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Season Preview: Vaqueros looking for healthy improvement

Season Preview: Vaqueros looking for healthy improvement

Every time you turned around last year, another SBCC quarterback was going down with an injury. The Vaqueros got down to fifth-stringer Franco De Luca in the fourth game last year and the left-hander from Chicago played the last 5½ games without a backup.

De Luca completed 58.3% of his passes for 700 yards and seven touchdowns. The Vaqueros currently have nine quarterbacks on their roster and De Luca is battling for the starting job with three others with college experience -- Jacob Villarreal of San Marcos High, 6-foot-5 Bradley Kleven and Scotty Forbes, a transfer from Wagner College.

"We don't know who will start at this point," said 13th-year head coach Craig Moropoulos. "I would think we'll play two or three in the first game and we'll see what happens. Last year was crazy with our No. 4 quitting before the season started and the top three QBs getting hurt."

The Vaquero roster features 72 players with 54 freshmen and 18 sophomores. There are 20 local players from Santa Barbara and North County schools.

There are 17 returners from last year's 2-8 edition and 11 were starters, including seven on offense. The two wins last year were big shutouts – 45-0 at Compton in the season opener and 41-0 over Santa Monica in Week 9. Three of the losses were by a total of 12 points.

SBCC will open on Saturday, Sept. 9 when it hosts Compton at 1 p.m. They'll host No. 6 Canyons on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m.

The returning starters on offense are De Luca at quarterback (plus Villareal, who played in four games last year, and Kleven, who played six games in 2017), All-State tackle Sage Sobrado (6-3, 295), center Brenden Chapman, tackle Ramon Lazarit (6-5, 295) of Santa Ynez, tight ends Leland Gropper and Colton Takis (Santa Barbara High) and running back Will Bayonne.

The defense has two returners – All-State defensive end Matt Molina (43 tackles, including a team-high 10 for loss and 4½ sacks) and cornerback Tyree Barton.

Top newcomers on offense include wide receiver Cyrus Wallace, a 6-4 freshman from Dos Pueblos who caught 54 passes for 839 yards and 10 TDs on their 12-2 team in 2017; running back Trey Hunter of Plano, Texas; tight end Alex Stockton (6-3, 235) of Sandpoint, Idaho and Forbes, who graduated from Dominion High in Virginia, then had a spectacular season for Midwestern Prep of Illinois, piling up 37 combined touchdowns and over 3,100 all-purpose yards in nine games.

"Cyrus has had a good camp," said Moropoulos. "We have a young tight end who's shown a lot of poise and promise in Stockton and he'll do well with Takis. Jarrod Favors and Jaylon Smith are two young receivers with a lot of potential. They have to keep learning and get better. Simon Bailey (soph. WR) has been here for three or four years and he got injured a few times."

Talented new faces on defense are Jordan Francis, who played three games last year, then got a medical redshirt and defensive end Jake Shultz (6-5, 225), who redshirted last year and has looked good in camp, according to Moropoulos.

Shultz made a couple of nice plays in the Aug. 24 scrimmage at Canyons as did Molina.

"I thought it was going to be a little rougher because we have a lot of young offensive linemen but they did a pretty decent job," Moropoulos noted. "The quarterbacks threw the ball well at times. We didn't tackle well but it's tough when your first live tackling is against a team like Canyons, which has a lot of good athletes."

The kicking corps is solid with Jesse Mollkoy from Dos Pueblos and Lucas Eilbacher, another DP graduate who didn't play football but was on the Charger soccer team. Ray Shay, a freshman from San Diego, will handle the punting duties.

"I'm encouraged with what this team can do," said Moropoulos. "We have a lot of good character guys and they're getting better every day. As always, it really depends on the offensive and defensive lines. If they get better and they can execute, then all of a sudden everything else gets better – the pass protection and the runs.

"I think our strengths will be in the defensive backfield, wide receivers and our runners. We have some pretty good talent."

Top local players are Wallace, Takis, a pair of Santa Barbara High players in OL Roberto Estrada (6-0, 325) and DB Dallas Redick; Mollkoy, Eilbacher and DB Eric Lopez from Dos Pueblos and Villarreal and RB Mark Herrera from San Marcos.

"There's a lot of potential guys," Moropoulos concluded. "It's just a matter of staying healthy and getting better. Those are the keys."

All home games will be live-streamed and John Martony is celebrating his 32nd year as the Voice of the Vaqueros. You can watch the home games on Live Stream and all 10 regular-season games will be on local radio (AM 1290 KZSB) and around the world on the Internet. Click here for KZSB radio page.