New league groupings and an offseason ramp-up that included spring ball and summer seven-on-seven has infused optimism and excitement into Santa Barbara’s high school football programs.
Dos Pueblos, San Marcos, and Santa Barbara high schools are now in the new nine-team Channel League, which comprises many of the larger public campuses in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, including Ventura, Buena, Oxnard, Pacifica, Rio Mesa, and Channel Islands high schools.
Bishop Diego is fresh off a berth into the CIF Division 2 playoffs and will now take a huge leap up in competition as a result of joining the powerhouse Marmonte League, which includes Calabasas, Oaks Christian, Simi Valley, St. Bonaventure, and Westlake.
Carpinteria remains in the Citrus Coast League along with Fillmore, Hueneme, Nordhoff, and Santa Paula high schools.
League play figures to be as challenging as ever for the Santa Barbara area programs and may come down to a war of attrition with regards to keeping key players healthy throughout the regular season.
It all begins with senior Qu’Ran Gossett, a powerful running back who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing last season, including transcendent performances in victories over Garces Memorial and Liberty of Bakersfield.
“I’m extremely excited about it. I can’t wait to play the competition in the Marmonte League,” Gossett said. “With all of the D-1 players in the league, there will be a lot of exposure. I just can’t wait to see what our team can do.”
Gossett will also play more on defense this season, where he will contribute at linebacker and likely have opportunities to rush the passer.
At quarterback, A.J. Vele will take the reins after serving as Michael Luckhurst’s understudy last season. Vele is a good athlete with a sturdy frame, and his ability to bolster the run game in addition to efficient passing will be critical.
Other key contributors will be Bryan Trejo, who is a returning starter at cornerback and will also see a lot of time at receiver this season. Trejo will also take over the kicking duties after the Luckhurst family held down that position with superb results for the past several seasons.
Sue Luamanu, who recently picked up a scholarship offer from Cal Poly, will pull double duty at offensive guard and defensive tackle. At 6′1″ and 320 pounds, Luamanu is the strongest player on the team, as evidenced by his ability to bench press 225 pounds 26 times during a weight-lifting session this offseason, which would have been a good number at the NFL combine.
Pasefika Salatielu will also start both ways on the offensive and defensive line, and at 6′3″ and 245 pounds, he moves with quickness and agility of a much smaller player.
Isaac Burquez will be a key contributor in the secondary as a safety. Roy Luvu is a returning starter at cornerback and will also play at wide receiver.
A newcomer to watch is junior Misa Paiau, who will spell Gossett at running back and linebacker. At 5′10″ and 210 pounds, he has the size and explosiveness to be a star in the future.
“It’s a fun group to work with,” said Bishop Diego head coach Tom Crawford. “The number of two-way players that we’re going to be counting on is a concern, given the league we’re playing in, but we’ve kind of historically had to do that with our guys.”
The 2021 season was one to forget for the Carpinteria football team as the Warriors finished with a 0-10 record.
It’s a numbers game for head coach Mario Robinson as the Warriors currently have 38 players on the varsity roster and are unable to field a junior varsity team. Development will be key for this relatively inexperienced team.
“Everybody’s tough in the Citrus Coast League,” Robinson said. “Our goal is to improve and compete.”
Talon Trumble will be taking over at quarterback for Carpinteria. It is his first year playing the position, but he has shown the ability to run the football with toughness and has a strong arm.
Running back Erick Trejo was a first-team All-Citrus Coast League selection last season and figures to be a key cog in the Warriors’ offensive attack.
After going 2-8 last season, the Chargers are looking to improve on their win total. Junior quarterback Ryan Marsh has shown marked improvement after sharing the position with Jordan Rico a year ago.
Dos Pueblos is now the northernmost team of the CIF Southern Section, but in order to make the playoffs, the Chargers will have to pull off a few upsets in Channel League play.
“The downfall of this is you don’t have much time to prepare. You get two games and a scrimmage and then it’s league,” said Dos Pueblos head coach A.J. Pateras. “For me, I look at it as every week is a playoff game, and every week you have an opportunity to position yourself in league standings to qualify for the playoffs.”
David Buso is back at running back and linebacker after a solid 2021 campaign on both sides of the ball. His instincts and hard-nosed mentality will be key, as the Chargers will need to play a physical brand of football and win the line of scrimmage to have success.
Senior running back Andre McCullough is perhaps the most explosive player in Santa Barbara County, as he eclipsed 1,400 yards rushing last year and has dedicated himself in the offseason to getting bigger, stronger, and faster in search of a memorable senior season.
Josh Engel returns at quarterback for his senior season after getting significant snaps as a sophomore and junior. His command of the offense and confidence as a passer are both much improved.
Coach Ralph Molina has been rebuilding the program from the ground up after taking over in June 2021. After a full off-season program, the Royals are looking to reap the benefits of a renewed emphasis on the weight room and preparation.
“They have really bought in,” said Molina of the weight room. “They understand what they have to do to compete.”
Offensive lineman/defensive tackle Ebrahim Alfar was a focal point in the running game last season and will be a key asset again this season. Tight end/defensive end Johnny Frohling will also start on both sides of the ball.
Owen Lauderdale will once again be a stalwart in the secondary at free safety. Running backs Nathan Jones and Brody Branstetter are both sophomores who are sure to contribute.
This is the final season for J.T. Stone as the head coach of Santa Barbara High, and he has a proven winner in junior quarterback Abel Renteria at the helm of his high-powered offense.
The Dons have an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions, and Renteria is coming off a sophomore season where he passed for 1,500 yards and ran for nearly 500.
“I call him Tim Tebow,” said Stone of Renteria. “Tebow wasn’t the best passer, but he moved the chains and he got the job done. That’s what Abel is, and he’s going to be able to do that in college as well.”
At receiver, the Dons return juniors Winston Bartley and Jack Holdren, who were both heavy contributors last season and appear ready to explode. Sophomores Tomas Gil and Kai Mault will be added to the receiver rotation and offer high upside.
A.J. Gomez will anchor the offensive line at center, where he serves as a coach on the field. Freshman Malachi Johnston, whom Stone touts as a next-level prospect, will start at one of the tackle positions.
On defense, Andrew Tobin is a key returner in the secondary. Nathan Barrios is back at linebacker and will once again split carries with Koa Herrera at running back. First-Team All-Channel League selection Jeffery [CQ] Lechuga returns on the defensive line in addition to his kicking duties and will be counted on for increased production.
“I told our guys that no matter what, our goal is to win the league title. I think that’s more important than winning the CIF championship this year,” Stone said. “I say that because the way the CIF seeds you is so screwed up. If we win this league, you can look down the 101 and really be proud of that.”