The 2018 high school football season is underway, and there are big changes in store for San Luis Obispo County teams.
The decision several years ago to move from the CIF-Southern Section to the Central Section finally takes effect, and with that the 13 Central Coast schools that made the move formed the Central Coast Athletic Association — and within that, the Ocean and Mountain leagues.
The new leagues were formed using the competitive equity model: The Mountain League is made up of the top teams based on success in recent years, while the Ocean League consists of programs that have been less successful.
The Mountain League features the past two PAC 5 champions — last year’s champion Paso Robles and 2015 and ‘16 title winner Arroyo Grande. In the Ocean League, Northern League runner-up Nipomo returns perhaps the county’s top quarterback in Brayden Groshart and will look to compete with defending Northern League champion Santa Maria and upstart SLO High.
Mission Prep also will make its return to 11-man football during the non-conference season before joining the 8-man Central Sierra League.
Here’s a look at the other story lines, all the county’s teams and who to watch on the field:
Last year’s record: 5-5, 4-0 PAC 5
Top returners: Reese Brumley (RB), Nathan Garcia (LB), Corbin Payne (DE, LB), Marshall Wiesner (WR)
Outlook: Last year’s PAC-5 champions will look to compete for a title in the newly formed Mountain League (St. Joseph, Righetti, Arroyo Grande and Atascadero) sans standout quarterback Hunter Barnhart, who will focus on baseball after committing to ASU. The offense will have to come from someone unproven for the Bearcats to contend.
Last year’s record: 7-4, 3-1 PAC 5
Top returners: James Gilmet (RB), Kadin Byrne (QB), Colton Theaker (K), Jed Rantz (LB)
Outlook: The Eagles return third-year varsity player Gilmet, who ran for 1,102 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. This year, Gilmet is off to a strong start, with two rushing touchdowns and a kick return for another score in the season opener against San Luis Obispo. The backup running back, sophomore Caleb Tomasin, showed he is a capable replacement, rattling off two scores over 50 yards. The two should make for a potent one-two punch in the backfield this season.
There remain some question marks on the defensive side, but Rantz should help erase any mistakes.
Last year’s record: 3-7, 1-3 PAC 5
Top returners: Scott Morgan (RB, LB), Matt Perry (WR, LB), Cullen Cooper (RB, DB)
Outlook: The Greyhounds will have to find a way to replace the production of graduated running backs Arik Machado and Kobe Cross. The two combined for over two-thirds of Atascadero’s total yardage last year.
Morgan was second on the team in tackles last season and ran for three scores on the other side of the ball.
Last year’s record: 4-7, 2-1 Northern League
Top returners: Jesse Garza (LB), Keyshawn Pu’a (LB), Brayden Groshart (QB), Luis-Diego Riquelme (RB)
Outlook: The Titans had a young team last year. Seasoned by a playoff loss and an offseason, look for the Titans to challenge for a title in the new Ocean League (Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Pioneer Valley and Templeton).
Anchored by Garza and Pu’a in the middle, the defense should prove to be tough for any offense. Groshart is in his third season at quarterback and is primed to have a breakout season.
San Luis Obispo
Last year’s record: 2-8. 0-4 PAC 5
Top returners: Emilio Corona (QB), Max Soltero (WR, CB), Jeremy Fitzsimmons (RB), Christian Clegg (WR, DB)
Outlook: The Tigers have a good chance at improving their showing in league play this year, behind the option play of Corona and Fitzsimmons. If San Luis Obispo can develop a consistent passing game, it could be a threat.
Last year’s record: 2-8, 0-3 Northern League
Top returners: Zack Logan (QB), Shane Simonin (RB), Michael Avery (RB, MLB)
Outlook: Three different quarterbacks started last season for Templeton. Logan proved to have the most success, starting two of the three league games as a sophomore. Logan threw for four touchdowns and averaged 13 yards per completion. With more practice reps and familiarity with the offense for Logan, Templeton should be poised for success.
Last year’s record: 2-8, 1-2 Northern League
Top returners: Aidan Moriarty (QB), Connor Pugh (WR), Xavier Bruce (WR), Lee Valdez (LB), Joe McLeod (RB)
Outlook: The Pirates lost do-it-all player Mike Unks to graduation and will have to lean on the growth of Moriarty for success. It will be the second season of a more pass-heavy Morro Bay offense — a departure from the triple-option of seasons’ past. Look for Morro Bay to improve on last season’s record.
Last year’s record: 6-2
Top returners: Brayden Farr (FS/RB), Mace Sherlock (LB/TE), Evan Wood (OL/DL), Brian Kowall (RB), Vance Rocha (RB/S)
Outlook: Mission Prep is playing a unique schedule. The Royals will play 11-man football in the first three games of the season before moving to its Central Sierra League schedule for eight-man.
Junior tailbacks Kowall and Rocha will lead the rushing attack. The two combined for 1,729 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. On the defensive side, Farr had five interceptions and was the second leading tackler.
It will be interesting to see how the Royals fare against stiff competition in Fresno Christian and Orcutt Academy.
Last year’s record: 5-4l, 3-1 Central Valley League
Top returners: Emanuel Plasencia (QB/DB), Brian Bautista (OL/LB)