Los Angeles Preps: Justin Gheorghe

I.E.: Five notes from last week

April, 30, 2012
1. Kyree King of Colony ran the state’s fastest time of the season in the boys’ 100 meters Saturday at the Sacramento Meet of Champions at American River College. King, a senior, finished in a wind-legal 10.54 seconds, which equals the time Khalfani Muhammad of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame produced earlier this month at the Maurice Green Invitational at Oaks Christian. King came back to lose a photo finish to Andre McBride of San Leandro in the 200, but both were credited with a time of 21.21, which also represents the top time in the state this season. The state meets is six weeks away.

2. The Inland Empire has a new single-season home run record in softball after Sierra Romero of Vista Murrieta clubbed three more Saturday at the Corona Santiago Spring Fling tournament. Romero, a senior who has signed with Michigan, hit her 15th round tripper of the season in a 7-5 victory against Carson to tie the record held by former teammate Taylor Edwards and Lauren Sweet of Santiago. She hit two more later that day in a 9-7 loss to Saugus. Her 42 career home runs are also an I.E. record.

3. The J.W. North baseball team improved to 10-0 in Big VIII League play Friday with an 11-4 victory against Riverside Poly. The Huskies, ranked fifth in the state by CalHiSports and seeking their second consecutive Division 1 title, were led by catcher Andrew Saucedo, who went 3-for-5 with an RBI. Gabe Franca, Justin Gheorghe, Jack Johnson and Robert Ortega contributed two hits each. J.W. North can clinch the title outright this week with victories Wednesday against visiting Roosevelt and Friday at Corona Santiago.

4. The Baseline League baseball race is wide open again after Glendora lost its third straight game last week to fall into second place, a game behind Alta Loma. Upland, one of the preseason favorites to win league, bounced back from a 1-4 start to beat Glendora twice last week to move into fourth, three games back of Alta Loma (15-5, 8-3). The Highlanders close out the season next week with two games against the Braves. Also in the mix is third-place Los Osos at 6-5 in league. The Grizzlies play Upland twice this week.

5. The Yucaipa baseball team swept two games from Redlands last week to move into first place in the Citrus Belt League. The second win was a 1-0 victory Friday at Redlands. Tyler Sapp went the distance, allowing four hits and striking out seven with one intentional walk. The Thunderbirds gave Sapp (6-2) all the runs he would need in the first inning on a lead-off double by Greg Espinosa, followed by an RBI-single by Alec Morabito. Yucaipa (15-8, 9-2) sits a half game ahead of Redlands East Valley (15-6, 8-2), which the Thunderbirds play two times next week in the final stretch of the regular season.

I.E.: All-region football teams

December, 19, 2011
With the season officially over for Inland Empire football teams, it proved to be a memorable year with the parity that enveloped the area this season and a number of top players are expected back again next year. Here’s a look at the top players in the I.E. from the 2011 season.


Su’a Cravens, Vista Murrieta, Jr., 6-2, 205 – Cravens was a game-changer on both sides of the ball for the Broncos and a big reason for their first Southern Section title this season. He scored touchdowns when the offense needed them most, and on defense took turns making plays in both the backfield and secondary. Cravens touched the ball 95 times on offense, averaged 10.5 yards a touch and scored 19 touchdowns. On defense, he had 11 sacks and three interceptions, one for a game-clinching touchdown against Chaparral.


Romello Goodman, Corona Centennial, Sr., 5-5, 165 – Goodman took advantage of the talent around him and rushed for 2,758 yards and a state-leading 44 touchdowns. He was at his best in the postseason, rushing for 1,170 yards and 17 touchdowns in four games.


Christian Powell, Upland, Sr., 5-10, 240 – Powell was a force on both sides of the ball but he was especially dangerous on defense, recording an Inland Division-leading 15 sacks. Nebraska, Texas A&M and Washington are among the colleges in pursuit of his services.


