challenge when you don’t have a guy, like we have had, that has run the system for the past three years and knows it like the back of his hand.”

The transfer is PHOENIX CATES who transferred from Grossmont Hills rival Helix.  Moving up from JV is CRISTIAN ZAMUDIO and ANTONIO OLIVIERI.  Cates has been backing up MICHAEL AUSTIN the last couple of years in La Mesa.

Photo courtesy of Tammy Ryan (TRyan Photography)

Photo by Tammy Ryan (TRyan Photography)

The rest of the backfield will feature some youngsters as well.  Two seniors that are also playing on the defensive side of the ball along with a junior and sophomore.  “I think everyone will be surprised by our running backs, they are going to be pretty good” the head coach stated.  CONNOR ROOSA would be the sophomore that he speaks of.  AUSTIN FINCH (see video above) is the fastest person on campus who also is on the track team.

When some folks think of El Capitan, they think of the great wide outs that matriculate through the school.  “We are kind deep there,” said Burner.  “JONATHAN SUMMERS comes over from the baseball team.  He played all through Pop Warner and freshman year.  JAVIER VIDALEZ was on JV last year.”  Vidalez was a duel threat on the JV level being a QB/WR combo.

One of the issues that won’t be an issue over the next couple of weeks is offensive line.  “We have four linemen back from All-State.  They are all juniors.”  For the first time in a few years the Vaquero opponents will have to actually worry about tight ends.  “We have two really good tight ends,” said the joyous coach.

On the defensive side of the ball, the line will need to be completely rebuilt as everyone graduated just two months ago.  “We have three linemen back, but all the starters graduated.  But the defense is the number one thing,” Burner stated.  “We still talk the same formula, our plan to win is to play great defense.”

Looking at the linebackers, two returning starters will fill a portion of the corps.  “We got another really, really good transfer in.”  According to Burner, “our linebackers are probably our strength.”

Defensive backs will be filled with some wide receivers who show some expertise on tackling.  The safety from last year is returning.  The entire secondary are returning varsity players who were in a backup role last year.

CODY MATTISON the long range kicker during the State Runner-Up season looks to be doing most of the kicking regardless of the distance.

The Grossmont Hills League is a tough league.  In coach Burner’s opinion, “Helix is probably favored to win State.  Grossmont, Steele, Mount Miguel, Valhalla there is no weak team.  I think it will be very competitive.  The one thing you never know about is how the young guys and who is going to raise up.”

Coach Burner stated that “we are looking forward” to the season.

Well, the schedule that he has put together is certainly not for the weak.  It starts with the San Diego Friday Night Lights’ Kickoff Classic against Hilltop at La Jolla Country Day.  Hilltop finished with a sub-par 2-8 record last year in the Metro-South Bay league.  There is no rest for the weary as the 2012 California State Champions Madison High will take on the Vaqueros in the “Brothers in Arms” game at Cathedral Catholic.

The month of September has two road contests against Mater Dei Catholic on the fourth day of the month, and West Hills where the team will have to travel less than 10 miles across highway 52.  The true home opener will finally occur on the 18th when Patrick Henry travels East.

October will see a full slate of five games all against East County schools.  The gauntlet will begin with a trip to Valley Stadium to take on Granite Hills on Oct. 2.  The namesake of the district (Grossmont) will make the trek out to Lakeside to open league play on the 9th.  A pair of road games will then have El Cap travel to the Rancho San Diego area.  First with a trip to Valhalla, then to Steele Canyon, before wrapping the month up with a visit from the Matadors on Halloween Eve.

The lone regular season matchup in November will be, on paper, the league championship game at Helix.  Now of course a lot of things can happen between the beginning of October and the first week in November, but it could certainly be interesting.

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