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Pictured: Christian senior running back/safety Rayvon Owens

Season Preview: Christian Patriots

Last Year: 9-3 (2nd in Coastal, D-V Champs) Top Players: RB/S Rayvon Owens (Sr.), OL/DL Tyler Leslie (Sr.), TE/LB Trenton Sauls (Jr.) Newcomers to Watch: QB Michael Carrillo (Jr.), WR Kai Arvan (Jr.)

Christian adjusts to changes, aims to stay on top of Division V

In defense of its section crown this season, Christian has a new look. The defending Division V champions are switching leagues and changing their emphasis on the field, while remaining focused on protecting their title.

“We have the bragging rights to defend the title, but we have to stay focused because everybody is going to be looking to take that title away from us,” said senior running back/safety Rayvon Owens. “We’re the team to beat right now in Division V.”

In 2011, Christian played its best football late in the season en route to its first section crown in five years. The Patriots upset Santa Fe Christian 32-29 in the finals, avenging a regular season loss to the Eagles.

“We lost that game at Santa Fe Christian and we made a pact that we weren’t going to lose again – and we didn’t,” said Christian head coach Matt Oliver. “We went on a run at the end.”

After winning a number of games in shootout fashion and surrendering 23 points per game in 2011, the Patriots see defense as a strong suit this season.

“Speed is a great factor on defense and we have a lot of veterans that have played varsity football before,” Owens said. “It should be a great year on defense.”

Senior defensive linemen Tyler Leslie sets the tone for a Christian defense that returns eight starters. The 6-foot, 230-pound Leslie also plays on the offensive line, and is one of the Patriots’ leaders.

“His motor never stops running – the kid plays every single down on both sides of the ball and never gets tired,” Oliver said. “He’s strong but it’s more about what’s inside – his heart and his effort.”

On offense Christian plans to be run-first this season, primarily due to the graduation of 3,000-yard passer Shane Dillon and its top two receivers. Junior Michael Carrillo, a transfer from Northern California, will lead a dialed back passing attack along with a trio of pass catchers – senior receiver Phillip George, junior receiver Kai Arvan and junior tight end Trenton Sauls.

“We’re not thinking about anything we’re missing, we’re only looking at what we have now,” Leslie said. “We know we have plenty of guys that can get it done.”

On the ground, Christian will lean heavily on Owens. As a junior, the 5-foot-10 back rushed for 1,423 yards and 23 touchdowns and was a second-team All-CIF selection.

“We’re going to be more of a running team than we were last year,” Oliver said. “Rayvon Owens is going to be our guy that we expect to carry the load.”

A move back to the Central League this season distances Christian from its fellow Division V foes. The Patriots will square off against Coronado, University City, Clairemont and Crawford in league play.

“We’re playing city conference teams and we won’t be playing all those Coastal League teams,” Oliver said. “We’re hoping that playing in the Central League will keep us a little bit of a dark horse headed into the playoffs.”

Christian opens the season against Temecula Linfield Christian on Aug. 31 at Granite Hills High. The Patriots’ nonleague schedule features Francis Parker along with a number of larger opponents, including Santana, El Cajon Valley, Mission Bay and Madison.

“We’re focusing on giving it to the big teams,” Leslie said. “We know that if we can play with the big teams, we can play around Division V too.”

In a season marked by change, Christian is hoping it can deliver a similar result and repeat as section champions. Entering the season, the Division V title is the Patriots’ to lose.

“We ended with a great win last season and we’re trying to keep that going,” Leslie said. “We know that we have the guys to win football games and we’re ready to defend the title.”

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