East County Sports


Helix running back Christian Washington. / P.J. Panebianco




By Ramon Scott



EL CAJON – If you aren’t ready for the first week of a full prep football season, you are in the wrong place.

With 14 local teams set to get this most-anticipated season started, the action figures to heat up quickly.

While there could certainly be canceled games or positive virus tests that could sideline student-athletes and coaches, we can be thankful for miraculous vaccines that keep most of our population safe and allow us the freedom to try and push forward with our lives in the midst of tragedy, which includes our cherished pastimes of learning and recreation.

This Friday night, most of the county will be in action.

Due to a shortage of officials in the section, a few games will be moved to Thursday or Saturday nights possibly throughout much of the season.

Two of our local games are scheduled for a Thursday kickoff.


SWEETWATER at GROSSMONT – A series dating now 101 years in the making, the Foothillers will once again meet its first-ever opponent, the Sweetwater Red Devils on Thursday at 6:30. This meeting was originally scheduled as the 2020 opener but was subsequently canceled.

Grossmont lost that first game, played at home, 27-0 in the opening game of the 1920 season (The Hillers failed to score in its four games played that year), and dropped the next five against the Red Devils until finally breaking through in 1925 with a 13-6 victory in a matchup of 4-0 teams. The win over the “Sweeties” clinched the county championship.

This year, there’s real noise coming out of SuHi following an undefeated spring season but the Red Devils are still trying to get back up into the Foothillers’ class and bring back the glory days of Sweetwater High football.

All the Red Devils do is run but they were nearly unstoppable in the spring, racking up nearly 2,000 rushing yards. The defense returns three first-team All-Metro Pacific selections.

Grossmont has a new head coach in longtime East County assistant Chris Holmes, who has served with other Grossmont Hills programs Helix and Granite Hills.

The Foothillers had the county’s most prolific passing offense in the spring and returning senior quarterback Trenton Giles accounted for nearly 25 percent of it.

Giles has receiving targets with varsity experience, including seniors Ryan Rodieck and Giovanni Burns, but will have to try and account for over 90 receptions (in just five spring games) lost to departures if the Hillers are to replicate similar offensive numbers over a full season.

Holmes expects more run balance from Grossmont’s offense than in recent years and the Foothillers have a veteran offensive line led by Doncey Lockett. The Hillers will move the pieces to replace the previous record-setting backfield.

It’s the veteran defense that is expected to be solid early for GHS led by first-team senior linebacker Ryan Odom, who had 48 tackles, two forced fumbles, and two sacks in just five spring games.

Senior linebacker Brennan Sanders and senior defensive back Cristian Espino also lead the veteran unit. Burns is leading the secondary to get up to speed.

GHS leads the all-time series, 28-22, although the series is 5-2 in favor of the Foothillers since the creation of the CIF-SDS in 1960 with both SuHi wins coming in CIF playoff action. (1978, 1993). Grossmont won the last meeting between these two, 41-8, back in 2016 here in La Mesa.

Sweetwater is not to be taken lightly in this spot despite Grossmont’s certain favoritism… GROSSMONT, 28-13.


MOUNT MIGUEL at PATRICK HENRY – Also on Thursday, the Matadors will attempt to slow down the flying Patriots with a more familiar style of game than they’ve utilized over the last two seasons.

Mount Miguel will likely be more traditional on offense than its last couple of entries which were led by a record-setting quarterback, who dazzled with his arm and his legs.

The Matadors expect to rely on size up front to control the tempo which is important against the flying Patriots, who also boast some size in the trenches.

Mount Miguel senior two-way man Ruben Hernandez averaged 4.5 yards per carry and 13.3 yards per reception in the spring, as the Matadors went 2-2.

Tyler Lopez, a sophomore, is a two-way player expected to be a primary ball carrier and a starting linebacker, who recorded a varsity sack in his freshman spring campaign for the Matadors

Returnee Jeremiah Castillo, a sophomore, is a name to get familiar with at The Mount. He had an interception in the spring, returned kickoffs, and was already involved in the offense. His role will grow quickly as the starting quarterback.

