When it comes to talented prep football teams in the Southland, seemingly no group has enjoyed as much recent success as Gardena Serra. The roster this season, mind you, might not be loaded with multiple high-profile players, as it has been in the past. Nevertheless, the Cavaliers figure to build on their 44-4 record the last four years and be a force to be reckon with once again.
In order to maintain their reputation as one of the best around, Serra needs to find ways to keep Raymond Ford involved on the offense side of the ball. The senior receiver, after all, is the heir apparent to George Farmer, now at USC. Ford has the potential to be the playmaker Farmer was last season when he played alongside fellow wideout Marqise Lee, also currently with the Trojans.
One potential problem: There are lingering questions about who is going to get the ball into the hands of Ford.
It appears as if sophomore Jalen Greene is the front-runner to win the starting quarterback job. If he falters, Ryan Barbarin patiently waits in the wings and the junior would like nothing more than the opportunity to prove himself.
Here is a closer look at the Cavaliers:
Team: Gardena Serra
Coach: Scott Altenberg, 13th year
2010 Record: 14-1, won CIF Southern Section Western Division championship.
Returning starters: Five total. Three on defense. Two on offense.
Key players on offense: WR Raymond Ford (UCLA commit), RB Anterio Bateman.
Key players on defense: S Patrick Wooten, DT Kris Cooper, DT Kache Palacio, LB Thomas Brown.
Difference maker: It begins and ends with Ford, also a shut-down corner in the secondary. George Farmer and Marqise Lee are gone. A season ago, the seniors were the Southland's premier pass-catching tandem. Both are at USC now. Ford will be expected to fill the void left behind and the senior appears capable of handling the additional workload.
Newcomers: Brown, a transfer from Long Beach St. Anthony. Palacio, a transfer from Los Angeles Westchester. QB Jalen Greene. QB Ryan Barbarin.
Not to be missed: at West Hills Chaminade, Friday, Nov. 11. There will be tons of tests along the way, to be sure. None of those games, however, figure to be as important as the season finale in the San Fernando Valley in a showdown with Mission League title implications. The Eagles hope to make a statement with a win and will likely give Serra all it can handle in this one.
Coach’s comment: “We haven't lost many games around here in the recent past, and because of that, we have a target on our backs. Some people might think we don't have the big names anymore and there will be plenty of teams gunning for us. That's the way things work, it's the nature of the beast. Our job is to make sure there is not a huge drop off in our level of play.”
Final analysis: Replacing Framer and Lee will not be easy. QB Conner Preston also graduated, having moved on to SMU. Season-ending injuries to OLB Ardis Perez and MLB Malachi Mageo a couple of weeks ago certainly does not help matters. Bottom line: Ford must stretch the field vertically to keep opposing defenses honest and Bateman needs to take advantage of open running lanes when the situation presents itself. If that happens, Serra figures to be in position to make, yet another, postseason run.
Sean Ceglinsky covers preps for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.