Chaparral may be the defending Inland Division champions but head coach Tom Leach remains humble about last season's title run.
"We were lucky to win it last year," Leach said. "We should have lost in the first round."
The Pumas won each of their four playoff games by eight points or less, needing a last-second field goal to get out of the first round and overtime to get past two-time champion Centennial in the semifinal.
The Pumas lose quarterback Mitch Glasmann and leading rusher Jonathan Diaz from that team. Leach does have an array of talented players returning from last year's championship squad along with several newcomers and transfer expected to make impact, making the Pumas a strong contender to repeat in 2010.
"I think this is the best team we've ever had," Leach said. "We're like Centennial in 2007- we're loaded."
Junior Matt Morin will take over at quarterback, replacing Glasmann, who passed for 4,819 yards and 44 touchdowns in two seasons with the Pumas. Morin transferred to Chaparral from Murrieta Valley, where he threw seven passes in 2009. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Morin already has a scholarship offer from Colorado. He is beginning to emerge as a leader, even though he does not have to with so many starters returning.
"(Morin) is going to be better than Mitch," Leach said. "He's got a stronger arm and he's a little more mobile."
Arnold the best receiver in the country?
Morin has the benefit of having Antoine Arnold back at wide receiver. The 6-foot-4 senior caught 79 passes for 1,536 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009. Arnold was name the Inland Division's co-Offensive Player of the Year and more big things are expected of him in 2010. He is ranked as the 14th-best receiver in the nation by Rivals and has offers from Fresno State, Nebraska and more.
"Antoine is going to be the best receiver in the nation," Leach said. "He loves football."
Arnold is not the only target in Chaparral's aerial assault. 5-foot-9 Darius Guillory also returns after catching 32 passes for 484 yards as a junior. Guillory committed to San Diego State as a defensive back after picking off four passes last season. Senior cornerbacks Jordan Hall and Dylan Valentine and safety Desmond Dyas combine with Guillory to form a top-notch secondary.
"Those guys loved (last year's) seniors and played hard for them," Leach said. "Now it's their senior year."
Leach must decide who will replace Diaz, who rushed for over 3,500 yards in his final two seasons at Chaparral. Juniors Marquis Cobb and Damon Watkins each had two carries last season. Sophomore Skyler Seibold is also in the mix.
"We have three better running backs than Diaz," Leach said.
Change at the guard
Center Mike Hurst and guard Tyrone Knight return to the offensive line. Mike Perez, a 295-pound senior, will fill the other guard spot. Matt Jones, a 6-foot-4, 295-pound tackle, joins the unit after playing junior varsity in 2009 due to CIF transfer rules. Junior Matt Adamson or sophomore Patrick Clifford will fill the other tackle spot and rotate in elsewhere.
"We're more agile (on the line)," Leach said. "But we're stronger too."
Several players are in the running for spots on the defensive line, where Johnathen Talian is the only returning starter. Knight and utility man Martin Colmenares are among those who will see time on defense.
The linebacking corps is in very good shape despite the loss of Southwestern League Defensive MVP Matt Lester. Second-team all-leaguer Curtis Dozier returns for his junior year, as does Joe Robinson. The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Robinson made 25 tackles and five sacks last season. He was impressive during the summer and has been offered a scholarship by Arizona State.
"He's a phenomenal athlete," Leach said. "We compare him to Vontaze Burfict."
Chaparral's schedule includes games against defending Division I State Bowl champion Oceanside and Division II champion Servite. Oceanside enters the game with a 39-game unbeaten streak. The Pumas will also continue their series with Big VIII power Corona Centennial and face league rival Vista Murrieta in their league opener.
"I love playing big games," Leach said. "If we win them all we should be national champs."