High School Sports

With stars gone, can Arroyo Grande football make it 3 straight outright PAC 5 titles?

Even in the world of high school sports, where changes come quickly and often, the Arroyo Grande High School football team has seen enough of it this offseason to make its helmets spin.

Gone are longtime head coach Tom Goossen and longtime assistant Mike McAustin. Gone are star quarterback and three-year starter Sawyer May, playmaker Matt Sill, star linebacker Sam Ness and the entire starting offensive line. Former St. Joseph head coach and Arroyo Grande defensive coordinator Mike Hartman is now in charge of a team that is looking to win its third consecutive outright PAC 5 title with a whole new cast of characters hungry to prove they can keep the winning tradition alive.

Arroyo Grande at a glance

2016 record: 10-2 overall, 4-0 PAC 5

Arroyo Grande made it back-to-back outright PAC 5 titles, and at least a share of three in a row, with another undefeated league season last fall. Paso Robles, which Arroyo Grande defeated 35-28, was the only team to challenge the Eagles’ dominance. Arroyo Grande won its first-round CIF-Southern Section Division 2 playoff game against Westlake before falling to Valencia in the second round, a game played without an injured May.

Key Departures

Sawyer May (QB), Matt Sill (RB/WR), Sam Ness (LB/RB), Noah Thinger (FS)

In May and Ness, Arroyo Grande loses its leaders on offense and defense. May accounted for more than 2,100 yards of offense last season, and Ness was second on the team in tackles and the glue of a defensive unit that was the best in the PAC 5. Sill (8 TDs) was May’s favorite target, and Thinger led the team in both tackles (102) and interceptions (3).

Key Returners

James Gilmet (RB, Jr.), John Farley (DL, Sr.), Tyler Rocha (LB, Sr.), Michael McLean (RB/CB, Sr.)

The good news for Arroyo Grande? It still has two more seasons of Gilmet, who burst onto the scene as a sophomore last season and rushed for 1,113 yards and nine touchdowns to earn a spot on the All-County team. Farley, described by Hartman as a “big guy” and “rugged individual,” led the team in sacks (4) last season. Rocha, who played outside linebacker last season, will fill the role of Ness at middle linebacker. And expect McLean to get plenty of touches on offense and be a key member of an experienced secondary.

Under The Radar

Kadin Byrne (QB, Jr.), Caleb Tomasin (QB, Soph.), Elijah Castro (FS, Soph.), Sam Soenksen (TE, Sr.)

The two quarterbacks fighting for the starting gig, Byrne and Tomasin, are unknowns. Byrne, a lefty with the size (6-foot, 225 pounds) to step into the role, led the junior varsity team, while the smaller but faster Tomasin (5-foot-5, 155 pounds) started on the freshman team. Hartman said the two have been splitting reps evenly during camp, and “it might not even be before the first game” before a starter is named. Whoever gets the job could end up relying on Soenksen, a big tight end, always a young quarterback’s best friend. Castro is taking over for Thinger at free safety.

“You have to be able to be a dude to play (at free safety in our system), and we think we have a good one here for the next couple years,” Hartman said of Castro.

Key Games

Lompoc (Aug. 25), Paso Robles (Oct. 6)

CIF-SS Power Ranking

Division 2, No. 36

The Tribune 2017 prep football preview

Over the coming days, The Tribune will roll out its 2017 high school football preview looking at teams, top players and story lines from San Luis Obispo County schools leading to the opening of the season Friday. Find new daily content online at sanluisobispo.com/sports and in the Sports section starting Sunday.

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