East County Sports

Highlanders No. 1 until proven otherwise

Helix senior linebacker MICHAEL SHAWCROFT / photo by Ramon Scott

2018 EAST COUNTY PREP FOOTBALL PREVIEW

HELIX HIGHLANDERS

 

EastCountySports.com staff report

 

LA MESA – When you are the champion, you are usually considered to remain on top until somebody beats you.

In the case of the 2018 Helix Highlanders, some experts have already turned their back on the Scotties’ chances for a section title or more this upcoming season.

And with a schedule that features two of the toughest non-sectional opponents that any San Diego team will face this season.

Helix senior lineman CHRIS ALVARADO

Despite four major college prospect losses from last year’s Open Division champion and state bowl finalist team, there is plenty of that Highlander talent to meet the challenge.

Helix senior linebacker and tight end MICHAEL SHAWCROFT politely thanked Ivy League interests for their offers and has already said he will be a part of the home contingent at San Diego State following this season.

Shawcroft has already been one of the county’s top defensive players for the last two seasons.

“I feel like we’re very talented,” Shawcroft said. “We’re young but as our kids get used to playing up here, I believe we’ll finish at the top.

“Everyone around here knows what is expected to get there. The tradition is doing what you supposed to do and work hard. It is something that will stick around Helix forever.

The Highlanders return only three starters on defense, but senior JAGGER GILES, who plays next to Shawcroft, is poised to make his on-field presence and his big personality shine.

“I believe my biggest strengths are playing fast and physical along with being experienced and knowledgeable about the game,” Giles said. “Last year, I was first-time starting linebacker but when I was young, I played quarterback so I feel I have a true understanding of the game.

“We are extremely young but loaded with talent and athletes at all positions. We have some work that needs to be to get where we want to be. But I have trust in our coaches to get all the players on the same page, so we can keep the tradition of a strong Helix defense.”

Senior CHRIS ALVARADO is a star two-way lineman that heads up the Helix defensive front, while senior outside linebacker JACOB RAY is also an experienced returning player.

“The most important things my teammates and I are aiming to do is continue to grow and mesh together because that is one of the most important things of a good team chemistry,” Alvarado said. “Being a young team with inexperience in a varsity setting we have a lot to learn but I have complete faith in our group of guys that we can overcome every obstacle that comes our way.”

The Highlanders got some on-the-job experience on Saturday by shutting out Mira Mesa in a 40-minute timed scrimmage on Saturday in near-game-like conditions.

JAGGER GILES

“I feel like the scrimmage showed us our strengths and weaknesses but better yet showed us all we need to work on to make this season an amazing journey,” Alvarado said.

The Helix starting secondary needed to be entirely replaced, but XAVIER HAMLETT has been one of the guys looking to make an impact on the defense, according to Giles.

Several other two-way players are needed to contribute to the defense right away, including defensive backs OLAN CAZAD, ERIC PARKER, JOSH MEREDITH and KEVIN OLSON.

“We feel good about those guys on defense,” Helix head coach ROBBIE OWENS said. “That’s the biggest weakness we have is being green, but our defensive backs got lots of work in 7-on-7s during the summer. Some guys are jumping at the opportunity.

“We took 30 guys to the state championship who were seniors, but we like to tell guys that tradition never graduates.”

Owens and the Highlanders have been non-committal in terms of naming a starting quarterback between junior QB-in-waiting DELSHAWN TRAYLOR and senior DANIEL AMON.

“Daniel is still playing catch-up but they’re both really growing in the passing game right now,” Owens said. “We know we are going to be different and we aren’t going to rely on the quarterback position quite like we did the last two seasons.”

Traylor saw more action than many underclassmen would after Helix opened up some bigger leads. He’s a running threat that has shown he can throw well while moving.

Amon is a transfer from Eastlake High who threw for over 1,600 yards with 16 touchdowns and guided the Titans to the Division I section final.

“Daniel is molding well with our offensive scheme,” Alvarado said. “He is learning fast and is definitely a good addition to our team. He was very dedicated to learning as quickly as possible staying late after practices and meetings.”

