East County Sports

Will Eagles, Vaqueros repeat with changes?

El Capitan's Chance La Chappa. / Vanilla Gorilla




There is big news to open the 2023 East County Prep Football season, which begins on Thursday night.

The Grossmont Conference, in order to avoid the non-league scheduling difficulties its top-tier teams have had over the past few seasons as a result of competing in the Grossmont Hills League’s four-team circuit, has once again re-assembled its football divisions.

The Grossmont Hills will now compete as a six-team league with the additions of West Hills and Santana.

The Grossmont Valley League has reduced from a seven-team format to a five-team league.

Oddly, the Sultans compete in the San Diego Section’s Division IV, a far span between the Division I teams atop the GHL. Last season, the Sultans were in Division III.

The disparity had apparently grown wide enough between the teams in the Grossmont Conference’s two leagues that the teams from the respective divisions weren’t even scheduling each other anymore on a regular basis, meaning practically all of the teams were playing non-conference games for their non-league schedule. That will change for a few of the teams but not all of them.

Unfortunately, the rest of the conference is well behind the top two teams competitively.

Ironically, last year’s GVL champion, El Capitan, will be one of the teams to remain in the lower-rated league.


GRANITE HILLS EAGLES — The Eagles are the highest-rated team in the East County, having firmly supplanted Helix as the top local unit last season. Granite Hills won the trifecta with the league, section, and a State 2-A championship under the guidance of a solid and dedicated coaching staff. There is plenty of returning talent to consider the Eagles as the solid favorite this season in the GHL, however, with a promotion to Division I, Granite Hills figures to have a more challenging opportunity to win another section banner after last year’s Division II title. Granite Hills has the best defense in the East County.

HELIX HIGHLANDERS — The Highlanders fell short of their annual goals last season. While there is no reason to think the Highlanders will not be contenders to Granite Hills and in any section playoff game, the fact is they are the underdogs this season, including in Division I where they walked off their home field after a quarterfinal loss to El Camino in the final minutes just two weeks after losing the league championship game to the Eagles on their home field in a wild four-overtime finish. The Scotties have the East County’s top quarterback and the coaching staff has their first year under their belt.

STEELE CANYON — The Cougars are sure to improve on last year’s two-win season. Steele Canyon will still play a tough schedule with the likes of Heritage (Menifee), Madison, and San Marcos before facing El Capitan in Lakeside in Week 4 in one of the most intriguing of the Grossmont Conference cross-over games that will be played this season. The Cougars have strong players on the interior once again and figure to still have the same offensive philosophy despite the graduation of a record-setting running back. Expect more wins in 2023 and the Cougars can be in the mix now in the Division II postseason.

WEST HILLS — The Wolf Pack have competed in the Hills League before with modest success but currently are likely to lack the depth to compete for the top two spots this season. West Hills will still compete for the Burner Trophy with El Capitan despite its graduation to the GHL. The Wolf Pack suffered late-season losses to Santana and the Vaqueros for an uncharacteristic third-place finish. The pieces are still in place for the solid program to compete practically week-in-and-week-out but the Pack are considered section-title longshots but have the potential to be considered sleepers in Division III.

SANTANA — Santana was seven points away from winning the Grossmont Valley League title last season, losing its only league game to eventual champ El Capitan, 7-0, in Santee. The Sultans currently hold the Santee Mayor’s Trophy by way of a 10-3 home win over the West Hills last season. The two city rivals may be as close as a home-field advantage currently to decide who rules Mast Blvd. The Sultans boast experience and size as they look to compete for the section’s Division IV championship. The Sultans also will retain their rivalry matchup with El Cap.

GROSSMONT — There is reason for optimism following a stunning winless season for the Foothillers in 2022. Former Foothiller great Anthony Lawrence is the team’s new head coach. The record-setting prep and college QB later became one of the best players in Japan’s top professional football league, so figure to Foothillers to go back to their preferred method of travel. They have a lot of ground to make up from a low point for the program record-wise but Grossmont can set goals to compete with many of the similarly-rated teams in the conference.



EL CAPITAN — The Vaqueros have to be the clear-cut favorite following the departures of their closest rivals to the Grossmont Hills League. El Cap has plenty of returning talent from last year’s unbeaten Grossmont Valley League champions (6-0), including its three top offensive players. The Vaqueros lost their quarterfinal playoff game at home to Morse last Nov. but they will be a playoff title contender again in Division III. Another unbeaten league season isn’t out of the question as El Capitan will likely be favored in all five league contests. The likely title-impacting game against Mount Miguel will be televised locally as the featured game of the week on Oct. 12.

MOUNT MIGUEL — The Matadors are one of the biggest storylines heading into the 2023 East County football season. New head coach Verlain Betofe has had great success as a local offensive coordinator at three previous stops over the last six seasons. He’ll get to guide one of the county’s most prolific passing offenses right out of the chute at Mount Miguel. The Matadors led the East County with over 2,300 passing yards last season and have the East County’s top statistical QB-WR duo returning. Success, along with talented coaches, follow Betofe so expect Mount Miguel to contend for the league title sooner rather than later.

EL CAJON VALLEY — The Braves are a top contender not only for the section’s Division V championship but also the Grossmont Valley League championship. El Cajon Valley defeated Mount Miguel, Valhalla, and Monte Vista last season to record three league wins for the first time since 2005. While the Braves will look to close a 34-point loss to El Capitan from last season, El Cajon could prove that it can play and compete in the league’s championship game this season should the Braves repeat last year’s league success. ECVHS hosts the Vaqueros on the final night of the season. The Braves last won a Grossmont League title in 1974.

MONTE VISTA — The Monarchs won their opening game of the season in 2022 but lost their final nine games, including a 22-14 defeat at Valhalla on the final night of the regular season. That’s significant because the two teams are likely the lowest-rated in the conference. The Monarchs could swing the pendulum back in their favor when they host the Norsemen on the penultimate night of the campaign.  There are a few more winnable games for Monte Vista this season should the team show improvement from last year for their legendary coach.

VALHALLA — The Norsemen’s win over Monte Vista on the final night of the season was their only victory of the campaign last year. Valhalla also lost at El Cajon Valley by just seven points, 20-13. In a great East County matchup on Sept. 22, Valhalla and Christian have a scheduled regular-season game for the first time since 1995 (Christian won, 34-19), although the teams met in a Division I playoff matchup in 2015, won by Valhalla, 48-17. Valhalla is rated higher than the Monarchs by the computers but a fourth-place finish still likely comes down to their Oct. 19 matchup.



CHRISTIAN — The Eastern League is arguably the county’s most-competitive circuit from top-to-bottom. A case could be made for all five teams – Point Loma, Mira Mesa, Christian, La Jolla, and Morse – to win the league championship. The league-newcomer Pointers are the likely favorite after appearing in last year’s Division III championship game and defeating Christian by 29 points in a non-league game, but the defending league-champion Patriots split two meetings with the Marauders last season, which were decided by a combined three points. CHS won the regular-season game, 21-20, at Valley Stadium, but lost the playoff rematch, 35-33. Morse also joins the circuit from the City League, along with EMAP.


FOOTHILLS CHRISTIAN — The Knights are in the Ocean League with some familiar foes. Victory Christian, which defeated FCHS, 56-21, last season is the league favorite. Foothills is likely considered on par with other contenders St. Joseph Academy and San Diego Jewish Academy. The Knights won their only league game on the field against the Lions, 34-20. The Knights will host popular state champion California School for the Deaf in the season opener at Seau Field on Aug. 25. The Cubs won the state 8-man title game, 80-22 last Nov. to finish 12-0.


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