New goals are popping up around the state as the high school football season opens this weekend. The motivation for new thinking comes from the growing acceptance that winning a league or section title is no longer the biggest prize.
It's earning a state CIF bowl berth.
And the only certain path to being in the mix is perfection from Zero Week through Week 14.
"The thing now is every single game is important," Westlake Village Oaks Christian Coach Bill Redell said.
That's the challenge being embraced by Southern California's most ambitious football programs that are accepting the risks and the potential rewards by scheduling tough opponents with the knowledge that one defeat can put the roadblocks on a bowl berth.
It is this realization that every game counts and its ramifications that will be one of the most important stories to unfold during the 2009 season that begins Thursday with a showdown game between Anaheim Servite and Long Beach Poly at Long Beach Veterans Stadium and continues Friday with a matchup featuring City Section title favorite Los Angeles Crenshaw playing host to Pac-5 Division title contender Lakewood.
Other stories to monitor:
* Malcolm vs. Malcolm: Who's the best running back named Malcolm in the San Fernando Valley/Ventura County area? Malcolm Jones of Oak Christian would seem to have a lock, coming off a junior season in which he scored 34 touchdowns and averaged 10.1 yards per carry. But Oregon State-bound Malcolm Marable of Mission Hills Alemany gets to face Jones on Friday in a Prime Ticket TV game, and the Warriors can't wait to turn him loose.
* The return of Marijon Ancich: Santa Fe Springs St. Paul has brought back for a third time Ancich, who has won 344 games, tying him with Concord De La Salle's Bob Ladoucer for the most victories by a coach in state history. Everyone will be waiting to see the impact Ancich has in trying to lift the Swordsmen back to prominence.
* Long Beach Poly vs. Lakewood: Poly has won 78 consecutive Moore League games dating to 1994. Lakewood, led by USC-bound quarterback Jesse Scroggins, will take its shot at ending the streak Oct. 9 at Veterans Stadium.
* Special teams play. There are top kickers throughout the area, not to mention elite return specialists, so beware of those schools that don't have a kicker to boot the ball into the end zone. Jose Cortez of Mammoth returned six kickoffs for touchdowns during the regular season. Donald Jarrin of San Pedro made 11 of 13 field goals. And here's the most stunning statistic: John Hardy of Vista Murrieta has blocked 17 punts or field goals in two years.
* Oaks Christian's future. In October, nine leagues from Ventura County and the Northern area will cast a vote to decide the sports future of Oaks Christian, which wants to join the Marmonte League for football only. The leagues already voted once to put the Lions in a league with Ventura St. Bonaventure, Oxnard Santa Clara and Simi Valley Grace Brethren, but section officials upheld an appeal. If the leagues try again to rid themselves of the Lions and St. Bonaventure, look for the Southern Section to intervene.
* City Section running backs. There are so many quality running backs in the City Section that some quarterbacks won't need to do anything but hand off the ball. There are the speedsters in DeAnthony Thomas of Crenshaw and D.J. Morgan of Woodland Hills Taft. There are the power runners in Trajuan Briggs of Birmingham and Melvin Davis of Narbonne. And there are the all-around backs in Preston Oliver of Marshall and Malcolm Thomas of Panorama.
* Rivalry games are bigger than ever. Whether it's Roosevelt-Garfield, Tesoro-Mission Viejo, Servite-Santa Ana Mater Dei or Los Angeles Loyola-Sherman Oaks Notre Dame, rivalry games are going to attract thousands of fans and fire up alumni.
* Who's No. 1?: The debate is already heating up over which team is best in Southern California. By Week 14, if Oaks Christian is still unbeaten, just wait for the fury to come forth, with the Lions compared to St. Bonaventure, Crenshaw, Long Beach Poly and Orange Lutheran. Let the fun begin.