One look at this year’s Templeton High football schedule makes it clear that the Eagles aren’t shying away from anyone.
For the first time, Templeton — with an enrollment of nearly 800 — will take on two PAC 7 programs, each about three times larger.
“We’re hoping to prove ourselves,” senior linebacker Daulton Oropeza said. “We’re hoping to be able to compete with these teams and show people around here that we can play (up to that level), that even though we have a small roster, we can compete.”
The Eagles will visit Arroyo Grande on Sept. 17 before hosting Righetti on Sept. 24.
“We’re pretty excited to see how we do against the bigger schools,” added fellow senior linebacker Tyler Gray.
After starting last year 5-1, with the only loss coming to eventual CIF-Southern Section Northwest Division semifinalist St. Joseph, the Eagles were riddled by injuries down the stretch, slipping to 6-4 overall (3-4 in the Los Padres League) and missing the playoffs by a game.
“Last year, toward the end of the season, the momentum of the team kind of flattened out,” Gray said. “We’re just trying to keep that up all the way through.”
Gray — by all accounts currently the highest-profile college prospect in San Luis Obispo County — has been a particular source of confidence for the program.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Gray is rated by recruiting service Rivals.com as the No. 32 college outside linebacker prospect in the country and the No. 52 recruit in California regardless of position.
In June, Gray was named the best linebacker at the Randy Shannon Football Camp held at the University of Miami.
Gray was an all-LPL and all-county first-team pick as a junior, when he had 116 tackles and two sacks, and returned two interceptions for touchdowns totaling 71 yards. Also a running back, Gray rushed for 597 yards and 10 touchdowns on 116 carries, and added six catches for 104 yards and another score.
Oropeza is also expected to provide a stabilizing presence in the same unit after earning all-LPL second-team distinction after racking up 107 tackles and four sacks as a junior.
“We have big expectations,” said Oropeza, who has also gotten reps in practice as an H-back. “We believe we have the potential to go far.”The Eagles were the top-ranked team in the new-look Northwest Division in CalPreps.com’s initial preseason statewide ratings.
“Being a smaller school, you really don’t have a lot of numbers (in overall roster size and depth),” second-year coach Dave Harper said. “But I think the numbers we do have are pretty talented, and the kids are very eager.”
Of scheduling the pair of PAC 7 foes, Harper said: “Our kids always are wanting to take on a challenge. As a coaching staff, we want to see some of the best.
“We know they’re going to be physical games. But if we can get through them without any injuries, we think it’ll help us for the (LPL) season.”
One of the hurdles to build upon last year’s near-postseason appearance might be replicating the quick-strike passing attack employed by last season’s squad.
The Eagles graduated not only starting signal-caller Nolan Hildebrand, but also both starting receivers, including deep threat Dakota Oropeza, whose 538 receiving yards were second in the league.
Simon Roth, a senior, appeared early to be the favorite to take over at quarterback. Other senior leaders offensively figure to be all-purpose player Brett McMickle and running back Kory Dearie, who rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries as a junior.
The Eagles’ lines will feature junior Casey Dakin and sophomore Ross Berry, each of whom is listed at 6-4 and between 240 and 250 pounds.
“We’re very excited about the group we have,” Harper said. “I think we’re more balanced this year.”
The Eagles will open the season at 7:30 Friday night by hosting Central Valley Christian of Visalia, and begin league play Oct. 1 at home against Cabrillo.