The 2015 Tulare County high school football season came to a end about two weeks earlier than we had hoped, but it was still quite an entertaining season.
No Tulare County team will be crowned as a Central Section champion, but the foundation was set this season at several schools that could lead to title runs.
A capsule look at the 2015 season:
Breakout Star QBs: Any concern that this area was going to suffer through a dearth of stellar quarterback play after several years of phenomenal quarterback performances 63+-were alleviated with the emergence of three stalwarts — Tulare Western junior Andre Aguilar, Woodlake freshman Robby Stevenson and Exeter freshman Alec Trujillo. When it comes to long-term potential, keep an eye on Stevenson, grandson of the late legendary Woodlake coach Leo Robinson. Robinson is already a solidly-built 6-0, 180 pounds. Expect him to grow. His uncle, Ron Robinson, who pitched nine years in the majors and was also a star quarterback at Woodlake, is 6-4. Woodlake won its first league championship since 1999 with Stevenson at quarterback. There’s a very good chance the Tigers can add two or three more league titles over the next three seasons.
Top Surprise: Tulare Western. Mustangs figured to be somewhere in the East Yosemite League picture with a sound defense, but the big unknown was their offense. It took awhile to find out the answer, but once Aguilar, a Mission Oak transfer, took over at quarterback, the Mustangs became a local powerhouse. Tulare Western marched toward the East Yosemite League championship with a 5-0 league mark, and advanced to the Division III semifinals. The Mustangs posted their first playoff win since 2004, and their first road playoff win since 1986.
Cavalier Attitude: CVC was hit hard by graduation losses following each of the previous two seasons. It didn’t prove to be a crippling blow, though. CVC surprised the Central Section by capturing the outright Central Sequoia League championship. And the Cavaliers did it with a time-tested brand of championship football — game-controlling ground game and sound team defense. For a school that faces a deficit of more than a 1,000 total students when compared to most county schools, CVC has done an outstanding job building one of the county’s top programs.
Medic Alert: Romello Harris’ bid to become the Central Section’s all-time leading rusher was derailed by a pair of injuries — a broken finger on his left hand and a sprained knee. The Tulare Union senior running back played in just six full games, but still managed to rush for 1,943 yards and 25 touchdowns, which rank amongst the best marks in the state for a 6-plus-game total. Harris still managed to become just the second player in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, joining former Mountain West conference rushing champion Dominique Dorsey.
Parity in Visalia: No Visalia school posted a 3-0 mark against its intra-city rivals. El Diamante and Redwood both went 2-1. Golden West and Mt. Whitney both went 1-2. It remained unclear if El Diamante and Redwood shared the Sid Hosking Trophy, or if the Miners won it based on its head-to-head win over the Rangers. This parity between the Visalia schools could be a recurring theme over the next few years.
2016 Crystal Ball
A way-too-early look at the top story lines for the 2016 Tulare County high school football season:
Division Realignment: No Tulare County team is projected to be elevated to a higher bracket in 2016, which should be great news — especially in Division II and III. Hanford, the 2014 Division III champion and the favorite to win the Division III title Friday night against San Joaquin Memorial, should be a lock for a promotion to Division II. SJM could move back to Division II, but if the Panthers stay (and with SJM’s enrollment, it should probably stay in Division III), they’re likely to be tagged as the slight favorite. However, it will be wide-open division with Tulare Western and Mt. Whitney expected in the mix. If Ridgeview doesn’t go up to Division I next season, something is seriously wrong with this system. Lemoore could join Ridgeview next season; although, that’s far from being a given. With Ridgeview out of Division II, it’s a toss-up at this point on who the favorite will be next season. Tulare Union should be considered a top-5 Division II team. If Immanuel moves up to Division IV as expected, it opens the door for Woodlake to make a two-year run at the Division V championship.
Bell Ringers: The race for the East Yosemite League and possibly Tulare County supremacy could once again be decided between Tulare Western and Tulare Union. The Mustangs should field one of the more productive offenses with the return of Aguilar and running backs David Alcantar and Mason Bernardo (both were sophomores this season) and receiver Josh Portillo. Also, Damarin Patterson, who filled in admirably at quarterback during the non-league portion of the season, could emerge as a receiving/rushing threat. Tulare Union has the pieces in place for another offense that should average 30-plus points per game with quarterback Josh Guerrero, running back Kazmeir Allen and receiver Emoryie Edwards. Both teams will have some work to do on defense. Tulare Western will have some gigantic holes to fill in its defensive lineup with the graduation losses of Elijah Alonzo, Andy Acosta, and Anthony Morgan. Tulare Union loses linebacker R.J. Cortez, who ranked among section leaders with 12 sacks, along with a good portion of its defensive backfield.