Tyler Rausa, Vista Murrieta, Sr., 5-8, 170 – Rausa booted a Southern Section-leading 19 field goals in 14 games, an Inland Empire record for a single season. The Broncos were setting Rausa up for a game-winning kick in the Inland Division final against Centennial last week, but instead scored on 30-yard run in the 35-28 victory.


Coley Candaele, Vista Murrieta – Coming into the season, it didn’t appear Candaele had much in the cupboard on offense, but he found ways to move the chains and get it into the end zone, most notably giving Cravens a chance to run and catch the ball. Junior quarterback Nicholas Stevens also appeared to gain comfort with Candaele’s system as the season rolled along and, like Cravens, will be back next season for another run at the section title.

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No. 7 Vista Murrieta 58, No. 19 North 14

November, 25, 2011

RIVERSIDE -- Su’a Cravens took another step forward in his emergence as one of the top players in the Southland this season. The Vista Murrieta junior carried the Broncos on his back Friday night, as well as a few defenders from J.W. North, leading his team to a 58-14 rout in the second round of the Inland Division playoffs at Riverside College.

Cravens rushed for 205 yards in 10 carries and scored on three highlight-reel touchdown runs against an overwhelmed J.W. North defense. Cravens, who has more scholarship offers (17) than any other player in the class of 2013, had never rushed for more than 100 yards in a high school game.

“He’s a special player,” said Vista Murrieta coach Coley Candaele. “At the end of the season, we’ll allow him to be special.”

Candaele has limited Cravens’ offensive touches this season because he’s also a standout strong safety for the third-seeded Broncos. Candaele said there won’t be any limitations next week against second-seeded Upland at Vista Murrieta High.

“If he has to carry the ball 40 times for us to win, then he’s going to carry it 40,” Candaele said.

Cravens scored the first time he touched the ball against the Huskies, motoring 34 yards on Vista Murrieta’s opening possession for a 7-0 lead. Candaele then opted to attempt an on-side kick and the Broncos were successful, setting up a 33-yard field goal by Tyler Rausa.

J.W. North quarterback Justin Gheorghe did not start the game because of an injured throwing shoulder suffered in the regular season finale two weeks ago against Norco, but coach Mark Paredes was forced to call on the senior lefthander on the second series of the game.

Gheorghe gave the Huskies some spark, leading the offense on back-to-back drives inside the red zone. The first ended when a a 38-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright, the second resulted in a three-yard touchdown run by Denzel Foster, cutting the deficit to 10-7 midway through the second quarter.

That was a close as J.W. North would get, as Vista Murrieta quarterback Nick Stevens scored on two keepers later in the second quarter to push the lead to 23-7 at the half.

Cravens then opened the second half with a dazzling 50-yard touchdown run in which he weaved through and dragged tacklers the entire way. He added a 29-yard touchdown scamper three minutes later to put the game on ice.

“Our offensive line was working hard so I had to work hard too,” Cravens said. “Set up some blocks, really just cutting back, trying to score on every play “

He nearly accomplished his goal.

I.E.: Inland Division second-round previews

November, 23, 2011

Second round, Friday

Chaparral (7-4) at No. 1 Corona Centennial (10-1), 7:30 p.m.

How they got here: Centennial defeated visiting Redlands, 49-35; Chaparral knocked off visiting Los Osos, 38-14.

Matchup to watch: Centennial running back Romello Goodman (1,913 rushing yards, 32 TDs) vs. Arizona State-bound strong safety Curtis Dozier of Chaparral (5.5 tackles per game).

Fast fact: This will be the ninth meeting between the teams since 2006. Centennial owns a 6-2 record against the Pumas, 2-2 in the postseason.

Prediction: Centennial 35, Chaparral 24.

Rancho Cucamonga (10-1) vs. No. 4 Redlands East Valley (11-0) at Citrus Valley HS, 7 p.m.

How they got here: Redlands East Valley beat visiting Norco, 20-15; Rancho Cucamonga edged visiting Chino Hills, 39-38.

Matchup to watch: Rancho Cucamonga offensive line (averages 300 pounds) vs. Redlands East Valley defensive line (averages 275 pounds).

