Below are the 2015 pre-season Top 10 Prep Football Rankings for the San Gabriel Valley.
1. BISHOP AMAT
Strengths: The offense is so balanced it’s scary. Opponents have to pick their poison as to whether they want to focus on arguably the best receiver duo around in Tyler Vaughns and Trevon Sidney, or stack the box and try to slow running back Torreahno Sweet, who operates behind a big line. When Amat gets cranking on offense, it’s capable of controlling games and putting teams in holes.
Obstacles: At this point, it’s purely nitpicking to find an actual Xs and Os obstacle. But, historically two-quarterback rotations rarely work and that’s what Amat has going in seniors Ryder Ruiz and Damian Garcia. Both have their strengths and it will be hard for either to sit for long. That means there’s extra pressure on the coaches to negotiate the rotation correctly and pull the plug on one or the other when something goes wrong.
Outlook: This is the team Amat fans have been waiting for. It’s well known throughout SoCal that the Lancers are a legit Pac-5 championship contender. There’s top-shelf recruits on the roster and an overall combo of speed and size that’s hard to find elsewhere. If Amat picks up where it left off last season, this could be a historic fall in La Puente.
Strengths: Glendora’s strengths begin and, for the time being, end with quarterback Matt Fink. Yes, that’s a lot to pin on one teenager, but Fink has proven to be a cut above. The USC-bound quarterback is the type of talent rarely seen around these parts. With Fink under center, Glendora’s offense will be a formidable problem for opponents. Fink’s ability to run and pass is something most local foes just can’t handle.
Obstacles: If Glendora is to win the Palomares League and make a deep run in the playoffs, a supporting cast for Fink has to be found. That means better explosiveness at receiver must be found. That’s going to be a tall task considering that the top-two receivers from last year graduated. The Tartans are a burner on the outside away from being downright unstoppable on offense.
Outlook: Ranking Glendora above Charter Oak is difficult, but the Chargers are 0-2 against Fink. Glendora’s coaching staff has done a nice job building around Fink. There’s nothing real flashy here, just a team that runs the ball well and plays solid defense … then gets a big here or there from it star QB. That formula should work again.
3. CHARTER OAK
Strengths: Next to only Bishop Amat, the Chargers have the best collection of offensive talent around. QB Kam Brown was the Tribune’s Offensive Player of the Year last season and Cal-bound running back Zion Echols is as explosive as they come. The receivers are absolutely fantastic and very deep. Despite not being able to push people around, this Charter Oak offense is something very special.
Obstacles: For as good as Charter Oak is in the skill spots and back seven on defense, it’s very average along both lines. Because of that, a team like Glendora was able to hang around and nail CO late the past two seasons. Because of that, Los Altos was able to run over CO in a key Hacienda League game last season. Because of that, La Mirada was able to run over CO in a key nonleague game last fall. Because of that, Colony was able to take away the Chargers’ run and pressure Brown into mistakes in a semifinals loss.
Outlook: Charter Oak has to be better at the line of scrimmage. The skill players are there to win a CIF championship. But depth and size were a major problem last year that kept the team from being elite. If CO can stay healthy and doesn’t need a two weeks to recover from games with top competition, this could be a very special season.
Strengths: The Vikings were downright dominant running the football last season. The team nearly rolled up 4,000 yards on the ground and returns leading rusher Andres Hooper and third-leading rusher Elijah Grijalva. Also back is quarterback Steven Comstock, who had some big moments last season as a freshman. Yes, some key parts on the offensive line need to be replaced, but this looks like another physical team capable of smothering opponents into submission.
Obstacles: Northview allowed just 14.8 points per game last season but must replace its three top tacklers. Whether the Vikings can get back to that level of stinginess is a big question mark. The secondary is full of ball-hawkers and should lead the way.
Outlook: Northview won 11 games last season, finally beat San Dimas, swept the Valle Vista and reached the semifinals of the playoffs. That surely qualifies as one of the best seasons in school history. This year’s bottom line could approach that, if not exceed it, f the defense is able to replace some key players and the offensive line can pave the way for another strong ground attack.
