Temecula Chaparral swallowed enough pride last season to feed an army. The Pumas came into the year ranked 11th in the state by Cal-Hi Sports — ahead of such powerhouses as Mission Viejo, Corona Centennial and Oceanside — but quickly learned they were either very over-hyped or considerable underachievers.
Chaparral proceeded to lose its first four games and five of its first six and never lived up to expectations. The season bottomed out when the Pumas lost to Temecula Great Oak toward the end of Southwestern League play. Two months after the season ended, coach Tom Leach was fired by the school principal for reasons still unclear.
But the Pumas have a new coach and a new attitude this season, as well as some pretty good players who are eager to turn things around.
Here’s a closer look at the Pumas:
Coach: Ryan Tukua, first season.
2010 Record: 4-7, lost to Upland in the first round of the Inland Division playoffs.
Returning starters: 12 total. Five on offense, seven on defense.
Key players on offense: QB Matt Morin, RB Skyler Seibold, OL Matt Adamson, OL Pat Clifford, RB Justin Harris.
Key players on defense: SS Curtis Dozier, LB Josh Ponder, LB Joe Robinson, DE Teddy Queen, LB Marquis Cobb.
Difference maker: Morin seemed a bit out of sync early last season. The junior quarterback had transferred from Murrieta Valley and was taking over a team that was stacked with talent and moved with a heavy swagger. But the Pumas got off to the rocky start and Morin also struggled. The left-hander finally showed some moxie in 40-35 loss to Upland in the first round of the playoffs, throwing for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He then impressed enough at spring combines to generate a few scholarship offers, and committed to San Diego State earlier this month. Now a senior, Morin's performance could make or break the season.
Newcomers: LB Tanner Ritayik, WR Chris Stratton.
Not to be missed: at Corona Centennial, Sept. 23. These programs headed in opposite directions last season. Chaparral won the Inland Division title in 2009 and was expected to repeat, but instead it was Centennial that ran the table, including a 45-12 victory at Chaparral in Week 3. On paper, it appears the Pumas have re-closed the gap but this game won’t be played on paper, rather the intimidating confines at Centennial.
Coach’s comment: “We’re excited to compete and can’t wait until Sept. 2,” Tukua said of the season opener against visiting San Bernardino Cajon. “The players and coaches did a lot of hard work in the offseason.”
Final analysis: The Pumas are motivated to put last season in the rearview mirror. Following the dismissal of their popular head coach, the administration made a wise move and promoted Tukua from defensive coordinator. He inherited enough quality players to move Chaparral back atop the Inland Division, and won't have to guide the Pumas through such a cut-throat nonleague schedule as last season. That should allow his team to build confidence heading into Southwestern League play. With a staunch defense and an experienced quarterback, the Pumas might just reclaim their elite status.