Fast fact: The fathers of Rancho Cucamonga coach Nick Baiz and Redlands East Valley coach Kurt Bruich are also former longtime high school coaches in the area. Dick Bruich, who coached at Fontana and Kaiser, and Bob Baiz, who was at Claremont, teamed up last summer to coach in an inaugural SoCal vs. Arizona all-star game.

Prediction: Rancho Cucamonga 24, Redlands 21.

Charter Oak (10-1) at No. 2 Upland (11-0), 7:30 p.m.

How they got here: Upland routed visiting Murrieta Valley, 59-21; Charter Oak rolled visiting Corona Santiago, 63-21.

Matchup to watch: Upland 6-foot-3 wide receiver/defensive back Kenny Lawler (23.2 yards-per-catch average, five TDs last two games, three interceptions) vs. Charter Oak’s 5-8 wide receiver/defensive back Aaren Vaughns (59 receptions, 1,061 yards, 10 TDs, four interceptions).

Fast fact: Charter Oak’s only loss this season came against Rancho Cucamonga, 21-13, in Week 4. Upland beat the Cougars three weeks later in Baseline League play, 31-17.

Prediction: Upland 38, Charter Oak 28.

No. 3 Aaren Vaughns (6-5) vs. J.W. North (10-1) at Riverside College, 7:30 p.m.

How they got here: Vista Murrieta defeated Damien, 38-13; J.W. North knocked off Yucaipa, 27-13.

Matchup to watch: Vista Murrieta junior middle linebacker Bryce Smith (Inland Division-leading 13.5 tackles per game) vs. J.W. North rushing attack (213 yards per game).

Fast fact: J.W. North senior quarterback Justin Gheorghe is the only member of the football team who was also on the school’s Division 1 championship baseball team last June.

Prediction: Vista Murrieta 24, J.W. North 17.

No. 24 J.W. North 45, Norco 14

November, 11, 2011

NORCO -- The route Justin Gheorghe takes to the end zone isn’t always pretty but it’s usually the most efficient.

The senior quarterback for J.W. North was at his best Friday night in a Big VIII League finale against Norco, throwing four touchdown passes and running for two more in a 45-14 victory at Norco High.

“Sometimes you want to choke him to death, and other times you just kind of shake your head in wonderment,” said J.W. North coach Mark Paredes. “I don’t think he was sharp tonight in our passing game, but he sure makes plays.”

Gheorghe now has 27 touchdown passes this season and has been intercepted just twice.

“The key has been making my reads,” said Gheorghe, a 6-foot senior left-hander who was a member of J.W. North's Division 1 championship baseball team last June.

Heading into the game, the Huskies (9-1, 6-1) had all but sewn up the league’s runner-up spot behind Corona Centennial, and Norco was destined to finish fourth and grab the final playoff berth into the Southern Section Inland Division playoffs beginning next week.

Norco (6-4, 4-3) played as if it had nothing to aim for, getting outscored, 31-0, in the first half.

“We came out lethargic because we already knew we had a spot in the playoffs,” said Norco running back Joseph Ajeigbe, who was held under 100 yards rushing for just the second time this season. “We didn’t come out with the intensity we should have. North came out better prepared. They’re a really good team.”

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I.E.: Top Friday football games

November, 11, 2011
No. 7 J.W. North (8-1, 5-1) at Norco (6-3, 4-2), Friday (7 p.m.) – The top four teams in the Big VIII League are set for the playoffs, but this game will determine second through fourth place. If Norco defeats J.W. North, it will create a three-way tie for second, with the order of finish likely determined by coin flips. Norco has defeated the Huskies four times in the last three seasons, but the Cougars are the underdog in this one, primarily based on the play of J.W. North quarterback Justin Gheorghe, who has thrown for a league-leading 2,151 yards with 23 touchdown passes and just one interception. Norco’s weakness has been it secondary. Look for Gheorghe to expose the Cougars early and often.

