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Oceanside senior quarterback Tofi Paopao (pictured) is starting on varsity for the third straight season

Season Preview: Oceanside Pirates

Last Year: 9-3-1 (2nd in Avocado West, lost in D-II finals) Top Players: QB Tofi Paopao (Sr.), LB/FB William Gulley (Sr.), RB Ryshaud Keegan (Sr.), OL/DL C.J. Tauala (Sr.)

Oceanside eager to start new championship streak

For the first time in seven years, Oceanside begins the season chasing a section title rather than defending it. As a result, the Pirates enter the 2012 campaign hungry to return to the top of Division II.

“Our mindset is focused on getting back to that championship and actually getting it back in our name – we feel like we have something to prove now,” said senior linebacker/fullback William Gulley.

Oceanside’s seven-year reign in Division II came to a decisive end in Qualcomm Stadium last season. The Pirates fell 44-6 to eventual state champion Helix to end an unprecedented streak of championship success.

“It’s all about each individual team, and it just so happened that seven consecutive teams did exactly what they set out to do – become the best possible team they could,” said Oceanside head coach John Carroll. “And the eighth team achieved what they could achieve, and they should be proud.”

For Oceanside’s returning players, pride is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of last season. The Pirates are eager to start the season to move on from their most recent result.

“It was pretty bad. We felt like we let all the teams down that created the streak,” said senior running back Ryshaud Keegan. “Everybody is doubting us after that loss, and we don’t want to feel that same feeling we did last year.”

Offensively, Oceanside is flush with talent and experience this season – and it starts at quarterback. Senior and three-year starter Tofi Paopao threw for 1,746 yards as a junior and leads the Pirates’ offense along with Keegan.

“It was a year of experience for us last year,” Paopao said. “It’s fun to see the growth that [the offense] has had along with me from January all the way until now.”

Juniors Thai Cottrell, Jayce Whittaker, Micah Holder, Alijah Holder and T.K. Dodds played big roles for Oceanside last season, and the group that Paopao calls the “young guns” makes the Pirates capable of big plays on both sides of the ball. Gulley anchors the defense from his middle linebacker position, setting the tone for a typically physical Pirates unit.

“Most of our players are coming back, so we know that we have a good team coming into this year,” Gulley said. “Our determination and how we finish games is going to determine whether we win the championship or not.”

Where Oceanside lacks experience is on the offensive and defensive lines, with the exception of seniors C.J. Tauala and Memo Rocha. Carroll said the development of the lines on both sides of the ball will determine how successful the Pirates are this season.

“It started off slow in spring ball, but as we progressed into summer we started picking it up faster and faster and growing as a unit,” Tauala said.

Oceanside faces a state-level test in its season opener Aug. 31, squaring off against Oakdale in the Battle for Veterans Game at Westlake High. The Mustangs were Sac-Joaquin Section Division III finalists last season and finished with a 13-1 record.

“Coach told us about this game during the spring and it got everybody’s juices flowing,” Paopao said. “The fire is burning right now – we just can’t wait to strap it on and have it fully lit on Aug. 31.”

The Pirates’ 2012 nonleague schedule doesn’t ease up too much after Oakdale, and includes Temecula Chaparral along with preseason-ranked Poway and Mission Hills. In the Avocado West League, the Pirates will face North County powers Vista and La Costa Canyon.

“We play in the toughest league and we’re matched up with the best teams in North County in our nonleague games,” Carroll said. “There are no breaks in our schedule – it’s back-to-back-to-back-to-back right on through. It’s ‘the’ schedule in my opinion.”

Oceanside faces a tough challenge in 2012 to get back on top of a division loaded with quality teams. The Pirates are aiming to start a new streak while continuing a tradition of success.

“Our expectation is to win CIF, but given the talent we have coming back and the experience we have at every position we feel like we can take it a step beyond CIF,” Paopao said. “We feel we have a special team this year.”

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