East County Sports

Eagles ready to fly around in Hills

Granite Hills senior NOAH MEDEIROS / photo by Ramon Scott




EastCountySports.com staff report


EL CAJON – Some local high school football programs might have reservations jumping from the Grossmont Valley League to the Grossmont Hills League.

Not the 2018 Granite Hills Eagles.

After capturing three-straight GVL banners, the time has come for their promotion to the GHL and these Eagles are embracing the challenge.

Senior DB/RB GIDEON ALABA / photo by Ramon Scott

“We’re excited to play those teams,” Eagles senior two-way star GIDEON ALABA said. “They are more competitive and tougher teams that will allow us to get better through the season. I think we will do fine in the Hills League.”

Most of the teams they’ll face in their new league surroundings aren’t strangers. Granite Hills has had great matchups with El Capitan and Valhalla recently, and the Eagles’ games with Steele Canyon last year were two of the best local games all season.

“Our program is excited about it,” said Granite Hills coach KELLAN COBBS (seventh year, 44-29). “Playing those teams is going to get us ready for the (Division II) playoffs.”

And let the record show, in a preseason canvass of area coaches, the Eagles (10-3 last season) were ranked just a couple of notches behind new league rivals Grossmont and Steele Canyon in the county rankings inside the top twenty. And some of the preseason computer rankings show Granite Hills as a sure contender for a CIF division championship.

Granite returns 12 starters, including eight on defense, which is always the rock of Cobbs’ teams.

“We have nine defensive backs coming back that this year that have varsity experience,” Cobbs said. “We run a 4-2-5 defense so that’s huge. Defense has been the strong point of our teams, especially early in the season. We have had a lot of competition in this camp.”

Junior ETHEN BISHOP may be the Eagles’ most-heralded star.

Bishop was a second-team All-East County performer last season after performing as a tackling machine. He recorded 110 stops (42 solo), including eight for loss from his strong safety position, as well as, picking off four passes and defending six others.

“All of our DBs are coming back so we are already used to working together,” Bishop said. “We’re working even better together as the years go on. We’re not big up front so we have to be quicker than a lot of the teams, so we are working on speed and conditioning. We’re just going to fly around.”

One of Granite Hills’ high-flyers is senior two-way man Alaba.

The 6-foot, 185-pound DB proved himself last season on defense with 33 tackles and interception and a big-play, long-distance fumble return for a score. However, his footprint will be on the offense more out of the backfield, as well, this season.

“I’m looking to get some interceptions and force turnovers but I’m looking to play more on offense as well,” Alaba said. “We are looking good offensively, but especially defensively because we kept most of our defense intact since we were still pretty young last season. I think we hold strong as a defense.”

Those young Eagles were supported by some big-time veteran stars who will be missed, but the tutelage by those veterans have left their mark on the returning roster, including new starting quarterback CRIS OSTRENG.

“I backed up JAKE (SIEGFRIED) and his run game was crazy,” Ostreng said. “That’s something we have to pick up, but I’ve been behind him since my sophomore year, so I know what I have to do to fill that role.

“Our running game may not be as strong up front with our line shrinking, but we have a lot more speed right now. We still have a lot of quarterback runs, so we’ll be doing a lot of the same things.

“We don’t have the size and speed as other teams have, but a lot of these kids just like playing football, so we’ve just been able to mesh.”

For now, the Eagles may spread their wings offensive, rather than rely on the young run blockers at least to start. That means getting the ball into their playmaker’s hands more quickly and by different means.

“Cris is prepared,” Cobbs said. “He’s started a couple of games (as a sophomore when Siegfried missed time with an injury) and played every game as a wideout. We have to tailor our offense to what we have, while last year we were able to run behind four big dudes.

“This year, we are going to spread the ball out a little more and Cris is excited about that, and our wideouts are excited about that. That will take the pressure off of our young offensive line.

“The offense is excited because it is going to be a little bit different than the last couple of years.”

Junior KEYVON MARTIN surely will receive an increase in his workload after rushing for over 600 yards (8.3 ypc) and scoring seven touchdowns last season.

Ostreng’s receiving corps are admittedly pretty green coming in, but he certainly touts DYLAN RUTTER as a go-to wideout after the senior caught 12 passes (14.7 ypc) last season.

The defensive side is where the Eagles will rely on their experience, allowing their offense time to gel as the season progresses.

Senior middle linebacker NOAH ESPINOZA was a star last season with 5 1/2 sacks and 66 total tackles. His defensive partner senior NOAH MEDEIROS has 49 career stops.

Senior free safety BRIAN SMITH JR. was second on last year’s team with 83 total tackles, including five for loss.

Granite Hills senior DL JUWAN DENNIS tracks down Monte Vista’s running attack last season. / photo by Ramon Scott

Senior lineman JUWAN DENNIS had 4 1/2 sacks and 46 total tackles last season.

Other returning contributors from last year’s defense include senior veterans ZOSEPH CUERO, AARON MACHADO, JOSH FECHTER, JACK SIEGFRIED, and BRYCE CHRISTIAN.

Cobbs’ new contributors are led by junior JACOB HENNESSEY.

“I think we will be able to do a little bit more up front blitzing-wise,” Cobbs said. “Last year we had four guys that could just go get the quarterback and that helped our linebackers.

“All three of our linebackers are back from last year so they are up to speed and we are going to have some fun with those guys. And our DBs are going to allow us to be able to get creative defensively, so it’s going to be fun.”

The Eagles host fellow D2 foes Poway, Mt. Carmel and Southwest (El Centro) as part of their non-league campaign, as well as, traveling to face another D2 contender Westview. Granite also travels to D3 contender Hilltop, a foe it beat last year at Southwestern College, before taking up its new home in the Valley League

“I’m glad we are going to the tougher league,” Ostreng said. “We won the last few in the Valley, but now every game is going matter. Those are top 15 teams in the county that we have to play well against.”

Among the new rivals the Eagles are looking forward to facing – again – is newly crowned state division champ Steele Canyon. Granite won a pair of playoff games before losing by a point to the Cougars in the Division II semis.

“We are looking forward to them because we beat them the first time by a couple of points and they beat us the second time in the playoffs,” Alaba said. “Those were some very good games, but props for them to being state champs.

“It’s going to be a lot of competition with the bigger teams and a lot of fun games, so we’re looking to play big in those games.”

Beyond the regular season, Division II features a deep list of teams that could make a run for the section title. Other teams the Eagles could face in the postseason include Ramona, Bishop’s, Mira Mesa and recent long-distance rival Valley Center.

“Everything leads to trying to win a CIF championship,” Cobbs said. “Our schedule is pretty tough, so those north county schools will have us ready for league. The biggest thing for us is we have to stay healthy.

“You just have to get better week in and week out. As long as you are getting better from week one to week ten, that’s what you are hoping for.”

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