5. WEST COVINA
Strengths: There were glimpses last season of the Bulldogs recapturing their 2010-11 form. A major reason for that was an offense that was very physical at times. The running game was led by Henry Martinez, who approached 1,000 yards as a sophomore and will have to be even better this season. If play maker Isaiah Love can return from an unfortunate offseason neck injury, the offense gets that much better.
Obstacles: West Covina was vertically challenged last season. There were seven touchdown passes total last season compared to nine interceptions. Unless this is the 2010 Bulldogs’ offensive line and running backs, that’s not gonna work. The pass game has to get better for West Covina to take the next step.
Outlook: West Covina is great because you know what you’re going to get. This is the most blue-collar team around and when those tactics are working it’s a sight to see. The Bulldogs won eight games last season and shared the league title with Charter Oak. There’s no reason West Covina isn’t even better this season. If the passing game can improve, a much better bottom line can be expected. But that’s a big if.
Strengths: For far too long, Damien has been just average in the skill spots. That situation looks to be improving. Quarterback Warren Bryan is just a sophomore but saw plenty of action last season. He’s going to be a good one. Running back Dylan Thigpen is already a proven commodity and will headline the offense early.
Obstacles: The Spartans simply haven’t been fast enough to beat the top-notch competition on their schedule. Again, that’s another improving situation.
Outlook: Former head coach Greg Gano was run off after not delivering. Thus far, Mark Paredes has been no better. Paredes has things going in the right direction, but it’s been very gradual. Six wins in ‘15 would be a success.
7. LOS ALTOS
Strengths: The Conquerors were ravaged by graduation but one position isn’t a sweat and that’s running back where Tyler Nevens exploded onto the scene as a sophomore. Nevens is one of the top weapons in the area and will be asked to headline the show this season.
Obstacles: Los Altos is really hurting in the experience department. There is talent, but it needs a little time to jell. When it does, watch out.
Outlook: Los Altos’ junior class went 10-0 as freshmen and allowed 18 points all season. That class remains in tact. They’re strong. They’re talented. Expect another strong season.
Strengths: For the past couple seasons, the Bearcats have relied on exceptional talent at running back to have some of the area’s best ground games. This year, though, QB Tanner East looks like one of the area’s better passers and the air attack should be able to do big things.
Obstacles: Bonita has some serious talent to replace at running back and on defense. Some area observers say the talent at Bonita always looks the same and the names are the only thing that changes. If that’s true, then expect the Bearcats to be just fine.
Outlook: Bonita was hit and miss last season. The Bearcats were worked over by Monrovia and Glendora yet went further than either of those teams in the Central Division. If the Bearcats are more consistent, then here’s your area surprise team.
9. SOUTH HILLS
Strengths: They weren’t flashy at all last season, but you can tell South Hills is very polished thanks to one of the area’s better coaching staffs. The brain trust had better be on their game this year, though, as there’s not a lot of experienced talent to work with.
Obstacles: South Hills has to replace its leading passer and rusher. Never a good sign. But all-purpose threat Quinn Cotter is a good one to build around.
Outlook: The Huskies could be out of this Top 10 very quickly or they could hang around all season. South Hills was able to grind to the Palomares League title last season. Just making the playoff this season will be an accomplishment.
10. SAN DIMAS
Strengths: The Saints look like they’ll be plenty physical this season. There’s good talent back on the offensive line and linebacker Josiah Erickson headlines a defense that should be among the area’s best.
Obstacles: Former head coach Bill Zernickow left for Oregon after a very successful run. Replacing him won’t be easy especially since his offense was so ingrained in the program. New head coach Mark Holman was a top Zernickow assistant, though.
Outlook: San Dimas is plenty of capable of turning the tables on Northview in the Valle Vista League and making another deep playoff run. To do so, though, the offense can’t miss a beat without Zernickow calling the shots.