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Senior running back/linebacker Noah Tarrant (22) is one of Oceanside’s top returners from last season

Pirates begin season Thursday against Anaheim Servite

Protecting a title is nothing new at Oceanside, where the Pirates begin this season in defense of six straight Division II CIF championships. With only four returning starters from last year’s section and state champion squad, however, the search for a seventh title in a row will present a challenge.

“We lost a lot of people to graduation, but tradition doesn’t graduate,” said Oceanside coach John Carroll. “The guys that were here last year need to show great leadership to demonstrate how it was done to those who are new.”

The Pirates capped last year’s undefeated season with a win in the Division I State Bowl, their second state title in three years. Last year’s 14-0 campaign was the Oceanside’s only unbeaten and untied season during their six-year title stretch.

“It was the perfect season,” Carroll said. “We won every championship we could get – we won our city championship by beating city rival El Camino, we won the league championship, we won the CIF championship and we won the state championship.”

The Pirates face the task of replacing six Division I players from last year’s squad. In addition to talent, Oceanside lost a large amount of leadership to graduation.

“Last year I would just sit back, relax and watch how they did it. I looked up to them and now they’re all gone, so they are looking up to me now,” said Pirates senior linebacker T.J. Sunia. “I have to do the right thing and be the leader.”

Sunia is one of Oceanside’s core of four returning seniors, along with running back/linebacker Noah Tarrant, center/defensive tackle David Vasquez and receiver Demario Coleman. Sunia said watching the likes of two-way players Rene Siluano and Thomas Molesi last season helped prepare him to step up as a leader in 2010.

“One thing I try to copy is to know what I’m doing and what everybody else is doing,” Sunia said. “If you’re going to be the leader and somebody asks you something you better know, because the leader has to know everything.”

On offense, Oceanside was rotating three quarterbacks during camp, planning to pick a starter after last Friday’s scrimmage at Torrey Pines. Competing for the position are senior Joelyn Dalit, sophomore Tofi Pao Pao and junior Ryan Lamb, a transfer from La Costa Canyon whose eligibility is currently up in the air pending a CIF ruling.

The Pirates will be tested early and often with a daunting schedule that starts with a pair road games against Southern Section powers. Their season starts Thursday night in Orange County against Anaheim Servite, last year’s Division II state champion, and the following Friday they play at Temecula Chaparral, who won the Southern Section Inland Division last season.

“We’re not going to worry about Servite and we’re not going to worry about Chaparral,” Carroll said. “We’re going to take care of ourselves and wherever we’re at, we’ll know what we need to do to improve and get better.”

The Pirates home opener against Mira Mesa on Sept. 17 will break in a brand new stadium on Oceanside’s campus. The finishing touches are currently being put on an impressive facility that features all new seating and a new artificial playing surface.

“We don’t like the loss of facilities and its impact on practice spacing, but boy it’s all worth it,” Carroll said. “That facility is beautiful. We’re all excited about that.”

Oceanside’s preseason slate includes Vista (Oct. 1) and Mission Hills (Oct. 8). And in the newly realigned Avocado West League, they will play Rancho Buena Vista, La Costa Canyon, Carlsbad and El Camino.

“We have a heck of a schedule – I don’t think there’s anybody in San Diego County that has a harder schedule,” Carroll said. “That’s what happens when you win a lot of games – not a lot of people want to play you.”

While the 2010 season appears an uphill battle for Oceanside, don’t expect the Pirates to take the challenge sitting down. Sunia said he wants to keep the program tradition alive, which means winning another section title.

“At Oceanside we never back down and we have the heart,” Sunia said. “That’s part of being a Pirate.”

Division II Teams to Watch: Helix, La Costa Canyon, Mission Hills, Scripps Ranch, Steele Canyon, Valhalla

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