Summit (8-1, 4-0) vs. Kaiser (7-2, 4-0) at A.B. Miller HS, Friday (7 p.m.) – Kaiser has won its last 21 games in the Sunkist League, but the Cats will be up against a team that’s ranked No. 1 in the SS-Eastern Division and hungry to capture its first league title in program history. Summit running back/defensive back Donte Deayon intercepted the 23rdpass of his high school career two weeks ago, becoming the Inland Empire’s all-time career leader. The Boise State-bound senior has four interceptions this season, has rushed for 789 yards and 11 touchdowns and leads the SkyHawks with 17 receptions for eight more scores.

Three others to see:

Palm Desert (5-3, 3-1) at La Quinta, (5-4, 3-1) Friday (7 p.m.)

Oak Hills (8-1, 2-1) at Apple Valley (6-2, 2-1), Friday (7 p.m.)

Twentynine Palms (8-1, 4-0) vs. Big Bear (6-3, 3-1) at Lucerne Valley HS, Friday (1 p.m.)

I.E.: Games of the Week

October, 26, 2011
The Central and Eastern divisions highlight the games of the week this time around. The key matchups on the schedule Friday night will likely determine first place in the Mojave River, San Andreas and Mt. Baldy leagues. Second place in the Big VIII League looks to be on the line Thursday.


(Inland Empire rankings included)

No. 9 Oak Hills (7-0, 1-0) at Serrano (5-2, 2-0), Friday (7 p.m.) -- There hasn’t been any growing pains for Oak Hills. The school opened onlyt two years ago, but the varsity football team has yet to post a losing record, owning a 23-7 overall mark heading into the biggest game in the program’s history. Serrano is the two-time defending Mojave River League champion with a 27-7 record over the last 2 seasons. The Diamondbacks ramped up for league play with a strong nonleague schedule that included a 10-point loss to Upland, the second-ranked team in the Inland Empire. They’ve allowed a truck load of points this season, however, and Oak Hills has the talent to get into the end zone. Expect a lot of touches by Oak Hills senior running back Marshaun Coprich, who has rushed for 1,374 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. Serrano running back Adarius Hogan is 27 yards shy of the 1,000-yard barrier.

Calpreps.com computerized projection: Serrano 26, Oak Hills 20

ESPNLA: Serrano 28, Oak Hills 27


No. 7 J.W. North (6-1, 3-1) vs. No. 8 Corona Santiago (5-2, 3-1) at Riverside College, Thursday (7 p.m.) -- Both of these teams have already lost to Corona Centennial -- as has Norco -- so the Big VIII League title is no longer a realistic goal. That said, who would have thought the battle for second place in the Big VIII would involve these teams? Norco was thought to be a shoe-in as bridesmaid to Centennial, but then J.W. North scored a huge upset vs. Alemany in nonleague play and Santiago pounded Norco three weeks ago. Both teams feature savvy, elusive quarterbacks. Justin Gheorghe of J.W. North has thrown 15 touchdown passes and hasn’t been intercepted this season. Santiago junior Michael Darr is the team’s leading passer and rusher, though running back Roosevelt Monk has boosted the run game since joining the team four weeks ago.

Calpreps.com: J.W. North 38, Santiago 31

ESPNLA: Santiago 34, J.W. North 30

No. 10 Rialto (6-1, 4-0) at Carter (7-0, 4-0), Friday (7 p.m.) – These teams had mixed success after joining the San Andreas League last season, and this match up didn’t exactly stand out on the must-see list heading into the season, but that changed when Rialto stunned Cajon last weekend, 27-25. Rialto relies heavily on two-way skill players Michael Romero, Tyler Telphy, Paul Cortez and Nicholas Seiuli. Carter gets most of its offense from senior running back Gaylon Maxie, who has rushed for 1,073 yards and 16 touchdowns. Senior defensive back Kris Brown has a league-leading four interceptions for Carter.

