Kimberly Blough 6:28 p.m., March 9
Eastlake running back Aaron Baltazar (pictured) will be the main playmaker in the Titans' Wing-T offense this season
Season Preview: Eastlake Titans
Last year: 8-4 (2nd in Metro Mesa, lost in D-I semifinals) Top Players: RB/S Aaron Baltazar (Sr., Boise State), RB/S Tavarus Green (Sr.) Newcomers to Watch: QB Ty Stevens (Sr.), OL Emilio Rodriguez (Jr.), OL Wes Braddock (Jr.)
Speed more important than size for Eastlake
Eastlake doesn’t have the biggest team this season, but its speed is a sizeable asset. The Titans are aiming to run past opponents in 2012 with one of the section’s fastest rosters from top to bottom.
“We’re fast and we don’t really care who we’re going against – we’re going to give it our best,” said senior running back/safety Aaron Baltazar. “We’re a strong group for being a little team.”
On offense, Eastlake’s Wing-T attack spreads the ball around between speedsters at skill positions. The featured playmaker is the 5-foot-11-inch Baltazar, a fast, shifty runner that will play at Boise State next season.
“He’s just a natural athlete – he’s a man among boys,” said Eastlake head coach John McFadden. “He’s been starting since his sophomore year, and he’s just always been a stud.”
All three of Eastlake’s running backs – Baltazar, Tavarus Green and Jalen Mondane – are experienced seniors, something McFadden said he is excited about coming into the season. Senior tight end Joey Carpizo offers another seasoned target for quarterback Ty Stevens, a senior that started at safety last season and takes over for Josh Palet.
“Ty Stevens is every bit as good as Josh and he’s a little more athletic,” McFadden said. “Josh had a little bit stronger arm – he was more of a gunner – whereas Ty has a little more touch.”
Every player on the Eastlake starting defense this season runs the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds, from the defensive linemen to the secondary. As a result, the Titans work until the whistle to prevent big plays.
“It’s all 11 hats flying to the ball at the same time,” Baltazar said. “Not one person on our defense is watching – every play, every one is running to the ball so they don’t get any extra yards.”
On both sides of the ball, Eastlake uses speed to make up for a lack of size. The Titans are typically lighter than their opponents in the trenches, which will make controlling the line of scrimmage a challenge.
“We also can hit pretty hard and get down and dirty just like the bigger linemen – we’re not scared,” said 5-foot-10-inch, 195-pound senior guard Devon Ballow. “People look at us like we’re small, but I think we have hidden power.”
Last season, Eastlake won its first four games before a string of injuries brought the fast start to a halt. The Titans went 4-4 to close the season, failed to win the Metro Mesa League for the first time since 2005 and lost at home in the Division I semifinals for the second straight year.
“We had more injuries than I’ve ever experienced, and that was our excuse. We were still plenty good, and we just didn’t coach very well,” McFadden said. “That’s not going to happen this year. I don’t care who we’re playing with, they’re going to be well-coached this year.”
Eastlake opens the season at home Aug. 31 against top-ranked Helix, the defending Division II section and state champion. Last season, the Titans handed the Highlanders their only loss of the season in the opening week.
“They’re going to come out with a vengeance, but we’re going to come out just like we did last year and show them what we’re all about,” Baltazar said.
After a down year, Eastlake aims to get back on top in the South Bay and the section. The Titans will likely be taking the fastest route to achieve their goals.
“If we live up to our talent we’ll be very good, and if our linemen are tough enough we’ll be fine. We’ll be one of the toughest teams around,” McFadden said.