Arroyo Grande High’s football team has found itself atop the PAC 7 or two straight years.
But if the Eagles are to become league champs for a third straight year, they’ll have to find a new core of standouts to best a confident Atascadero team and a Paso Robles squad with a tough offensive line.
And 2012 co-champion St. Joseph brings back standouts such as quarterback Curry Parham, who threw for about 1,900 yards in 2012 and 16 touchdowns.
The Eagles will be among several teams putting new faces in key skill positions, including quarterback Mikey Gutierrez.
The team with the most varsity experience, Atascadero, hopes to build upon its late-season run with two playoff wins in 2012 — the only league team to win a playoff game last year.
“A lot of people in my family have CIF (Southern Section divisional) rings from playing in Atascadero in the 1980s and 1990s,” senior offensive lineman Alan Hurst said. “I want to get a ring, too.”
Greyhounds quarterback Robbie Berwick is in his third year as a starter, coming off of a season with 1,678 passing yards and 346 rushing yards.
Atascadero also returns an impact running back in Izaiah Cooks, along with senior leaders in nearly every aspect of their game.
Paso Robles may be in the mix as well, fielding a team that its coach, Rich Schimke, said will depend on how strong its offensive and defensive lines play. The Bearcats’ likely first-year starting quarterback, junior Gunnar Griffen, was 10 for 17 with 126 yards in limited action in 2012, and teammates say that he has shown positive signs of managing the offense in practice.
San Luis Obispo returns a backfield of three players who tallied about 1,800 yards rushing, and they plan to make a run after a 4-2 record and a second place finish in the PAC 7. However, the Tigers lost league MVP Garrett Giovannelli — the focal point of their triple-option offense — to graduation. Senior Thomas Orradre takes over for Giovannelli.
“St. Joe’s has some great athletes coming back, and whenever you have great athletes coming back, you’ll have a good team in high school,” Arroyo Grande coach Tom Goossen said. “Atascadero will have a lot of seniors, be strong running the ball, and the quarterback will throw it around some. Paso will always be there, I think. The rest of us are fighting and clawing to see what we can get.”
Despite the fact that none of the league’s top four teams won a postseason game in 2012, San Luis Obispo coach David Kelley values the league’s ability, saying Atascadero’s semifinal run is evidence of what a PAC 7 team can achieve.
“They were a fifth-place team and they made it to the semifinals,” Kelley said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you better show up on Friday night.”