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I.E.: 5 questions to ponder after Week 7

October, 24, 2011
1. Which team in the Inland Empire has the best chance of beating Corona Centennial? After watching Upland defeat another quality opponent by double digits Friday night, it’s clear the Highlanders are the only Inland Division team with a legitimate chance of dethroning the Huskies. They have an experienced offensive line, a talented running back, an efficient quarterback and the one thing Centennial doesn’t have on offense: a big-play wide receiver in Arizona State-bound Kenny Lawler. Defensively, they’re balanced enough to force the Huskies to punt three or four times a game, just enough to win a shootout.

2. Which team is destined for an early-round upset? Redlands East Valley is playing as if its victory against Mission Viejo three weeks ago was its championship game. Since then, the Wildcats have scraped by against much lesser foes, A.B. Miller and Redlands. That raises another question: Was the victory against Mission Viejo less to do with REV's strengths and more about Mission Viejo's weaknesses that night? If you remember, the Diablos played REV without their top two running backs. Also, the Wildcats entered the playoffs last season as the No. 1 team out of the Citrus Belt League, only to lose in the first round to Etiwanda, the No. 3 team from the Baseline.

3. Outside of the Inland Division, which is the most anticipated playoff match up? Two years ago, Citrus Hill was riding an I.E. record 38-game winning streak when it entered the Eastern Division playoffs as the top-seeded team. But the Hawks ran into another upstart program in Summit, and the SkyHawks dumped Citrus Hill in the first round, 48-36. These teams look to be on another collision course this season, and both sides feature talented Division 1-caliber athletes. Citrus Hill running back Davien Payne has committed to Colorado and teammate Darnell Murray, a middle linebacker, has offers from New Mexico State, Utah and UTEP. Summit, meanwhile, is led by Boise State-bound wide receiver/defensive back Donte Deayon.

(Read full post)

No. 6 Centennial 52, No. 23 North 34

October, 7, 2011

CORONA -- A casual observer might look at the final score of the Big VIII League game between Corona Centennial and J.W. North and consider it a shootout.

In reality, the game was over before halftime.

Centennial scored 42 points in the first 13 1/2 minutes Friday night, then cruised to a 52-34 victory against the visiting Huskies.

Centennial pulled its starters with 3 1/2 minutes remaining in the third quarter and J.W. North took advantage by scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns against the reserves to make the score closer than the game ever was.

“I was really happy with our play, especially the first-team units,” said Centennial coach Matt Logan. “The first-team defense only gave up two touchdowns to a very good offensive team.”

Despite hardly moving the ball in the fourth quarter, Centennial still finished with 573 yards of total offense.

Romello Goodman rushed for 223 of his 229 yards in the first half, and all three of his touchdowns. Centennial quarterback Hayden Gavett finished with 139 yards rushing in five carries and also scored three first-half touchdowns. He contributed another 178 yards through the air, including a 34-yard touchdown pass to Chase Krivashei, his final play before exiting the game.

“We thought they were going to come out and it was going to be a shootout,” Goodman said. “We put together out best game of offense this year.”

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IE: Five questions to ponder after Week 2

September, 19, 2011
Q: Which I.E. team has improved the most since last season?

A: That question was a little tougher to answer following Week 1, but after upsetting Alemany last weekend, J.W. North might be on the verge of one of the greatest one-year turnarounds in I.E. history. The Huskies, who finished 2-8 last season, improved to 2-0 with a 36-35 victory Friday night against Alemany, which entered the game ranked No. 3 in the Southland by ESPNLA. North could have played for the tie after scoring with 53 seconds remaining, but who wants to see a tie? Instead, coach Mark Paredes opted to try for the two-point conversion and the Huskies punched it in to the roar of the crowd at Riverside College. By the time he graduates, Justin Gheorghe might end up with a statue on the front lawn at North. Back in June, he helped the Huskies win their first section title in baseball since 1994, and Friday night he threw for 216 yards, completing all three passes on the game-winning drive and carrying the ball twice for 40 yards.

Q: Which team has been the most surprising?

