Bishop Diego Preview: Senior-laden Cardinals on a mission

After back-to-back semifinal appearances, can Bishop Diego clear that final hurdle and play for a CIF football championship in 2013?

The Cardinals certainly have the ingredients to bring a CIF football title to the South Coast for the first time since Carpinteria in 2002. They have 20 seniors, many of them three-year varsity players. In the last two years, they?ve won 23 of 26 games, including 12-1 last season.

?It will be the biggest senior class we?ve had in our time here,? said head coach Tom Crawford, whose team is ranked No. 1 in the Northwest Division preseason poll. ?There is an experience level that we haven?t had, experience not just in grade level but in games played. That should be one of our strengths.?


The other strengths include savvy skilled players, a big line, big hitters on defense and a strong desire to finish at the top.

?CIF championship, state championship, win it all this year,? said 6-6, 270-pound senior lineman Joe Salcedo of the team?s objectives. ?There?s so much experience with this class. Nine of us have been starting since sophomore year. We lost in the semis twice, so we?re ready to get at it.?

?It?s a good team this year,? said quarterback Anthony ?AC? Carter, the Presidio Sports All-City Player of the Year in 2012 and an All-CIF and All-State honoree. ?Coming back from last year, losing in the semifinals, we?re ready to go the extra step this year.?

The semifinal loss at North Torrance and then seeing Tri-Valley League rival Nordhoff win the Northwest Division title last season should keep the Cardinals motivated. That, plus a demanding schedule.

?(The players) have to understand that last year is gone and the year before is gone. It?s a new team with a new schedule and new opponents, Crawford said. ?I think the quality of challenges we have in the season will be greater than last year. Our opponents are all improved, plus a couple of teams on our schedule are high-quality programs.

?We?re continually taking to them about the need to reach a new level in terms of their performance. I think they understand that.?

The non-league schedule includes a home game against LaSalle, a Northwest Division top-10 team, and away games at Inglewood, a Western Division playoff team, and perennial San Diego Section Small Schools power Santa Fe Christian in Solana Beach.

Those games will definitely challenge the Cardinals before they enter TVL play, where four teams are ranked in the CIF Northwest Division preseason top 10.

Bishop Diego will once again go with a dual quarterback system with Carter and fellow senior Gabe Molina. Carter is more of a running threat — he rushed for 784 yards (7.8 average) and scored 11 touchdowns. Molina passed for 834 yards and 10 scores last season.

?It?s worked pretty well,? said Carter of the two-quarterback rotation.

The Cardinals have two experienced running backs in Abel Gonzalez and Aidan Williams. Gonzalez, a junior, saw a lot of playing time last season when Jack Gregson was injured. He rushed for 776 yards and 10 TDs. Williams, who earned All-CIF honors as a fullback, is expected to get more carries this year. Rickey Herrera and Christian Pearson will see time at fullback.

Speedy BJ Murillo returns at wide receiver and Thomas Lash moves from tight end to wide receiver.

?He has grown and improved his speed tremendously which has given us the luxury to put him out wide,? said Crawford of the 6-2, 200-pound Lash.

The versatile Nunzio Billotti and Alexis Herrera are also wideout threats. Depending who?s at quarterback, Carter and Molina can catch passes, too.

All-CIF player Nolan Tooley (6-3, 225) returns at tight end. Mario Martinez (6-1, 190)provides depth at the position.

On the line, Salcedo, left guard John ?Cowboy? Samson (5-9, 235) and center Jack Braniff (6-2, 220) are experienced and solid players. The right tackle and guard spots are up for grabs.

The defense is loaded. The linebacking corps is a veteran group with All-CIF and All-State player Pearson, Lash, Adrian Solis and Gonzalez. Walter Hernandez and Chucky Salcedo give the Cardinals depth at the position.

Tooley returns at defensive end as do Andrew Burgess (5-10, 220) and Samson at tackle. Solis, Mitch Oleson and Mario Martinez will see time at the other defensive end spot.

The secondary includes Carter and Molina at safety, Murillo at one corner and Billotti or Danny Molina at the other cornerback position. Newcomers include Peter Kwock, Chris Harrison and Jonathan Gaash.

The Cardinals are talented, experienced and have enjoyed success. It?s also hungry for more, which pleases the coaching staff.

?From my perspective, there?s a level of seriousness to his group,? Crawford said. I think it?s probably sparked from the sense we had a successful season (last year) but we weren?t satisfied completely. That?s been a factor that?s really pushed this group along. They have some high expectations of themselves.?