The Matadors have a pair of 300-pound pillars on the line in two-way men Jesse Murguia and Dre Tucker.

Henry leads the short series, 2-0, including a 40-34 win at Mount Miguel in 2019. The only other meeting was a 1999 CIF Playoff game won by Henry, 42-14, at Mount Miguel.

Patrick Henry, which won three of four in the spring, is a tricky opponent so the Matadors need to be ready at all times… PATRICK HENRY, 30-14.


No. 11 POWAY at No. 13 GRANITE HILLS – Coming off a historic championship in the spring, the Eagles are the highest-rated team in the East County entering the 2021 season.

The defending Grossmont Hills League champs will be replacing an MVP leader at quarterback but have plenty of experience to be considered a preseason favorite in what will come down to a wild three weeks at the end of the season.

In the meantime, Granite Hills will open with four-straight home games to start the campaign starting with comparable champion Poway High on Friday night.

The Eagles won season openers over the Titans in 2018 and ’19 but Poway is coming off a 5-0 spring campaign, which included the Palomar League championship.

Granite Hills junior Joaquin Thomas is one of the most dynamic players in the county. The flex player rushed for nearly 10 yards per carry (333 yards in six games) in the spring while also leading the team in receptions with 18. In all, he scored eight touchdowns and was a first-team All-Grossmont Hills League pick.

Lineman Tanner Vielguth was also a first-team all-league pick in the spring. Senior Desmond Blass is a 300-pound center.

The Eagles have a pair of returning first-teamers on defense in senior end Zach Burton and defensive back Jordan Glaze, who garnered the spring honor as a freshman.

Junior quarterback Domenico Tomasello saw action in four games during the Eagles’ 5-1 season, completing 57 percent of his passes, and moves into the starting role.

Versatile senior Jaquayle Hodges looks to regain his explosive form following a knee injury that sidelined him much of the spring. Sophomore Joshua Zander caught two touchdown passes in the spring.

Back Luke Gonzalez keys the Poway-style of running game, while first-team All-Palomar quarterback Dylan Curry returns.

Poway has a strong defense, especially the secondary, led by first-team all-leaguer Wences Juarez.

The Titans lead the all-time series 6-5, but Granite has the experience and confidence to earn the win at home… GRANITE HILLS, 22-21.


No. 15 STEELE CANYON at No. 6 EASTLAKE – The Cougars will have a tough road opener against resurgent league champion Eastlake.

Steele Canyon has enough experience to compete with practically any team in the county, including Eastlake, which the Cougars defeated in the 2019 season-opener, 17-6, in Spring Valley to win their first game in the series, snapping a six-game losing streak to the Titans, which includes an 0-3 record in the South Bay.

Steele Canyon has headliners in first-team All-Grossmont Hills League selections Major Givens, a junior three-star running back who had over 1,000 yards of total offense and scored eight touchdowns in the spring, and college prospect Logan Hicks, a senior lineman.

The Cougars return nearly their entire defense, including first-team all-league defensive back Adrien Chargualaf, a junior, and linebacker Temo Rangel, who had two sacks in the spring.

Eastlake senior linebacker Tre White is a three-star prospect who was the league’s defensive MVP in the spring, as the Titans went 4-0.

Half of the Titans’ starters from the spring season return for the fall, including senior Jaydin Jackson, a top pass defender.

Running back Nathan Lao and receiver Joran Blondin are returning offensive leaders for Eastlake.

The Cougars are underdogs here but an upset is far from out of the question… EASTLAKE, 24-19.


MIRA MESA at No. 16 HELIX – As part of a celebration of 70 years of Helix football, the Highlanders will formally announce the program’s all-decade team from the 1950s through 2010s.

Also being honored are Helix coaching greats Jim Arnaiz, Donnie Van Hook, Rick Ash, Dave Van Matre, James Cook, and Demaja Jones.