A: Cajon was expected to be good this season, but not this good. The Cowboys had their way with Kaiser on Friday night, building a 24-point halftime lead on their way to a 52-7 victory, the most points allowed by Kaiser in program history. Probably most impressive is Cajon's offensive balance and its ability to pinprick their opponent’s weaknesses. Edwin Morales threw for 171 yards and two touchdowns against Kaiser, and the running game accounted for 224 yards and five scores. Defensively, the Cowboys held Kaiser to 171 total yards and zero through the air. Just as important, Cajon isn’t beating itself, committing just one turnover this season.

Q: Which program has gone backward the furthest?

A: Roosevelt earns that distinction after another defensive meltdown Friday night against Murrieta Valley. The Mustangs led by 10 points at the half but couldn’t hold on against the Nighthawks and lost, 35-34, to fall to 0-2. Roosevelt defeated Murrieta Valley, 33-12, last season en route to finishing 9-3, including 5-2 in the Big VIII League. In the rematch, the Mustangs were expected to get quarterback Aaron Crone back from an injury to his throwing shoulder, but he wasn’t ready and sat for the second consecutive week. Still, that doesn’t excuse the defense for allowing five touchdowns for the second straight game. During the offseason, some suggested the Mustangs would be hurt by the departure of several key players and it appears they were correct.

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IE: Games of the week

September, 14, 2011
Nonleague play continues this week for Inland Empire teams, and some interesting matchups can be both in the region and beyond. Here's the best on tap.


Corona Centennial (0-1) vs. Mater Dei (0-1) at Santa Ana Stadium, Friday (7:30 p.m.) – Rarely would a matchup of winless teams draw this much interest, but the winning traditions built by these programs still qualifies this a can't-miss game. Mater Dei, ranked No. 14 in the Southland by ESPNLA, had an extra week to either stew about its last-second loss to No. 12 Carson in Week 0, or get hyped for the seventh-ranked Huskies, who tore apart the Monarchs last season. Centennial is fresh off a two-point loss to No. 6 St. Bonaventure on its home field Friday night and can’t afford another if it has any hope of getting back to the state bowl championships (it also doesn’t help that the Huskies’ strength of schedule is taking a beating, as their nonleague opponents are 1-3 so far). The key for Mater Dei will be getting the ball to 6-foot-4, 220-pound wide receiver Thomas Duarte, who should provide a significant matchup problem with his size and speed. Centennial needs to show more discipline and eliminate the penalties that were so costly against St. Bonaventure.

Calpreps.com computerized projection: Centennial 31, Mater Dei 14.

ESPNLA: Centennial 38, Mater Dei 24


Norco (1-0) vs. Etiwanda (1-1) at Colony HS, Friday (7 p.m.) – This might be the toughest game to predict this weekend. Despite the outcomes, No. 17 Norco played ho-hum in a 21-20 victory Friday against L.A. Crenshaw, the same night Etiwanda earned more respect in a 31-28 loss to No. 21 Vista Murrieta. Etiwanda quarterback Larry Cutbirth has carved up two good defenses so far this season and Norco’s weak link is its secondary. The Cougars will need USC-bound outside linebacker Scott Starr to make things difficult when Cutbirth’s on the field, and hope the offense can sustain drives long and far enough to score points and keep Cutbirth on the sideline.

Calpreps.com: Etiwanda 35, Norco 28.

ESPNLA: Norco 35, Etiwanda 34.

Mission Hills Alemany (2-0) vs. J.W. North (1-0) at Riverside College, Friday (7 p.m.) – Alemany, ranked No. 3 by ESPNLA, will get its first real test of the season against a much-improved team from J.W. North. The Warriors love to throw the ball and have a deep receiving corps led by junior Steven Mitchell, who has already picked up scholarship offers from UCLA and Washington. The Huskies will need a big game from quarterback/defensive back Justin Gheorghe, a first-team all-Big VIII League pick on offense and defense last season. Gheorghe threw four touchdown passes last week in a 48-10 victory against Colton.

Calpreps.com: Alemany 31, J.W. North 22.

ESPNLA: Alemany 21, J.W. North 17.

