Los Angeles Preps: Tanner Ritayik

I.E.: You don't have to like football to like these stories

August, 29, 2011
Some uplifting reads have popped up the last few days on the HS Game Time website, which is part of the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Each story has a common theme, a high school senior from the Inland Empire overcomes tough odds to become a great football player and open bigger doors in his life.

The paths they took couldn't be more varied, however.

Will Holden writes about Riverside Ramona quarterback T.J. Miller, who spent part of his childhood fending for himself while his parents were sidetracked by drug use. The story opens with Holden describing the morning of Miller's first day of kindegarten. He woke himself, made breakfast for his younger brother and found his way to school ... alone.

Fast forward 10 years and Miller has drawn so much interest and curiosity from his performances at spring combines, an assistant coach from Harvard flew cross country just to meet him in person.

Then there’s this piece by John Murphy (aka PrepDawg) on Davien Payne of Perris Citrus Hill, probably the best running back in the Inland Empire this season. Payne has spent nearly his entire life in foster care or living with distant relatives, Murphy writes, but followed the right advice along the way and this summer committed to play college football at Colorado.

Holden also writes an interesting profile on Temecula Chaparral linebacker Tanner Ritayik, who sat out last season shortly after becoming a father. Instead of making tackles, he worked close to 30 hours a week for his father’s construction company, doing what he could to support his new family. Ritayik rejoined the team this season and might be one of the biggest hidden jewels in the I.E.

Stories like these often get lost in the buzz of rankings, recruiting and Friday nights, especially when they involve a second or third stringer. Nothing like a triple dose of reality to remind us that football might be just a game for some, but can also be a path to a brighter future for others.

Football: No. 21 Chaparral

August, 21, 2011
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:

Team: Chaparral.

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.