Visalia’s New Hope? Hanford and Lemoore are both expected to suffer some significant drop-off compared to the 2014 and 2015 seasons, in which both teams dominated the rest of the West Yosemite League. But will it be large enough for a Visalia school to emerge as a legitimate threat for the league championship? Redwood should be competitive. Mt. Whitney had a very promising freshman class, but will it need a year of going through a varsity learning curve to emerge as top title contenders? Golden West will feature one of the top offensive building blocks in running back Gonzalo Rodriguez, who rushed for 1,216 yards this season as a sophomore. El Diamante needs to develop a go-to offensive playmaker with the graduation loss of running back Keylan Liles.
News and Notes
League Honors: We have received the all-league selections from the WYL and EYL, and will publish those later this week. If the Central Sequoia League, East Sequoia League and East Sierra League have made their selections, they can forward those to firstname.lastname@example.org in order for them to be published this week.
Pac-12 Pipeline: Former Mission Oak star Kevin Palma had a career-high four solo tackles (matched a career-high six tackles) for Stanford in Saturday’s 38-36 win over Notre Dame. Palma, a linebacker, has emerged as a key starting player for a Stanford defensive front that continues to be the foundation of the Cardinal program. Palma is listed as a junior, but he still has two years of eligibility remaining (Stanford doesn’t recognize redshirt seasons, and Palma didn’t play in 2013). Marcus McMaryion, the 2012 Times-Delta/Advance-Register Bob Mathias Award winner, made a compelling case to be considered a top candidate for the Oregon State starting quarterback job in 2016. McMaryion, a former Dinuba standout, was 11-of-21 passing for 154 yards in the Beavers’ 52-42 loss to Oregon (not many thought the Beavers had a chance to be within 20 points of Oregon). He also had a six-yard touchdown run. And speaking of the Pac-12 Tulare County pipeline …
Helton Connection: There was growing speculation over the summer that Harris was on the brink of receiving a scholarship offer from USC. The reasoning behind that was that Clay Helton, who was named USC’s head coach on Monday, visited the Tulare Union campus during the spring. Helton was impressed with Helton, and Harris went to a USC camp in June to perform in front of then head coach Steve Sarkisian, who had the final say on official scholarship offers. Interesting to see if USC’s interest in Harris picks back up with Helton as the permanent coach. Right now, it’s considered a battle between Washington State and Colorado State for Harris. Harris had an official visit at Colorado State in October, and is expected to make an official visit to Washington State in January. Harris is ranked as the nation’s No. 42 running back in 247sports.com’s composite rankings (which includes the rankings done by ESPN, Rivals.com and Scout.com, along with 247sports.com) and the No. 70 overall player in the state. Signing day is Feb. 3.
Cream of the Crop
One final view of the top five teams in Tulare County:
1. Tulare Western (9-4): Mustangs finish atop the final season Tulare County poll for the first time since it started in 2007. Tulare Western’s future is bright. Freshman team finished as co-EYL champion.
2. Tulare Union (9-2): Redskins will have a few changes to their schedule in 2016 (Addition of Mt. Whitney will be the most notable one). They have a reasonable chance of being a bona fide Division II playoff contender.
3. CVC (8-3): An outstanding three-year run for the Cavaliers under head coach Mason Hughes, topped by this year’s outright Central Sequoia League championship.
4. El Diamante (5-6): Miners won three of their final four games to earn a spot in the Division II playoffs.
5. Exeter (8-4): Monarchs aren’t going away anytime soon. Team to watch over the next few years.
Another view: Calpreps.com final rankings of Tulare County teams has Tulare Union at No. 1, followed by — in order — Tulare Western, CVC, Dinuba, El Diamante, Exeter, Redwood, Porterville, Golden West, Mt. Whitney, Mission Oak, Monache, Woodlake, Strathmore, Lindsay, Granite Hills, Farmersville, Orosi.