Upland (2-0) at Serrano (2-0), Friday (7 p.m.) – For the fourth straight season these teams will get together and, if this game is anything like the last two, it should be very entertaining. Upland won, 21-18, in 2009 after an apparent fumble return for a touchdown by Serrano in the final minute was nullified by a premature whistle. The Diamondbacks traveled to Upland last season and lost, 14-7. The Diamondbacks will need to find some offense if they want to stay with Upland again this season. They’ve scored just four touchdowns in two games, while the Highlanders have 13.

Calpreps.com: Upland 28, Serrano 19.

ESPNLA: Upland 28, Serrano 10.

I.E.: A closer look at the Big VIII League

August, 10, 2011

Last season’s results: Corona Centennial (14-1, 7-0); Roosevelt (9-3, 5-2); Norco (9-3, 5-2); Corona (5-6, 3-4); Corona Santiago (4-6, 3-4); Riverside King (4-6, 2-5); Riverside North (2-8, 2-5); Riverside Poly (3-7, 1-6).

Players to watch: The strength of Centennial lies in the trenches this season, and Milo Jordan can take much of that credit. He was the league’s defensive co-most valuable player last season after helping the Huskies win the Inland Division title and advance to the Division 1 state bowl championship game. Jordan committed to Arizona State in June. Also returning to the Huskies’ defensive front is Ngata Tuihalamaka, who led the Huskies with 4 sacks last season. Centennial also returns three offensive linemen, led by senior tackle Lio Lafaele. Norco also returns most of its young offensive line from a season ago, as well as sophomore quarterback Coltin Gerhart. But no doubt the marquee player is outside linebacker Scott Starr, who committed to USC shortly after he was offered last spring. North should also improve behind senior quarterback/defensive back Justin Gheorghe, who was a first-team all-Big VIII selection on offense and defense last season. Gheorghe tasted success last spring as an outfielder for the North baseball team, which won the SS-Division 1 title at Dodger Stadium. Roosevelt, Santiago and Poly should also benefit from the return of their starting quarterbacks. Aaron Crone of Roosevelt threw for a league-leading 23 touchdown passes last season, Santiago junior Michael Darr averaged a league-best 206.1 passing yards a game and Steven Hamm returns behind center for Poly. Santiago might have the league's best offensive linemen in Isaiah Folasa, who committed to UCLA last month. Garry Lewis of Corona looks like the league’s best athlete. The senior wide receiver had the second-fastest time in the 40-yard dash (4.41 seconds) at the Nike SPARQ Combine last spring in Long Beach.

Projected order of finish: Centennial, Norco, North, Santiago, Roosevelt, Poly, Corona, King.

Key games: Sept. 9 – Ventura St. Bonaventure @ Centennial; Los Angeles Crenshaw @ Norco; Sept. 16 – Centennial vs. Mater Dei @ Santa Ana Stadium; Sept. 23 – Upland @ Norco, Temecula Chaparral @ Centennial, North @ Fontana Kaiser; Sept. 30 – Norco @ Roosevelt; Oct. 7 – North @ Centennial, Santiago @ Norco; Oct. 14 – North vs. Poly @ Riverside College, Centennial @ Santiago; Oct. 21 – Norco @ Centennial; Oct. 27 – Santiago vs. North @ Riverside College; Nov. 4 – Centennial @ Roosevelt; Nov. 10 – Santiago @ Roosevelt; Nov. 11 – North @ Norco.

Alumni in the NFL: Lonie Paxton, Denver Broncos (Centennial ’96); Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings (Norco ’06); Heath Farwell, Minnesota Vikings (Corona ’00).

Fast fact: Centennial and Norco are intense rivals in the Inland Empire but a number of former players have gone on to become close teammates at Arizona State. Seven Centennial grads are listed on the 2011 roster, including four potential starters on defense, led by last season’s Pac-10 Defensive MVP, linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Norco boasts six players on the Sun Devils roster, led by Garth Gerhart, the brother of Coltin and Toby Gerhart, considered one of the top centers in the NCAA.

On the clock: Citrus Belt League