A presentation will take place prior to the game and any player that has suited up for the Helix varsity is invited to attend and be a part of the on-field ceremonies.

The Highlanders expect that as many as 350 former Scotties could attend the event, which is a fundraiser.

As for this year, Helix may try to get some of that legendary karma to rub off on them after losing four of six games during the spring.

The Scotties are staring up at a few more teams than usual to start the season but the Helix-like talent seems to be in place.

Helix senior Christian Washington is one of the county’s top offensive players. He scored nine touchdowns in the spring – four rushing, four receiving, and a kickoff return.

The Highlanders have utilized a two-quarterback system in several seasons now under head coach Robbie Owens and that appears to be the case once again with returning sophomore Ryland Jessee, who passed for seven touchdowns in the spring, and three-star transfer Elijah Ortiz.

Senior receiver Xavier Van was a big-play threat who had three touchdown receptions in the spring campaign.

Helix has impressive young talent on the defensive side of the ball, keeping up a bit of tradition with grooming impact defenders at an early age.

Kairo Kahananui, a sophomore linebacker, is already a player to watch. The Highlanders also have stars in the secondary, including junior Joshua Carroll and elite speed man Adren Parker.

Mira Mesa won just two of six games in the spring but the Marauders’ stock is still surely on the rise.

Marauder senior quarterback Alex Zappia passed for nearly 850 yards and six touchdowns in the spring and connected with receiver Tajon Evans twice for scores in last week’s scrimmage with Olympian. Junior linebacker Micah Vanta keeps the defensive family tradition going for Mira Mesa.

This is the first meeting between the schools since 2009, a 43-25 Helix win.

Despite the Scotties’ anticipated advantage on the field, Helix will hope to be fully healthy by game time on Friday night… HELIX, 27-20.


MONTE VISTA at No. 4 LINCOLN – The Monarchs, who shared the Grossmont Valley League championship in the spring, will open the season with their toughest game on the schedule, going on the road to take on the fourth-ranked Hornets.

Monte Vista has had a string of very successful north-south runners over the last several seasons but senior Aiden Robey, who had over 250 yards on the ground in the spring, gives the Monarchs’ ground-it-out rushing attack an added east-west look this season behind a line led by senior Alex Sauceda.

Senior Creg Cooper is another top two-way lineman for the Monarchs, who feature many of their top players on both sides of the line.

Jayden Richardson, a senior, handles the snaps but is also a standout in the secondary for Monte Vista. He had an interception in the spring.

The Hornets, meanwhile, are stacked, including the addition of transfer receiver Nathan Acevedo.

This will be the first time Monte Vista has traveled to Lincoln for a football game. The Hornets have put three pastings on the Monarchs in Spring Valley (2009, 2018-19), by scores of 41-7, 49-0, and 42-7… LINCOLN, 34-14.


EL CAPITAN at CANYON HILLS – Which team enters the season with the longest winning streak in the Grossmont Conference?

The El Capitan Vaqueros, which won their final three games of the spring season, shared the Grossmont Valley League championship with a 2-1 record and have the highest computer ranking of all the GVL teams to start the season.

The newly-christened Rattlers, formerly the Serra Conquistadors, renamed their school and mascot in March and just announced a new head coach a little more than two weeks ago.

Advantage, El Cap.

The Vaqueros have experience coming out of the spring campaign but will have to improve on last Friday’s scrimmage performance against visiting Imperial High.

El Capitan senior running back Xavier Peace has explosive speed and proved that several times in the spring. He will be running behind a veteran offensive line led by two-way man Bradley Larsen.

The brothers Yokley – Savigon and Antwone – figure to make it seem like there are four Yokleys on the field, which makes sense since the speedy stars are also two-way standouts. In the spring opener against Steele Canyon, both of them found the end zone.

