La Habra’s Eric Barriere is the area’s top returning quarterback. He’s a reason why the Highlanders begin the season ranked No. 2 in the area. La Mirada is No. 1 (Correspondent photo by Chris Burt/Sports)
WHITTIER DAILY NEWS TOP FIVE
1. LA MIRADA
Strengths: The Matadores are loaded. La Mirada has been able to fill the void of graduation losses with some elite transfers, mainly receiver/defensive back Micah Croom (Servite), defensive lineman Keanu Salepaga (Long Beach Cabrillo) and quarterback Tevaka Tuioti (Long Beach Poly). They combine with some solid returners, including running back Sei-j Lauago to make the Matadores a formidable force in the CIF Southern Section Southeast Division. Very few teams in the Suburban League and in the division will be able to match up athletically with La Mirada, which could lead to one of the school’s best seasons in recent memory.
Obstacles: The schedule that coach Mike Moschetti has laid out for his team might be the team’s biggest challenges. It’s a doozy. It starts with state power St. John Bosco, which was ranked No. 19 nationally by MaxPreps.com. The slate also features traditional powers Charter Oak and Mater Dei. La Mirada concludes the nonleague portion of its schedule at San Clemente. If La Mirada doesn’t get it’s psyche damaged too much going through murderer’s row, it should come out of it hardened for a strong league and playoff run. La Mirada also has to adapt to its incoming transfers. If it can come together quickly, this could be a special season.
Outlook: It all comes down to whether or not the Matadores can win their last game, something that has alluded them despite being very talented. They were 9-2 last season, but fell short of expectations with a first-round playoff loss. La Mirada has featured a lot of visits from Division I college coaches in recent years, but eventually you have to live up to the hype. This seems like a team very capable of doing that. Will it? Time will tell.
2. LA HABRA
Strengths: The Highlanders, after averaging 43 points a game last season, are again expected to be a juggernaut on offense. They return some key components, led by arguably the area’s top quarterback in senior Eric Barriere. He accounted for more than 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns last season and you can expect him to improve on those numbers this year. Another year of receiver Prince Ross should scare opposing defenses. The offensive line is solid.
Obstacles: La Habra’s Achilles’ heel last season was its defense, or lack of it. The Highlanders inability to slow the opposition down eventually led to an early playoff exit. They need big improvement in that area this season. They’ve added some good impact players on defense, but the question whether it will make a difference remains to be seen. There’s also a question at running back with Carlos Martin graduated.
Outlook: This is a team that comes into the season as one of the favorites in the Southwest Division. Barriere is as good as it gets in the area and in the division. The question is whether the Highlanders can replace Martin and get similar production. The defense, led by All-CIF linebacker Jake Colacion, also needs to improve. All signs point to a possible division title.
3. LA SERNA
Strengths: The Lancers might be the best running team in the area, and that will again be their forte this season. Jonathan Wise is a key returner at receiver. The defense, which often gets overlooked, should be solid, led by senior Daniel Campos at linebacker.
Obstacles: For the second consecutive season, the Lancers, with Enrique Pacheco graduated, must find a quarterback. Justin Moreno and Kenny Coleman will vie for the spot, but it’s unknown if they can live up to what Frankie Palmer and then Pacheco did the past two seasons.
Outlook: The Lancers are usually the last team standing in the area. That might not be the case this season, with juggernauts La Mirada and La Habra expecting strong seasons, but this looks like another unit that can add to La Serna’s recent tradition of long playoff runs. The run game and defense will be there, and if they get some production from quarterback, another run at a division title seems to be in the Lancers’ future.
Strengths: The Raiders will again feature one of the top running attacks in the area. They rushed for 3,000 yards last season and that type of production is expected again. Running back Jacob Fimbres returns after gaining 1,622 and most of the offensive line is back at well. Sonora should also be productive in the passing game, which will make its run game that much tougher to defend.
Obstacles: Sonora is young on defense, including in the secondary. It’s a unit that could be its downfall, especially in a Freeway League that features some pass-happy teams such as La Habra and Buena Park. If the group can come together, it could be a special year. But it’s a major question mark to begin the season.
Outlook: The Raiders started strong last season, then fell off the map. They have enough quality players back that a quest to make the playoffs should become a reality. This is a team that if everything falls into place, it can compete for the league title. But the first step would be getting to the postseason, which should happen.
Strengths: The Oilers leaned on its run game last season and rode it to an Almont League title. It will be more of the same this season. Isaac Mendibles was the area’s top back in 2014, rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he’s back for more this season. Most of the offensive line, which paved the way for the senior, is also back. Montebello is also solid on defense, and it’s those two traits that will lead to success again.
Obstacles: Montebello lost some key players to graduation and it must fill those holes to succeed. It could be a slow start, especially with a schedule that includes CIF-SS Mid-Valley Division semifinalist Northview and finalist Paraclete. If it can come together quickly this is a team that will be a tough out late in the season. But it’s a concern early on.
Outlook: The Oilers won the league title and advanced to the Mid-Valley quarterfinals last season. They return some key skilled players and this looks like a team that can improve on its 2014 run. Another league title and a deep playoff run looks to be in Montebello’s future.