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Poway senior cornerback Derek Babiash (pictured) is one of 11 returning starters for the Titans this season

Season Preview: Poway Titans

Last Year: 12-0-1 (1st in Palomar, Division I champions) Returning Starters: 6 on offense/5 on defense Top Players: CB Derek Babiash (Sr.), LB Alec Moreno (Sr.), LB Max Michaels (Sr.), DE Jonathan Petersen Newcomers to Watch: QB Max Washam (Jr.),

Poway fully loaded for unique title defense

Poway won’t defend its Division I title in the 2012 season – a reality that the team has both accepted and embraced. An enrollment drop moved the Titans to Division II, a change that presents a challenge for the defending champs loaded with talent and experience.

“We kind of keep it as the joke that we already did it in Division I, and now it’s our turn to do it in Division II. We feel like we have a target on our backs, and we’re excited and ready to step up for the challenge,” said senior linebacker Alec Moreno. “We’re out to prove that Poway is here to stay, and that it wasn’t just a one-season fluke.”

The move to a competitive Division II offers a strong test for a 2012 Poway team that returns 11 starters. Titans head coach Damian Gonzalez said this year’s team compares favorably to last year, and might even be better than its championship predecessor.

“They’re a group that knows how to win, they play to win and they play with a confident swagger,” Gonzalez said. “We thought we had a chance last year, and with this group we know we have a chance.”

Returning players at key positions instill confidence in what Gonzalez calls a senior-heavy team. The most talented of the group is Derek Babiash, a playmaking 6-foot cornerback committed to Arizona next season.

“Derek is an unbelievable athlete,” Gonzalez said. “He’s probably one of the top three athletes in San Diego, and he’s a big time player.”

Senior middle linebackers Moreno and Max Michaels are the heart of Poway’s defense along with senior defensive end Jonathan Petersen. The Nevada-bound Moreno said the experienced Titan defense will play aggressively in 2012.

“We’re going to be an all-around defense to where when opponents are drawing us up on the board, 11 out of our 11 guys are going to be circled knowing that they’re going to have a challenge against us every play,” Moreno said. “We all feel we can make the big play.”

On offense Poway returns its tailback, two tight ends and more than half of its offensive line – seniors Tahj Haywood, Charlie Long, and Austin Pace. One of the few major positions the Titans are green at is quarterback, where junior Max Washam takes the helm surrounded by talent.

“He was our starting junior varsity quarterback last year and he’s doing really well,” Gonzalez said. “He’s more of a sprint out and on the move guy, so he can run. That’s going to be nice and we’ve definitely added more to our offense in that respect.”

The success of Poway’s current group of seniors extends beyond last year’s Division I championship. Entering this season, the Titans’ senior class has totaled only one loss and one tie in three years on the freshman, junior varsity and varsity levels.

“Our senior group has only lost one game in our careers, so we know we’re not losers and we’re going to come out and fight for a win every time,” Babiash said.

Poway opens at Scripps Ranch Aug. 31, followed by nonleague slate featuring North County showdowns against La Costa Canyon (Sept. 7) and Oceanside (Sept. 21) at home that double as potential playoff previews. Even with the move to Division II, the Titans have section and state title aspirations headed into the 2012 season.

“We just need to put all the little things together,” Moreno said. “We have the big players, we have the big names, and we just need to work on getting perfect technique to add to our skill and ability. Once we get there, we should be unbeatable.”

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