No team in the Inland Empire has a richer tradition or sustained streak of excellence than Norco. The Cougars have qualified for the Southern Section playoffs every season since 1987, winning five titles in that span and finishing runner up three other years.
Version 2011 should be no exception, as the Cougars return a number of key players from a team that won nine games with a freshman at quarterback and right guard. Throw in the addition of three quality starters who were ineligible last season and Norco might do more than just qualify for the postseason this year.
Here’s a closer look at the team.
Coach: Todd Gerhart, eighth season.
2010 Record: 9-3, lost to Vista Murrieta in the second round of the Inland Division playoffs.
Returning starters: 11 total. Six on offense, five on defense.
Key players on offense: QB Coltin Gerhart, OL Roy Faulkinbury, OL Cory Roth, OL Dustin Stanton, RB Joseph Ajeigbe.
Key players on defense: LB Scott Starr, DB Corbin McCarthy, DE Jake Hinson, DT Jake Ackling.
Difference maker: Norco has been funneling players to Stanford and Arizona State in recent years, but Scott Starr didn’t think twice when he was offered a scholarship to USC last spring. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound outside linebacker has 4.55 speed in the 40-yard dash, which allows him to track down opposing runners who dare round his corner. Once he puts a shoulder pad on an opponent, he seldom misses the tackle. The Cougars allowed at least 21 points in eight games last season, so those skills will be much needed if the Cougars want to cut down on their points-against average and take some pressure off the offense.
Newcomers: OL Artie Vasquez, WR Cameren Hemmings, LB Stephen Prescott, WR Marcus Jones, DB Justin Martin.
Not to be missed: at Corona Centennial, Oct. 21. The look on Todd Gerhart’s face after Centennial routed Norco, 45-0, last season was one of shock and awe. As head coach at the school, Gerhart had never lost by such a large margin and he wasn’t quite sure how to react. At least he wasn’t alone last season. This season’s matchup should be more rough-and-tumble, with both teams featuring hefty, experienced offensive lines. Norco’s line averages about 280 pounds and they should be better equipped to handle the Huskies.
Coach’s comment: “We’re still young,” Gerhart said. “We’ve got a sophomore quarterback and two sophomores on the offensive line, but it’s a good group of guys. We’ll score some points.”
Final analysis: With a son in the NFL, another at Arizona State and his youngest playing quarterback for the Cougars this season, Gerhart will certainly have a lot to think about again this fall. But the Cougars are certainly in better shape than a year ago. Coltin Gerhart has a year under his belt behind center and three of his five offensive linemen are returning. The Cougars also are set to gain the services of Cameren Hemmings, Stephen Prescott and Marcus Jones, all of whom were ineligible last season after transferring to Norco. Throw in a defense led by a future member of the Trojans and Gerhart also has plenty smile about this season.