New-look Vaqueros open at La Playa on Friday

With 17 returning starters, there?s plenty of optimism in the SBCC football program.

?I?m encouraged,? said Craig Moropoulos, who?s starting his sixth season as head coach. ?We?ve had a good competitive camp so far. The best thing about our team is we have a lot of competition, especially in both lines. That?s what you want, a lot of competition and guys knowing there?s someone right on their heels.?

Ninety players came out for this year?s squad, including 27 sophomores.

The Vaqueros open with county rival Hancock on Friday at 7 p.m. in La Playa Stadium.


For the first time ever, all five home games will be played on Friday nights. There are two new opponents on the schedule — East L.A. and Compton. Antelope Valley has re-joined the American Pacific Conference to boost the total to eight schools.

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All games will be broadcast on 1290 KZSB radio with John Martony in his 25th year?of calling the action.

Tyson Heller, the nephew of former NFL player Ron Heller, is back at tight end. He?s 6-foot-4 and 270 pounds after adding 30 pounds in the off-season. Heller was the second-leading receiver in 2011. Quarterback Jake Umphreyville played all 10 games last year and he?ll be challenged by 6-4 Jared Evans of Philadelphia.

Two sophomores who played for SBCC two years ago have looked good at receiver — Tony Fullman, who?s also a strong kicker, and Joey Keane.

?Depth and skill at wide receiver is a real plus for us,? noted Moropoulos. ?We also have a couple of strong freshmen.?

Freshman running back Brandon Gonzalez will continue to play on the La Playa turf where he starred the last few years with the Bishop Diego High football team. He?ll be joined in the backfield by Kevin Denis, a 5-7 sophomore from Florida. Steven Jerome has also stood out at receiver, according to Moropoulos.

The offensive line has more depth, led by George Rowan (6-5, 286), a talented freshman from Huntsville, Ala., whom Moropoulos says ?has tremendous potential.? Other top newcomers in the line are Cass Lyyken (6-2, 271, Santa Ynez High) and center Jose Gamez, a 6-2, 320-pounder from Caldwell, Idaho.

The defense will be led by Mitch Nelson, a second-team All-APC choice who was 10th?in the state in tackles (90) last year and topped the Vaqueros with three interceptions. Other key returners are defensive end Collin Powell (46 tackles) and linebacker Thomas Borchert (43).

?We have strong freshmen to go with a lot of guys with experience,? said Moropoulos. ?The No. 1 goal is to do the best individually that each person can do within a team framework. That?s my philosophy. You?re bringing in local players, in-state players and guys from across the country. You have to get them all channeled into one group.

?If everybody just takes care of themselves, you have a great chance to be successful.?

Moropoulos said he?s happy with the new GradesFirst program, which gives student-athletes immediate academic help through texts, phone calls and tutoring.

?It?s a very pivotal tool for us,? Moropoulos explained. ?Football is going to end for many of these guys. If we can help them become better students, better athletes and better people, then we?re doing our job.

?We also have our football Facebook page to help us communicate with our players. And we?re starting the second year of our Honorary Captains Program.? Gwendolyn Strong and the Gwendolyn Strong Foundation will be honored during Friday?s season opener.

There are four new assistant coaches, led by former defensive coordinator and head coach Carmen DiPoalo. Dale Perizzolo, the head coach at San Marcos High last year, is coaching the offensive line.