Servite quarterback Cody Pittman will be looking to lead the Friars to another… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Break out the champagne, roll out the red carpet and let the trumpets blast. It's time to unveil the top five high school football teams based on summer performance, personnel changes and projectability.
No. 1: Anaheim Servite. When Coach Troy Thomas speaks, people need to listen. His teams have won or shared six consecutive Trinity League titles and won consecutive Pac-5 Division titles.
So when Thomas says "We have a typical Servite team," that means beware of the Friars.
Servite will have the most underrated player in the Southland in senior quarterback Cody Pittman. I don't see any Internet recruiting experts ranking Pittman among the best quarterbacks in Southern California. They made the same mistake two years ago, when Cody Fajardo led the Friars to a Pac-5 title, then signed with Nevada.
Pittman is a three-sport athlete, about whom Thomas says "He's as good as any quarterback we've had."
Besides Pittman, Servite has a standout linebacker in Butch Pauu, one of the best blockers in Travis Averill, an experienced tight end in Ainslie Johnson and one of the toughest players in defensive lineman-running back Jherremya Leuta-Douyere, who returns from a knee injury. The biggest question for the Friars is who's going to replace their graduated cornerbacks?
No. 2: Mission Viejo. The Diablos, who lost to Servite in the Pac-5 final, are ready to make another playoff run because of a top offensive line, led by college prospects Colby Cyburt and Austin Maas. They're going to receive lots of Saturday morning doughnuts donated by the running backs after opening holes for USC-bound Jahleel Pinner & Co.
Crucial to Mission Viejo's hopes will be the play of senior quarterback Alex Bridgford, who needs to improve over last season his ability to produce in big games.
No. 3: Mission Hills Alemany. Those who think it was a fluke for the Warriors to make it to the Pac-5 semifinals last season will soon learn that this year's team is even better. There's more overall team speed, better depth, and the defense should be superior, thanks to lineman Kyle DeVaughn, the reigning Serra League defensive most valuable player.
Alemany won four summer seven-on-seven passing tournaments behind an inexperienced junior quarterback in Devon Dunn, who led the junior varsity to a 10-0 record last season. If Dunn performs as well as he did in the summer, the Warriors should be right in the title mix. Their only drawback is a weak non-league schedule that will do little to prepare them for a competitive Serra League. Junior receiver Steven Mitchell and senior defensive back Jerico Richardson have UCLA scholarship offers.
No. 4: Corona Centennial. Lots of new players in the skill positions means the Huskies might start a little slower than usual on offense, but by the end of the season, they should be putting up big numbers running and passing.
The offensive and defensive lines will be strengths. Arizona State commit Milo Jordan at defensive tackle should be dominant.
No. 5: Santa Margarita. A year ago, under first-year Coach Harry Welch, the Eagles were a big surprise. Welch will have a huge offensive line to build around, featuring USC commit Max Tuerk, who is the best blocker in Southern California. New quarterback Johnny Stanton, a junior, is a top athlete who's smart and tough.
What other teams could crack the top five?
Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Ventura St. Bonaventure are the favorites to win the Northern Division title. Santa Ana Mater Dei showed over the summer it has the talent to be a factor in the Trinity League. Long Beach Poly is loaded with outstanding skill-position players, but the Jackrabbits know they can't regain their place at the top unless the offensive and defensive lines display improvement. Tesoro has a mix of young and veteran players that could lead the Titans to prominence.
Opening games are Sept. 1-3.
Let the excitement begin.