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High school football 2023: What to look for in the Mission League

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The Mission League is primed for another high-intensity football season, and brimming with talent at every position.

Sierra Canyon wants league, CIF Southern Section and state titles, but will have plenty of competition from other area schools. Here’s what to expect this season from the league’s local teams:

SIERRA CANYON

The excitement of winning the 2022 CIF Southern Section Division 2 championship still lingers at Sierra Canyon, but the Trailblazers also remember that they went 2-4 in their first six games last season.

“Start off the season strong, because we didn’t do that last year,” senior Carnell Ferguson said. “We started off really slow, so that’s one of our main goals this year. Make our presence felt straight off the bat. Now we got people scared of us and scared to play us.”

The Trailblazers want to ride that strong start all the way to a state title, and they might very well have the tools to do that. It starts with the defense.

Leading the way for the 2023 Sierra Canyon Trailblazers football team are Wyatt Becker, Marquis Gallegos, Eugene Brooks, Dane Dunn, Jaylen Sumlin, Ruben Gamboa, and Carnell Ferguson (l-r).(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
Leading the way for the Sierra Canyon football team are, left to right, Wyatt Becker, Marquis Gallegos, Eugene Brooks, Dane Dunn, Jaylen Sumlin, Ruben Gamboa, and Carnell Ferguson. (Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

“We’re gonna rely on our defense,” coach Jon Ellinghouse said. “Our defense is really special and we’ve got some great playmakers. Our defensive backfield is phenomenal.”

Senior Jaylen’dai Sumlin, who is a Stanford commit, sophomore Madden Riordan, junior Jae’on Young, and senior transfer Marquis Gallegos comprise Sierra Canyon’s secondary.

The Trailblazers will likely have a balanced offense. Junior Dane Dunn, who was the Daily News Player of the Year last season,  returns at running back along with senior Terrell Cooks (San Diego State commit). Both backs rushed for over 1,000 yards last season.

Junior quarterback Wyatt Becker, a transfer from Notre Dame, comes into Sierra Canyon after he threw for 2,192 yards and 23 touchdowns a year ago. Senior Eugene Brooks (Oklahoma commit) holds things down in the trenches.

Sierra Canyon’s preseason camp has consisted of two-a-days every other day and every practice ends with running. It’s all preparation for the strong start the Trailblazers want, which begins with their season opener against JSerra (Aug. 18), followed by Oaks Christian (Aug. 25).

CHAMINADE

The Eagles return four starters, counting their kicker. Although there’s not many of them, their leadership and physical ability have affected the team around them.

“We really haven’t had a day where I was like, well, that wasn’t very good,” coach David Machuca said. “It’s the same standard, the expectations don’t change. We’re gonna do things a certain way with whoever is out there.”

Senior linebacker Cody Franck is a vocal leader for Chaminade as well as three-year starter and Oregon commit David Abajian at left tackle.

Chaminade runs onto the field for their game against JSerra, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 at Chaminade. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)
Chaminade runs onto the field for their game against JSerra, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 at Chaminade. (Photo by Michael Owen Baker, contributing photographer)

“He didn’t have to say anything or do anything (last season) because he had guys in front of him that were leading,” Machuca said. “Now he has two sophomores, potentially, and a freshman that is kind of in the mix getting reps on the offensive line.”

Ryon Sayeri, kicker and punter for the Eagles, was selected to play in the All-American Bowl this summer and has been called one of the best in the country. He’ll be a captain in Chaminade’s season opener against Oaks Christian (Aug. 18). The senior was 12-for-14 on field goals last season with a long of 49 yards and was 53 of 53 on PATs.

NOTRE DAME

Evan Yabu is entering his first year as the Knights’ head coach, and he brings seven assistant coaches from his previous school, Thousand Oaks, with him for a new chapter.

“When you walk into a new program, everybody’s new and everything is new,” Yabu said. “Everything that you’re asking people to digest is all from scratch. So I would say through the last six months, I think we’ve got a nice little foundation built and things look positive.”

Yabu said that Notre Dame has many foundational players on defense including senior Xavier Perry, a cornerback who started every game last season, and junior Ehimen Oyamendan, who is also part of the secondary. Senior Jonathan Kanaley is back at defensive end.

Oyamendan will also play at receiver alongside Erikas Puodziunas. Samson Malu leads an offensive line charged with protecting junior quarterback Steele Pizzella, who completed 160 of 285 passes at Simi Valley last season for 2,286 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 296 yards and seven touchdowns.

“Infrastructure, administration and support-wise, I feel like Notre Dame doesn’t really have any type of limitations on what we’re able to a achieve here,” Yabu said. “I would say I’m an optimistic dreamer by nature and our vision is to compete to be the best team in California.”

ALEMANY

The Warriors went winless in league play last season and won just three games overall, but reached the playoffs and won their first-round game.

Alemany is young this season, with six to eight freshmen poised for playing time, and coach Casey Clausen is looking forward to a fresh start.

“We’re very young this year but I really like our groups up front, both offensive and defensive line,” he said. “Just excited to watch them grow and develop and see how they handle the high school experience.”

Alemany lost its starting quarterback due to injury early last season. The Warriors are hopeful about a healthy year this time with sophomore quarterback Laird Finkel, who comes in from Santa Barbara.

“Really talented, athletic kid and we think he has a really bright future,” Clausen said.

Alemany's Paden White carries the ball against Notre Dame in Mission League action October 14, 2022.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)
Alemany’s Paden White carries the ball against Notre Dame in Mission League action October 14, 2022.(Photo by Andy Holzman, Contributing Photographer)

Two backup quarterbacks are preparing for this season and the Warriors have at least three capable running backs. Senior Paden White and juniors Nigel Epperson and Luvon Nolan could see playing time.

On defense, sophomore Darrin Coleman returns at linebacker and senior Michael Lindsay will play both ways at receiver and defensive back.

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