SAN DIEGO — The Grossmont League 2-A division has only four teams, but it may have one of the best one-two duos of any 2-A league in the county with El Capitan and defending champion Grossmont.
In the two seasons since the league split into 2-A and 3-A divisions, El Capitan and Grossmont have each won a league title.
El Capitan is the pick of most 3-A and 2-A league coaches as the team to beat, and several 3-A coaches said the Vaqueros could be one of the top teams in either division. The Vaqueros' strength lies in 17 returning starters, including running back Bryan Palmer, who was ranked No. 9 in the county last season with 99.9 yards per game. And to lead the way, Coach Joe Rockhold has an offensive line that averages 6-feet 2-inches and 217 pounds.
Grossmont had one of the top defenses in the county last season, ranking No. 6 in points allowed with 8.1 per game. Foothiller Coach Lynn Cole resigned, and defensive coordinator Judd Hulbert took over. Grossmont has six defensive starters returning from a team that had one of the best run defenses in the county, allowing 1.5 yards per play.
Joining these six are two transfers that started at 3-A teams that made the playoffs last year: linebacker Aaron Crecy (Granite Hills) and defensive tackle Cameron Matthie (San Dieguito).
El Cajon Valley
Last season's record: 0-3, 2-8.
Coach: Gene Watkins.
Top returners: Jim Dutra (5-6, 150, Sr., QB), Bill Rudd (6-0, 190, Jr., LB), Scott Boyd (6-1, 210, Sr., FB).
Top newcomer: Pat Lesniak (6-5, 284, Jr., OT).
Outlook: Watkins is optimistic for the first time in five seasons at El Cajon Valley. For the first time, he had to cut players this season. Also, the Braves have nine returning starters on defense, an experienced quarterback and fullback, and depth supplied by a junior varsity team that won the league title in 1985. Two wins may not seem a point of optimism, but El Cajon Valley has won five games in the past four years and have not had a .500 season in a decade. The Braves has not won a game on the field against any Grossmont League team in its last 39 attempts.
Dutra moves to quarterback after playing running back last season. Watkins says the offense will be built around Dutra, who is a scrambler. The defense is experienced, but the Braves will have to rebuild their offensive line, and a tailback has yet to be found.
Last season's record: 2-1, 3-6.
Coach: Joe Rockhold.
Top returners: Bryan Palmer (6-3, 195, Sr., RB); Eric Pinkerton (6-4, 200, Sr., OL); Jason Berkshire (6-6, 215, Sr., OL); Don Barnes (6-1, 255, Sr., OL), Pat Kitts (6-0, 205, Sr, OL).
Top newcomer: Clay Hucaba (6-0, 210, Sr., C).
Outlook: Rockhold doesn't hesitate to say how good El Capitan could be this year. "If there is a better team in the whole Grossmont League--whether it's Helix or Mount Miguel--I'll be surprised," he said.
Rockhold has reason for optimism with 17 starters returning, including seven juniors, and may have his best team since 1983, when El Capitan won the nine-team league. The Vaqueros have always been a team with good size and usually were content with wearing down their opposition with a punishing ground game. But Rockhold said this season will be different. "We're going to be more wide open. The running game is going to be our bread and butter, but we will throw more, especially out of the backfield."
Last season's record: 3-0, 7-4-1.
Coach: Judd Hulbert.
Top returners: Joe Williamson (5-10, 200, Sr., DL); Jeff Bartlett (6-2, 255, Sr., OL); Erik Batson (5-11, 165, Sr., RB); Dale Crogan (6-2, 190, Jr., LB); Mark Stillwell (6-0, 165, Sr., QB).
Top newcomers: Aaron Crecy (5-10, 195, Sr., LB); Cameron Matthie (6-1, 195, Sr., DL).
Outlook: Hulbert built one of the best defensive programs in the county in his four years as defensive coordinator at Grossmont. Now he enters his first year as head coach, and it is no surprise that the Foothillers will again be solid at defense. Hulbert takes over for Lynn Cole, who resigned to be an assistant at Christian, where his son plays. Hulbert has brought Pat Roberts, a former Grossmont High School, San Diego City College and Southwestern College coach, out of retirement to help with offense.
The key for Grossmont will be its offense. Last year, Grossmont scored no more than 14 points in seven of its nine games.
Last season's record: 1-2, 5-5.
Coach: Carl Iavelli.
Top returners: Jeff Lapinski (5-10, 165, Sr., WR); David Kilpatrick (6-1, 185, Sr., QB); Matt Miller (6-8, 215, Sr., LB).
Top newcomer: Tony Rico (5-6, 135, Jr., CB).
Outlook: The Grossmont League has always been known for two things: defense and running. Iavelli, however, has built his teams around a high-scoring passing offense. Valhalla will try to make the playoffs for the first time in school history.
The offense will be led by two players who spent most of last season on the sideline with injuries. Kilpatrick suffered whiplash early in the season, and Lapinski injured a vertebra in a scrimmage. But Kilpatrick may have to do a lot of his passing on the run as Valhalla has to replace its entire offensive line.