Savigon will take the snaps, as he did in the spring for the first time. He threw a touchdown pass in the scrimmage against Imperial. Receiver Austin Oesterling joins Antwone as the team’s leading receiving targets.

Captain Dominic Denha returns at linebacker to lead the defense for the Vaqueros and teammate Alex Fa’aea, a linebacker and bruising-type runner, will be one of the league’s fastest-rising stars this season.

El Cap won the last meeting back in 2014, 42-0. Serra High did win a double-OT game against El Cap in 2012, 55-49, despite 450 yards of total offense from Vaquero quarterback Brad Cagle. El Capitan led 20-7 at halftime.

The Rattlers just don’t have the experience of the Vaqueros heading into the opener… EL CAPITAN, 27-19.


KEARNY at WEST HILLS – The Wolf Pack are the likely sleeper in the East County this season thanks to plenty of varsity experience.

West Hills is likely to make some noise in the opener against the Komets.

Senior quarterback Braden Oberg threw for four touchdowns and ran for four scores in the spring campaign.

Senior Dylan Snyder had over 300 yards of total offense for the Wolf Pack, including three touchdowns.

Pack seniors Max Conaway and Dylan Freund were both first-team All-Grossmont Valley League selections in the shortened season.

Seniors Evin Patterson and Trevor Imbimbo both recorded three sacks each in the Pack’s five-game schedule, in which West Hills went 2-3, but ended the season by upsetting Santana, 20-7.

This is the first meeting between the schools since 2012 when West Hills won, 45-6, although the Komets won in 2011, 34-14. The Road team won both times.

The Komets have size in the trenches but could be a work in progress… WEST HILLS, 31-14.

SANTANA at CORONADO – The Sultans limped across the finish line in the spring but still gained a share of their first league championship this century, finishing 4-1.

Santana has plenty of starting experience returning but will be replacing its stars on both sides of the ball. The Sultans can still possess the potent offense they have put on the field over the past few seasons.

Seniors David Freidman and Ethan Wright figure into the Sultans’ offensive plans, as they did in the spring.

Senior Dylan Anderson is one of the top two-way players in the league for Santana.

Nick Leger, a junior, is next in line to be the Santana slinger. Senior Jaxen Dolan heads up the blockers up front for the Sultans.

Junior running back Luke Nash, who comes to Santee from Hutto, Texas, is a likely baseball prospect but his football development could prove interesting.

The Islanders won three games in the spring under master motivator Kurt Hines.

Coronado two-way man Zane Delcore was the Central League defensive MVP in the campaign.

These teams last met in the 2016 CIF playoffs, with SHS winning, 44-0, behind record-setting running back Bobby Wallace’s three touchdowns.

This will be the first regular-season meeting between the clubs since the 1999 season opener. (SHS, 35-2). Santana leads the all-time series, 4-1.

The Islanders are the favorite according to the computers but the Sultans likely don’t see it that way… SANTANA, 21-17.

HILLTOP at VALHALLA – Proven winner Charles Bussey returns to coach the Norsemen after a successful stint leading the La Jolla Vikings’ defense following his resignation from the Valhalla post in 2018.

Success won’t come overnight for a team that went 0-6 in the spring but Bussey’s Norsemen teams won eight or nine games in four of his six previous seasons leading the varsity program there, which included 10 playoff games and four playoff victories.

Senior Gio Alejo is one of the top defensive backs in the county. He had an interception and forced three fumbles last spring.

Sophomore linebacker Vince Crivello is one of the top young stars in the conference and will be a familiar name over the next few years.

Veteran quarterback Tommy Logan returns likely full-time for the Norsemen after splitting time in the spring, while receiver AJ Cornthwaite had a pair of touchdown receptions.

Returning offensive lineman Aidn Shmasha is a 300-pounder.

The Lancers come in after an 0-4 spring of their own after a step up in league competition.

Hilltop is led by all-league running back Josh Bernardo, but he averaged just over three yards per carry last season.

