High school football is back, and here are some early storylines
Finally, the countdown begins.
Monday marked the first day of official fall practices for Ventura County high school football teams, with just 18 days until week zero begins for the 2022 season.
Rio Mesa will be the icebreaker this fall, welcoming Saugus on August 18. The rest of the region’s teams will start on August 19, with standouts like Ventura in Simi Valley and Westlake in Pacifica.
What else to expect besides another season filled with drama and intrigue? How about… relevance.
There’s the new wave of impact players, a familiar wave of top-notch teams, and a long line of contenders for league championships and thrilling playoffs. So many teams and so much talent will matter this fall.
Here’s a look at some of the main storylines that will unfold:
THE YEAR OF THE QUARTERBACK
The region has long been renowned for producing elite quarterbacks – just check out former Newbury Park star Cam Rising, currently at Utah – but has there ever been such a deep class?
Yes, it seems like everyone has a guy.
The headliner could be Agoura’s Ty Dieffenbach, a strong-armed senior who stands 6-foot-5 and threw for 2,669 yards and 34 touchdowns a year ago. He capped off an impressive summer by committing to Nevada Las Vegas.
There’s a host of great talent right with him.
Simi Valley’s Steele Pizzella threw for 1,196 yards and 11 touchdowns as a part-time starter as a rookie last fall; Pacifica’s Tagg Harrison had 1,638 yards and 17 touchdowns in the ninth year; and Travis Endicott, a senior who transferred from Newbury Park to Thousand Oaks, had 2,453 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2021.
Camarillo’s Brody Meyer is now a savvy senior who had 2,656 passing yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
Two talented transfers cipher to stack the ciphers. Anthony Wolter joined the St. Bonaventure team from Alemany and Isaiah Sepand is now at Westlake after leaving Campbell Hall.
Is there a more ballyhooed quarterback in County than Newbury Park freshman Brady Smigiel? Make it the whole southern section.
The son of first-year Panthers coach Joe Smigiel is imbued with skill, toughness and a competitive fire. He will make his high school debut Aug. 19 in a road game in Golden Valley.
Two sophomore talents in Ventura and Rio Mesa will likely make big strides this fall. Josh Woodworth of the Cougars is also a top baseball player. JJ Bittner of the Spartans is the son of coach Jim Bittner.
Then there’s Oaks Christian, where the Lions have a talented team anticipating one of three candidates to land the job behind center. In the mix are returnee Luke Eldridge and transfers Devin Tate (from Oxnard) and Nate Bennett (from Village Christian).
St. Bonaventure eldest Delon Thompson is the county’s leading running back. He rushed for 1,078 yards and 17 touchdowns on a balanced offense a year ago.
Or is it Caleb Alvary, the stellar Simi Valley senior, who has rushed for 1,302 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2021? Or maybe Oaks Christian’s Johnny Thompson, with 929 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior?
Fillmore senior Anthony Chessani forged an impactful junior campaign that included 1,755 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns.
Talent abounds in all positions this fall.
Pacifica sophomore receiver Savion Taylor had 45 receptions for 807 yards and 10 touchdowns as a ninth-year. Oxnard’s Eli Aragon offers intriguing potential.
Oaks Christian’s huge Luke Baklenko, the 6-foot-6, 330-pound senior tackle who signed up at Stanford, is probably the best offensive lineman in the region.
Rio Mesa cornerback Chance Harrison, St. Bonaventure linebacker Jared Barlow and Simi Valley defensive end Carson Mott and cornerback Sean Brown are some of the top defensemen lining up this fall.
THE BIG LEAGUE
Get ready for the 2022 league races. You might need a refresher course on who takes who.
The biggest makeover has come from the former Pacific View and Channel leagues, which have merged and will compete as a nine-team league.
Pacifica, Oxnard, Rio Mesa, Channel Islands, Ventura, Buena, Santa Barbara, Dos Pueblos and San Marcos will compete for four guaranteed playoff spots. The nine teams will only play two non-league games before the league starts on September 2.
The old three-league setup of the Marmonte, Camino, and Canyon leagues has beefed up to form two leagues.
The new Marmonte league now includes Westake, St. Bonaventure, Oaks Christian, Calabasas and new members Simi Valley and Bishop Diego. This certainly forms the strongest circuit in the county.
The Canyon League could be the most competitive in the region, with Camarillo, Newbury Park, Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Agoura, Oak Park and Royal heading towards a likely every man for himself.
Consider this fun fact: The area team looming as the county’s top playoff threat could be third place in the Marmonte League.
League winner and runner-up could go to Division 2 playoffs. Certainly not lower than Division 3.
The team in third place could well qualify for Division 4 or 5, and watch out. Oaks Christian did it last fall and appeared in the Division 5 championship game.
BIG GAME OF THE YEAR, EARLY EDITION
St. Bonaventure will host Pacifica in a non-league game in Week 1, August 26.
Why could this be a significant result?
The winner could be propelled to a regular season record of 9-1 or 10-0, which should be enough to clinch him in the Division 2 playoffs.
St. Bonaventure and Simi Valley each finished 10-0 in the regular season last fall and each will be placed in the ultra-treacherous Division 2 playoffs. Both lost first-round games.
Loren Ledin is the editor of The Star. He can be reached at [email protected] or 805-437-0285.