Matthew Lickona 3 p.m., April 28
Pictured: Valley Center senior receiver Michael McInerny
Season Preview: Valley Center Jaguars
Last Year: 12-1 (1st in Valley, D-IV Champs) Top Players: QB Ryan Kleiman (Sr.), WR Michael McInerny (Sr.), DB/WR Anthony Ricks (Sr.), WR Cody Gearhart (Sr.) Newcomers to Watch: RB Austin Bernard (Jr.), DL Garrett Castner (Jr.), LB/TE Brad Dozier (Jr.)
Passing game experience has Valley Center eying repeat in Division IV
Valley Center is familiar with postseason success, so defending a championship has been a typical objective in recent years. After ending a two-year title drought last season, the Jaguars are relying on talented skill players to stay on top of Division IV in 2012.
“I’m just looking forward to this season and trying to do the same things that we did last year,” said senior quarterback Ryan Kleiman.
The Jaguars have won five section titles in the last eight years and appeared in five consecutive section title games. For head coach Rob Gilster, the formula for Valley Center’s recent string of success is clear.
“We’ve had a really good coaching staff that doesn’t turn over and is there year in and year out, a really good community that provides us with student athletes, and an administration that supports football – they create a culture that allows us to win and gives us the resources that we need,” Gilster said. “It’s kind of a combination of those three things along with good fortune.”
Valley Center will be lead by seasoned offensive talent, beginning at quarterback with Kleiman. As a junior last season, Kleiman threw for 2,320 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“He’s competitive and he finds ways to win. He’s got that ‘it’ factor and he’ll find ways, whether it’s running, whether it’s making a pass when he’s falling down,” Gilster said. “He has this innate ability to win and to bring others along with him.”
The best of an experienced receiving corps is 6-foot-3-inch senior Michael McInerny, who caught 59 passes for 1,255 yards and was a first-team All-CIF selection as a junior. Senior Anthony Ricks, who mainly saw time at defensive back last season, will line up opposite McInerny outside with senior Cody Gearhart in the slot.
“It’s going to be great – we’ll definitely have dual threats outside,” Kleiman said.
While Valley Center has experience in the passing game, its rushing attack remains a question headed into the season. A backfield that has produced three straight 2,000-yard rushers turns to senior Joe Monzon and junior Austin Bernard to carry on the tradition of the Jaguars’ ground game.
“We’re pretty excited about the potential at running back, but we haven’t seen it yet,” Gilster said. “We believe that either of those running backs are going to be good enough for us to win.”
Other newcomers for Valley Center expected to make an immediate impact include a pair of juniors – linebacker/tight end Brad Dozier and defensive lineman Garrett Castner. As a team, Gilster said the Jaguars have been slowly progressing in the August heat.
“They’re typical two-a-days, so you smile once and you frown about 500 times,” Gilster said. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re moving in the right direction.”
Valley Center kicks off the season Aug. 31 against Bellerose, a Canadian opponent from St. Albert, Alberta. The Jaguars’ schedule heats up in the final weeks leading into Valley League play, as they travel to Mission Hills on Sept. 21 and host defending Division I champion Poway on Sept. 28.
“I’m really excited to play a powerhouse team like Poway,” Kleiman said. “I’m not really expecting anything different – we have heart and we don’t like to lose.”
Valley Center hasn’t tasted a considerable amount of defeat on the gridiron the past few seasons, sporting a combined record of 55-9 since 2007. Gilster said this year’s Jaguars have the talent to continue that success.
“They’ve got to own this season and be committed,” Gilster said. “If they want to make this season theirs and do what’s required of them to be champions, they can be champions.”