The local high school football season begins on Friday night (Aug. 23) as all 13 area varsity squads will be in action, including nine teams playing home games in the East County.
All games are slated for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
The county third-ranked Helix Highlanders will host Cajon High, of San Bernardino, in a high-caliber matchup matching the San Diego and Southern sections.
Last season, the Cowboys routed the Highlanders, 43-3, but that was with now-Arizona State freshman starter Jayden Daniels at quarterback for Cajon. The visitors are trying to reload but few teams will ever match the production of last year’s star-studded ballclub.
Helix lost star running back Elelyon Noa, now a senior, early in the game to injury, preventing the Scotties from having their key offensive player after the Cowboys jumped out on top.
Now, the Highlanders are expected to be favored in the rematch according to the power rankings and the home field edge should be enough to help them get off to a winning start.
Helix’s Delshawn Traylor, a senior bound for the United States Military Academy, is expected to share time at quarterback with fellow senior Kamryn Brown in a late-camp development.
Traylor expects to compete as a quarterback during his college career at West Point, but his elite play as a defensive back – he was an All-CIF first-team DB as a junior – may result in a permanent spot on the defensive side of the ball for Army.
Still, this one could be close and Helix has an experienced kicker in senior Elijah Laing, who could provide the difference.
Eastlake at Steele Canyon – A matchup of local top ten teams is one of the top games in the county to open the season.
The 10th-ranked Cougars had a few positions to settle during training, including at quarterback, but otherwise, Steele has speed and depth in several areas.
Steele Canyon senior running back Wesley Neely is a shifty, explosive back who compiled over 1,000 total yards last season.
The seventh-ranked Titans, defending champs of the Metro Mesa League, graduated 25 seniors and two top returnees transferred away over the summer.
Throw in the home-field edge and the Cougars are likely to erase any edge the visitors are perceived to have in this one.
Mira Mesa at Grossmont – The Foothillers have a huge roster and plenty of veterans that will surely turnaround last season’s sub-par campaign, Grossmont’s first in ten seasons.
The combination of quarterback Jaime Odom and receiver Brody Schicker combined for one of the biggest touchdowns of the local season last year, hooking up late in the fourth quarter to provide a road playoff upset at Madison. Both players return for their senior season.
The Marauders, of the Eastern League, as is Christian High, are re-tooling a bit following their division title game appearance last November, but their program is in steady hands with a respected coach.
However, the 17th-ranked Hillers are expected to prevail.
Santa Fe Christian at Christian (at Valley Stadium) – The Christian Patriots have had a long history of success at quarterback. The man they have receiving the snaps this season could end up being the best of all of them.
Junior Gabe Krug, a transfer from St. Augustine, already has a scholarship offer from Arizona State and he’s only appeared briefly in a handful of varsity games.
Christian high senior receiver Carson Stroman can stop on a dime and had great hands catching the ball from different angles, while fellow senior wideout Todd Beezer had an impressive touchdown catch in traffic in a scrimmage last Thursday at Grossmont.
The Eagles are Christian’s long-time sectional rival and this series has seen its share of upsets but the 22nd-ranked Patriots are expected to win by a couple of scores.
Lincoln at Monte Vista – The Hornets’ David Dunn is one of the many success stories of the Ron Hamamoto coaching tree, which now spans 33 years.
Lincoln, from the Western League, beat Mira Mesa for the Division II section title last season en route to a state division title game berth.
Things won’t change philosophically for Hamamoto and his Monarchs despite the loss of a pair of starters who headed to four-year colleges.
However, few teams in the county, if any, can match the firepower of these Hornets, despite the loss of former Helix Highlander Xavier Hamlett, who dislocated his elbow in a preseason scrimmage against San Marcos on Saturday.
Henry at Mount Miguel – The Matadors could double up the City League’s Patriots in the opener behind junior quarterback J.D. Laverdiere.
In its second year under veteran coach Troy Starr, Mount Miguel’s preseason power rating points to a complete reversal from last year’s three-win season, a campaign that saw the team produce school records for passing offense.
Southwest (El Centro) at West Hills – The Wolf Pack will rely on senior Jake Maheu to lead on both sides of the ball. The first-team All-East County linebacker selection from a year ago is also a hard-nosed runner.
West Hills also has veteran skill players which helped them to a consolation championship at the Southwestern College passing tournament in June.
The Wolf Pack should have no problem defeating the visitors from the Imperial Valley League.
University City at Valhalla – The Norsemen are sure to be dramatically improved off last year’s winless campaign.
However, facing one of the county’s best passers in Centurions senior Gunnar Gray is no easy task and a win over the visitors would be an upset.
Former Grossmont wide receiver Skip Waltower should have a big season after moving over the UC.
Granite Hills at Poway – These two teams are very closely rated in the computer power ratings, so the home field edge and senior running back Josh Butler and his veteran offensive front are supposed to give the Titans the edge.
However, the Eagles are expected to have another strong quarterback in line with junior Justus “QB1” McComb.
With Granite Hills unheralded defensive star safety Ethen Bishop spying on Butler, Poway could suffer an upset, although a transfer quarterback who threw for more than 2,000 yards last season could still make the difference.
El Capitan at Mater Dei Catholic – The Vaqueros open their 60th year of varsity football on the road against the slightly-favored Crusaders.
Mater Dei Catholic has one of the county’s best running backs in Aiden Calvert, who is being recruited by a couple of the service academies among others.
El Cap gets overlooked because of its tough league schedule so this one is ripe for an upset behind experienced quarterback Wick Hauser.
Santana at Mountain Empire – The Sultans defeated the RedHawks, 42-7, in last season’s season opener in Santee over the eventual Manzanita League champions.
Santana quarterback Nathan Temple said he’d like to throw for 40 touchdowns this season. He passed for three scores in this matchup last season, including to his top returning target Randall Smith.
Mountain Empire should have a pretty good team despite most of its playmakers from last year’s squad but expect a similar result to last year’s opener.
El Cajon Valley at Francis Parker – The Braves will have better opportunities to win this season and should close the gap against the Lancers, who won, 42-13, at Priest Field in last year’s opener.
This matchup is a key game to start the year in the Division V playoff picture. Just one upset by the Braves could bolster the team’s playoff chances immediately.
Democracy Prep Agassi Campus (Las Vegas) at Foothills Christian (at Seau Field) – The Foothills Christian Knights are the defending section 8-man champions and returns Ocean League Player of the Year quarterback Tony Mroz.