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For nearly a decade in San Diego, Division II has belonged to Oceanside. The Pirates begin the 2011 season in pursuit of an eighth consecutive section title.

“You want to keep the tradition; you don’t want to be that team that breaks the streak,” said Oceanside senior lineman Eduardo Middleton. “Going for the ‘crazy eight’ is something special.”

This year’s Pirates have to follow up on one of the more memorable Oceanside title runs during the current streak. In 2010 only four seniors returned and the Pirates struggled to start the season, but by season’s end Oceanside finished with a win in Qualcomm Stadium and an 11-3 record.

“We started as not a very good team, it was a year where there was the possibility that Oceanside would be down, and yet with the incredible spirit and pride of the players, they wound up growing weekly to the point where we finished the year as a very good football team,” said Oceanside head coach John Carroll. “We made the most growth over the course of the year of any of the years that we’ve had.”

Junior quarterback Tofi Pao Pao was one of the Oceanside players that made the greatest strides last season. As a sophomore last season, Pao Pao went from a green quarterback to a great one.

“It feels a lot different. I’m more confident, I’ve been studying a lot of film of my opponents, getting a better grasp of the offense and just learning more through this whole experience,” Pao Pao said.

Pao Pao and senior Ryan Lamb are currently vying for the starting quarterback job, and will split time in Oceanside’s scrimmage against Torrey Pines on Friday. Lamb was ruled ineligible last season after transferring from La Costa Canyon.

“I’m allowing both of those guys to compete for the job,” Carroll said. “It’s making both of them better and there’s some healthy competition at the quarterback spot.”

Oceanside’s biggest strength this season is its offensive and defensive lines, anchored by senior two-way starters Middleton (6’5”, 280 lbs.) and Grant Bays (6’3”, 290 lbs.). Middleton plays at the tackle position on offense and defense while Bays sees time at center, offensive tackle and nose tackle.

“We should be controlling the line of scrimmage more,” Middleton said. “We have a great offensive line and we should have a great run game.”

Junior running back Ryshaud Keegan will handle most of the carries after playing a reserve role on varsity last season. Keegan is excited to step into a starting spot.

“Being behind Noah (Tarrant) really helped me a lot,” Keegan said. “It really taught me how to be a leader and having a young team this year, that’s going to play a big role and help us out.”

Outside of the trenches the Pirates have a lot of talent – but not a lot of seasoning. Carroll said the development of sophomores Thai Cottrell (slot receiver), Jace Whittaker (slot receiver/cornerback), TK Dodds (receiver), Micah Holder (receiver) and Alijah Holder (cornerback) will go a long way in determining how far Oceanside can go this season.

“The difference between freshman football and varsity football is pretty steep,” Carroll said. “We’ll see how fast they can grow into not just varsity players, but first-rate outstanding championship-level varsity players.”

Oceanside begins the season at home against last year’s Open Division State Bowl runner-up Anaheim Servite on Thursday, Sept. 1. The Friars ended Oceanside’s 39-game winning streak with a decisive 31-7 victory in last year’s season opener.

“Hopefully this year we’ll get off on a better foot and give them a better game,” Pao Pao said. “It’s not just about payback, but I would like to have some payback.”

In addition to nationally ranked Servite, Oceanside’s preseason schedule includes Division I finalists Mira Mesa (Sept. 16) and Vista (Sept. 30). The Pirates also play a Division II title game rematch at Mission Hills (Oct. 7) before starting Avocado West League play.

“It’s good for us. Coming out and playing the toughest we can play, that’s what we’re about at Oceanside,” Keegan said.

Junior middle linebacker/fullback William Gulley said Oceanside has to work hard and come together as a team in order to achieve its goal of an eighth straight Division II crown. The Pirates begin the season as the No. 1 team in the section.

“We just need to play as a team,” Keegan said. “Some of the years we have had a division within the team and I think this year we just jell together right. If we look out for each other, we should be good.”

Pictured: Oceanside junior quarterback Tofi Pao Pao

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