After sharing a PAC 7 league football title last year and winning it outright the year before, Arroyo Grande High deserves consideration as a perennial league contender.
But Eagles coach Tom Goossen chuckles when asked to give an outlook for this year, saying that “every year has its own little idiosyncrasies and tendencies that your kids have to work through.”
“You have to find out what they do well and our weaknesses, and it’s an ongoing process,” Goossen said. “I’d like to think we’re better in Game 10 than Game 9 and much better in Game 10 than in Game 1.”
In the preseason CIF-Southern Section poll, Arroyo Grande is ranked ninth in the Northern Division.
Two years ago, Arroyo Grande started Brent VanderVeen who threw for 2,422 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior quarterback.
Last year, Matt Willkomm, a standout basketball player who played cornerback as a junior, emerged as an elite PAC 7 quarterback with 1,495 passing yards and 16 touchdowns with only two interceptions while rushing for 498 yards.
This year, senior Mikey Gutierrez will set up behind center and is well aware of the legacies of his predecessors.
“I have a lot to live up to coming after those guys,” Gutierrez said. “They were great guys to learn from. I’m just going to try not to outdo myself. I have a good team around me.”
Gutierrez played in two games at quarterback at the end of last season after Willkomm suffered an ankle injury. Gutierrez’s first start came in a playoff game against a strong Hart team that won handily 48-6. Gutierrez completed 9 of 18 passes for 133 yards without a touchdown or an interception in that game.
Goossen described his new starting quarterback as someone who “plays within himself.”
“He limits mistakes,” Goossen said. “He controls the game. His accuracy is very good.”
The Eagles (8-3, 5-1 PAC 7 in 2012) lost several key starters from last year, including return specialist Elijah Holt, Willkomm, wide receiver Brennan Rivera and defensive lineman Ian Malott.
But they return Grant Alton, a Tribune first team all-county tight end and third-year varsity player, who also plays linebacker. Alton had 230 receiving yards and five touchdowns. On defense, he had 123 tackles and six sacks.
“I love our team this year,” Alton said. “I think we’re a lot stronger this year. Last year, we were good. But this year we’re good, too. Overall, our line is a lot better and we have a lot more experience.”
Other key players include first team all-county kicker Cole Ramey; Michael Jordano, who rushed for 403 yards last year and was solid at defensive back; outside linebacker Tyler Auerbach; Jordan Harrigan and Garrett Brownlee who will take on some running back duties; and Casey Muth at receiver and outside linebacker.
“We feel fairly good about our defense and our ability to move,” Goossen said.
Goossen recognized Atascadero and St. Joseph as early favorites for the PAC 7 title along with Paso Robles.
“The rest of us, we’re fighting and clawing,” Goossen said.