By Nick Wilson
There have been some interesting surprises early in this year’s high school football season. One in particular is the play of the San Luis Obispo High team.
The Tigers lost two of the best players in the PAC 7 League last season in Garrett Giovannelli and Jack Ferguson.
But they’re off to a solid start at 2-0 and the excitement on the practice field was noticeable this week as the team gears up for its first home contest versus Oxnard Friday at 7 p.m.
I’ll be out there covering that one and it should be a battle with Oxnard bringing a hefty front line and the Tigers trying to counter with their quick punch, triple option schemes.
Tigers coach David Kelley referred to his defense, which recorded its first shutout in two years against Dos Pueblos in a 17-0 win last week, as a bunch of “crazed Tigers” who swarm to the ball.
And you can take that literally too because they are “Tigers.”
Quarterback Thomas Orradre has been a nice fill-in for Giovannelli, who was league MVP last year.
Orradre has good size – about 6 foot 2 and 180 – and a good head on his shoulders. He interviews well and so far has been a good decision-maker in a position that demands it.
Another team that impressed last week was Arroyo Grande. I thought the Eagles played a decent game against Lompoc in the first week, losing 28-16, and if they’d eliminated a few of their mistakes it could have been very tight at the end.
The Eagles’ first year starting quarterback Mikey Gutierrez looked sharp with his passing in a preseason workout I saw and nearly had a perfect passing night in a 44-6 rout of Nipomo last week.
Gutierrez is not as athletic on the ground as his predecessor, Matt Willkomm, but he limits his mistakes and his strength may be his accuracy – particularly short throws.
Lompoc is still a powerhouse and easily could win out the rest of their regular season in their last year in the Los Padres League after losing 28-16 in their last matchup against Frontier High of Bakersfield. It has been a few years since the Braves lost a regular season game.
The Braves play Pioneer Valley Friday and then Dos Pueblos on Sept. 20.
If you see a Lompoc game this year, watch for Ainuu Taua. He’s a beast at 6 feet, 280 pounds, who does just about everything on the field. He bowls over blockers on the pass rush, creates holes as big as trucks on the offensive line, barrels through the defense for short yards as a power runner, and he even punts.
It is an interesting sight to see such a big dude punt. But that shows how versatile he is. He’d be a good guy to see now because over the next few years he’ll play in a big time program – whether it be UCLA, Michigan, Ohio State, Washington, Wisconsin, San Diego State, Fresno State, or Cal. All have recruited Taua and offered him scholarships.
And if you go to a game and aren’t sure who is he is on the field, just look for the guy with the long, wavy locks similar to Troy Polamalu’s famous hairdo.
As for other local revelations, Mission Prep showed its mojo from last year with a win over Rio Hondo Prep.
Royals running back Patrick Laird posted a tweet before the game showing a poster and calling it a “revenge game” since Rio Hondo won the CIF divisional title last year against Mission.
That was a bold move considering the Royals got trounced in the first week, 42-0, to Christian.
Laird and his team responded beautifully with a 24-21 thriller in SLO that may be the spark they need to energize their season.
Laird was the game’s workhouse, going for 229 yards on 41 carries. That’s a lot of ground and pound.
As for Atascadero and Paso, do not count them out. I know both teams are excited about their chances and they’re known for their toughness. Atascadero, I’m sure, wants a better overall record than their 6-7 mark last year despite making the semis in the playoffs. And quarterback Robbie Berwick is the kind of dynamic athlete that can thrill a crowd at any moment with his clutch play. Never count out that team after what they showed last season.
All in all, good stuff the first two weeks. And plenty more to come.
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