However, the Highlanders can be rest-assured behind the ground game led by junior All-East County first-team back ELELYON NOA, who rushed for nearly 1,800 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.

The younger brother of former Helix star EZEKIEL NOA also happens to play linebacker.

“Noa is an amazing athlete,” Alvarado said. “He makes it easy for me and my fellow lineman to block for him because he gives us the energy and drive to make holes for him. He is a player who you know will give literally every last ounce of energy they have in the field.”

Despite some reconstruction on Helix’s offensive front, Noa is the rare type of back that can help a potentially talented line develop their necessary confidence.

“Elelyon is the key to our success,” Owens said. “He is the heart and soul of our offense. He is a unique kid and football player, especially at that position.”

Alvarado is the only returning player on the offensive line, but attention on ISAIAH JATTA, a 340-pounder, is already gaining traction.

“My whole graduating offensive line from last year whom I played next to (Isaiah Mann, Mathew Avii, William Payne, and Lopaka Rojas) really showed me what it means to be a Scottie in how they played and represented the jersey they wore and the name on that jersey,” Alvarado said. “They showed me that being apart of the team is becoming a brotherhood and that I must continue to pass down our tradition of togetherness and resilience.”

Senior ISAAC GONZALEZ is ready to take on a two-way lineman role, as well.

“We had to replace a lot of guys up front,” Owens said. “Most of these guys were all backups to some very talented players last year, but there are elements to the group in areas that are much better than we have been over the last two year, as well.

“You can see there is a lot of talent, we just have to get everybody grooving in the same direction.”

Shawcroft has double-duty as his role as a receiver will be greatly increased this season. Wide receiver CHRIS RIVERA is also passing target.

“We were running the exact same plays all summer that we’ve run over the last two years,” Owens said. “There are certain staples of our offense that we will continue to use, but we just have two quarterbacks running them.

“I’ve told the quarterbacks, those guys (Noa and Shawcroft) are a safety blanket, take advantage of teams that are aiming to stop them.”

Meanwhile, there is no time to waste with the start of the season upon them.

The Highlanders jumped right into a treacherous schedule, leading off with state 12th-ranked opponent Cajon High, of San Bernardino, on the road.

The Highlanders are ranked near the top 25 teams in the state heading into the season.

“They have a great team led by some amazing athletes with a very talented athletic quarterback and wide receiver,” Giles said. “So as a defense we have made adjustments to minimize their time with the ball. We must contain their quarterback and really be sound in what every players’ role is on our defense and not try to do too much.”

From there, the Scotties host Arroyo Grande before facing five-time consecutive Arizona-state champ Saguaro High in the 2018 Honor Bowl.

“You usually improve the most between game one and game two,” Owens said. “I do expect to see a lot of improvement. I think we’ll make a big jump going into our second game.”

After the rigors of the challenging early schedule, Owens sees the opponents in the Grossmont Hills League as ready to take advantage of a team that has been extended early.

“East County football is much better than what people give it credit for,” said the coach. “You just have to look at what happened last year with the success all of the teams really had and you can see that East County held their own in every aspect. of it last year.

“Now with Steele Canyon getting a great confidence boost off of their state championship run, Grossmont is going to think they’ve got a great shot this year, and a great Granite Hills program coming back into our league, we have to go out there and earn a league championship before anything else.”

With the San Diego Section’s Open Division now limited to the top four teams in the final power ratings, any loss to a lower-ranked team is obvious elimination from ultimate title contention.

The Highlanders, along with their championship rival Dons, are among a few elite teams expected to contend for the title.

Torrey Pines, Mission Hills, and Madison fall into the consensus of computer rankings and the expert panel.

The Scots defeated the Grizzlies in the section final last year. Helix reached the state 1-AA final last year.

Major championships are what sets Helix Charter apart from most campuses.

“To put the Helix jersey on, it’s quite a special feeling,” Giles said. “Ever since I was a young boy my grandpa has taken me to the Helix football games and I’ve always wanted to be a part of such a special program. And now I’m here. So when the jersey comes on. I want to really make all the alumni that have established such a great legacy here Helix-proud.”

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