The Lancers defeated the Norsemen, 27-13, in a 2019 meeting that lifted Hilltop to 4-0 that year. Alejo had an interception in that game, which was the first meeting between the schools since 1990.

Hilltop won in 1985, then Valhalla defeated the Lancers for five straight years before the series was halted.

Expect the Norsemen to pick up the series where they left off… VALHALLA, 26-19.

MISSION BAY at EL CAJON VALLEY – The Braves have most of their starters from the spring returning. Three of the Braves’ four losses in the spring came by a combined five touchdown margin.

The Braves’ Jaheim Mendenhall was a first-team All-Grossmont Valley League selection and will be one of the league’s top players this season. He is the team’s leading returning rusher and tackler.

El Cajon Valley senior Daniel Jacobs is a two-way standout three-year varsity vet.

The experience on the ECV offensive line is something any team would like to have with veterans Jesse Higuera, Sameer Issa, and Luis Hernandez.

El Cajon junior Joshua McComb was the team’s leading receiver in the spring.

The Buccaneers return veteran quarterback Clash Orsborn and a veteran offensive line. They will be throwing all night long.

The Bucs beat ECV in a 1974 CIF playoff game then didn’t meet again until 1987 when the Braves won by the unique score of 5-0.

The last meeting between these teams came in 1999, with the Bucs winning, 33-6, at ECVHS to lead the all-time series 11-3. El Cajon last won in 1990, 21-6.

The Braves trail the Bucs in the computer rankings to start the season but the home field could draw the teams close… MISSION BAY, 27-20.

MOUNTAIN EMPIRE at MARANATHA CHRISTIAN – The RedHawks have the section’s most overlooked player in senior Larry Clark. Clark had eight sacks and over 400 yards of total offense in the spring.

Mountain Empire senior Rod Gonzalez had two interceptions during the spring campaign, while senior teammate Lukas Spencer had three sacks.

Junior Hunter Morgan and senior Chaz Ennis combined for 46 tackles last season for the RedHawks.

MEHS sophomore quarterback Corey Vann had 650 yards of passing offense during the shortened season.

Maranatha is an inexperienced club with a new head coach in former Charger kicker Nick Novak.

Depsite going winless in the spring, the RedHawks must feel like the favorites here… MOUNTAIN EMPIRE, 14-13.

After dominating the section eight-man circuit for years, the Knights return to 11-man football in 2021. Foothills Christian was scheduled to return to play 11-man last season but canceled their season before the spring.

Still, the Knights are coming off an undefeated season in 2019 and have several players on this year’s roster that played on that team including Jayden Gascon, Isaach Bartolome, Noah Blanks, Gregory Cohron, Seth Gilmody, and Colin Perrott.

The game against Warriors represents the first Pacific League game of the season.

Army-Navy is a veteran team which makes this an intriguing game with an unpredictable matchup… FOOTHILLS CHRISTIAN, 28-20.

RANCHO CHRISTIAN at CHRISTIAN – On Saturday at Valley Stadium, the Patriots have a big-time returning lineup and should be a considerable favorite against the Eagles from Temecula.

Christian High quarterback Jake Davila might be the county’s most overlooked signal caller entering the 2021 campaign. He completed 70 percent of his throws in the spring and averaged over 100 yards of total offense after inheriting the starting role.

The Patriots returning receivers combine for nearly 70 receptions in the spring, led by seniors J.C. Gustin, (18 catches) and Chris Akridge (17), and junior Joey Merritt (16).

Christian High end prospect Hunter Provience, a junior, might also be the East County’s best placekicker.

Patriot linebacker Aaron Sheblowski is the team’s leading returning tackler. Merritt had two interceptions in the spring

The Patriots won three games in the spring but figure to be in a highly competitive Eastern League race with Scripps Ranch and likely section rival Point Loma.

Rancho Christian played just three games in the spring, including a 51-14 loss to Santa Fe Christian, while the Patriots appear fully prepped under one of the county’s top young coaches… CHRISTIAN 42-21.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *